Travel, closer to home.

In another lifetime, many, many decades ago, I traveled to places and then wrote about it.  Traveling was what gave me inspiration, or, to unpack that word “inspire,” travel breathed life back into me.  Seeing new places, encountering different people and cultures, trying different and new foods- those things bring me joy.  They are part of who I am.  And then I write about those experiences as a way of both remembering, for myself, and of sharing with others

Okay, so it wasn’t actually in a different lifetime, decades ago, that I last traveled:  It was February.  But goodness, it feels like a lifetime, as I’m sure pretty much everyone in the United States can relate to.  Of course, what’s been happening over the last 5 months is certainly worth remembering, at the very least so that those of us with brains in our heads can work towards preventing it from happening again.  And, there’s also been so much good that is certainly worth remembering, in my own life, that I can see even now as personal growth.  There has even been a little travel, besides just the occasional Trader Joe’s excursion. No, nothing like my usual treks to Europe, but if the objective of travel is to push boundaries and to breathe life back into a weary soul, well, then, mission accomplished.

In March and April, and even into early May, a sanity check for me and my family was to hike in the North Georgia mountains. I’ve always known that these mountains, the  southern tip of the mountain chain called the Appalachians, were beautiful.  I didn’t know just how much so, though.  Now, they aren’t beautiful in the way of the Rockies out west, with their towering majesty and rugged snowcapped heights that captivate and and awe from afar.  No, these gentler, older peaks that roll away from you into deepening shades of blue grab your heart when you lean in close and dare to spend time really looking.  And with time slowed down to a a crawl during those early days of quarantine, spending hours in the mountains, leaning in close to the nature around me while trudging up a surprisingly challenging peak was exactly what I did.  For my efforts, I was rewarded with glimpses of lady slippers and trilliums, wild irises, and other beautiful flora that I don’t know the names of.

Our first real hike out, we did 10 miles.  And I was annoyed about that.  For many reasons, not the least of which was that we started at 3 in the afternoon and thus had to hike those 10 miles in 4 hours.  Think about that one.  But, I’ve since managed to renegotiate our hiking with my husband, whom I lovingly refer to as the Uber Hiker.  It’s been a long time since I would hike with him at all- this is the man who’s volunteered for Arctic Survival Training- do I need to explain more?  But, I think that the message that I will not hike like someone is chasing me has finally gotten through.

And what rewards there have been!

We’ve spent entire days out in nature, in the mountains, with a backpack filled with PB&Js and our canteens, stopping when we feel like it (okay, when I insist, really), and breathing in the mountain air, not seeing another human being for hours and hours on end. Yes, our first real hike this spring was 10 miles.  But after that, we stuck to a more reasonable 6-8 miles, sensibly (again, my insistence) begun closer to lunchtime and reasonably paced for a less frantic feel.  We’ve hiked the approach to the Appalachian Trail, which is tucked inside Amicalola State Park.  We’ve hiked the actual start of the Appalachian Trail itself (my personal favorite), which starts at a beautiful, historic stone building and pretty much goes straight up from there (don’t be fooled by the “gentle” appearance of the Appalachians; they still gain some serious altitude).  We’ve hiked Fort Mountain State Park, which is stunning and filled with rare plants, and we’ve hiked more local trails, such as Hyde Farms in Marietta and the nearby trails at Lake Lanier (my least favorite).  We’ve even discovered truly local trails, like the lovely ones at Birmingham Park in Milton.  And my personal favorite of the local variety:  not a trail, but a road that winds through Milton’s horse country, only 4 miles from my home, and spectacularly, breathtakingly gorgeous.

I would never have known how much beauty was this close by unless I’d been unable to travel like I usually do.

It will take me a while to be truly grateful for what we’ve experienced this past spring. Working its way into summer.  And probably fall.  I’m definitely not there yet with the gratitude, and probably won’t be for a long time.  No, it’s been too fraught with tension:  My husband’s job, my husband’s emergency surgery (can’t even talk about THAT one yet, for sure), fear of the virus, fear of the political situation… not to even mention the workshops that I’ve had to let go of till next year.  I’m no saint here.  Give me about a decade, okay?

But I can be grateful, right here and right now, for the small things that I’ve seen and learned and done.  I have no difficulty at all being thankful for for flowers.

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