There are some days when perhaps it’s best to go back to bed – to throw covers against the cold, to batten down against the storm. These days are the days worth forgetting … the feelings of despondency, of loss. This helplessness, this hopelessness wrought from the machines at work, these machines society has built. Worries of money and love and independence and creation roll around, echoing together thunder. You sit on the edge of your bed as one would a precipice, wondering if it would be best to cast yourself to the day’s abyss or simply crawl back to your safeties and sit and mew and continue your lowly, earthly existence. This was my day, our day of filth November 10th 2013. I woke feeling as if I’d be best served remaining in my pajamas for the day, hiding beneath a straw hat my grandfather wore when alive. Three weeks returned from abroad and three weeks living in my parent’s house is three weeks past. This is not my home anymore. Eighteen months with a loved one is eighteen months gone by. What is love anymore? I am broken, uninspired, and sunk deep into the mud of my refuse. I have dark thoughts that drive me, consuming.
I decline breakfast. Pecan pancakes and bacon. I boil into my yoga mat, a cheap slippery sheet that came covered in a slick resin. My lunch is stolen by my sister, so I chew the fever blister on my upper lip instead.
And so I lay in the driveway on this mid-November day, observing the curled leaves tumble from their homes to rest dead about me.
It’s here – wallowing in this thick depression – I decide to grab my shoes, fill a jug of water, and go for a run. For the day is beautiful and I’m wasting away, a love-sick man wanting his woman back home, a bone-broke boy needing a dollar to eat, a stone-cold adult desiring warmth to flood his body once again, to feel that humanity inside.
So I drive. Forty minutes down US 66 North, through the country fields golden and orange, away from the holds of society. Our society, our country, my state, my home … where IHOP is the busiest restaurant at noon on Sunday. Customers waddle in and waddle out as I wait at the light in Rural Hall, blueberry syrup smothered against cheek and jowl, haunches jiggling in step.
IHop satisfying the masses … so delicious it’s almost a sin.
Hanging Rock is away from this all, welcoming hardy folk visiting the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, from Sauratown to Tory’s Den to Moore’s Wall.
Today I drive to Tory’s Falls, park, and feel the heat of the day. Mid-November and seventy. A stiff breeze along the mountain’s backside yet the full sun beats down. I stretch, shed a shirt, and another shirt, and a pair of pants, and a beanie, and find myself in shorts and shoes. Huh, fancy that. Lightness in baggage shed, clothes included.
Starting from the Falls one runs down a leaf-covered slip of trail, crosses Charlie Young Road, and finds themselves on the backside of Hanging Rock slugging up Tory’s Den Trail. I slip and slide with the leaves, twisting atop rock and stone hidden underfoot. The woods are quiet with my ascent, these huffs and puffs up the steepening slope. I grow angry at my struggles, at these mounds of deceitful, malevolent deadness crackling and crumbling and rotting as I pass over. Leaves remaining on the trees whisper in the wind, awaiting their descent down.
No one can survive winter, this winter, this coming winter where all will die. Will I be included? Be another leaf on the mountain, orange and withered and decayed? Hiding the path for others, hindering their rise? God, I hope not. Better to struggle and survive than grow complacent in death.
And so I continue laboriously, a weight drug uphill.
I pass hikers enjoying the day. Families with children picnicking on a rock in the sun, couples with their pooches, out chasing their own darkness, whether they know it or not. I smile as I pass, sharing moments of solidarity. We’re out here, so fuck IHop.
I make the hill, chase the wind, and descend along the mountain’s front, giving up all I’d cramped to gain. A cathartic release, accepting that the ridge is but a point and never a goal. The balance is found on the mountain’s face, on the single-tracks in the woods.
Coming to a fork in the path I stop and look, choosing to take Moore’s Wall Loop Trail up to the Knob and Balanced Rock. A steep and mean trail, loose rock and high steps, big gains in a mile. The droves are out on this popular path, clicking poles against the stone, giving ragged looks as I pass, wondering what this shirtless, thin, long-haired hippie with a week-old mustache and a wheeze in his chest doing out here on this day, at this time, on this mountain?
Addressing the fear and loathing, exorcising the demons, opening the fears, shucking the past, stamping the feet … climbing the mountain because it is there and the sun is bright and the day is warm and this day of filth our Lord November 10th 2013 feels far less dirty and diseased from Balanced Rock, where all I see until the horizon are the rubies of leaves holding onto their treetops and hawks gliding through the emptiness of a sky without cloud. Quiet moments held alone as I lift my arms against the wind, a crisp breeze crossing from the North, issuing forth the coming winter – a winter where the trees will go bare and the leaves will litter the woods and the hawks will roost and the smoke will spiral from chimneys tucked into the hills of Carolina. A winter where will pass another year. And as I sit and shiver in the wind, this cold, unforgiving wind, I wonder what I’ve done this year … what I’ve done for better.
Worry and haw, squirm and shirk. I eked through college, felt alive abroad, and came back to eke out more through the cold. Too much time in marginal existence … but there’s my boss, always my boss, telling me it’s ‘all about the margins!’
The margins, the marginalities of life. Living day to day, week to week, saving on the margins, keeping what makes sense and spending the rest. Burning with doubts, curling with pressure, crying with pain. These are the days of our lives, this existence we’ve chosen. To sit at work on the weekdays and watch the clouds go past, to sit at home on the weekends and watch the games on Gamecast, to fall asleep full and wake hungry, to live in the comforts and bemoan the inconveniences, to contribute with sales, to live with debts.
I stand on the rock and scream, guttural and animalistic. We are not this. We are not broken people. We are meant to explore, meant to do, meant to be. This life is one of exploration, one of creation, one of love and happiness and relationship. Why waste the day swallowing depression when you can see the skyline beyond, feel alive in the wind? Hold your body against the cold and fight it, fight the powers that crash around you. Know yourself and you’ll know others. Love yourself and you’ll love the rest. Climb the mountain and enjoy the descent, as I enjoy mine today, racing down the stone steps to the campgrounds, waving and calling out as I pass, caring not if they venture a glance. A sharp right to finish the Moore’s Wall Loop then back along Tory’s Den, down the slick and steep slope to the Falls, and out into the parking lot, where my car sits and waits to bring me back to my parent’s home. Where it sits and waits to rake me against the thorns of society.
Let them scrape and let me bleed! For as I stretch in a patch of sun on a rock shelf, hearing the running falls to my left and seeing the hawks glide above, I know I can stand against the week and let it collapse against me. Bend and not break. Limber in simplicity. A life simple is a life free.
And so I drive away from the park, it fading with distance. I round a corner and it disappears, a lonesome figure lost in the countryside. The road widens and we pass through Rural Hall, where IHop is still bustling. Not all may be fixed in three hours … particularly institutions. So forgive these pancake patrons and forgive yourself. It’s not too late to take the day – this day, our day of filth together – and make it yours.
Stand against the wind, stand against and scream. And perhaps then you may begin to live wild and live free.