A magical manifestor, musical healer, and human utility knife decided they wanted to spend Independence Day being as independent as they could be, alone together in the woods backpacking in the North Carolina mountains. As new housemates we had everything we needed between us, so we packed the useful pantry items for an overnight, bought the new boots we needed to serve for a summer of adventure, and began our search for the prime solar-eclipse viewing location. We are of the mind that once in a lifetime astronomical events require intentional planning, so we’re scouting our perfect spot. We had two locations in mind and 48 hours to work with, most everything else we left to chance and trust in ourselves.
The Western NC mountains are the home of my heart. I’ve been spending summers in these mountains since I was a child. My grandfather was a nature photographer throughout the mountains and I spent the days of my youth trekking the trails watching him collect moments of light from trees, fungi, flowers, and vistas. My love of photographing natural environments absolutely came from him. Every time I photo a rhododendron in bloom I think of the day we scattered his ashes among them and I watched him drift off in the breezy mist floating through his favorite flower in bloom. A reminder to me that love never leaves us, the past doesn’t go anywhere, it simply transforms in meaning over time. I know these mountains are where my soul feels at home, my partner and I made our life commitment among these trees, so our hearts will always belong here. One day it is my hope to call them mine, but for now they are my distant love affair.
We hike in after about three hours of driving. The ground is so wet it’s obviously been raining for days. We’re all preparing to get drenched and hoping for the best, while realizing all the things we neglected to pack. The forest floor is covered in ferns and brightly colored fungi, but all of the growth looked fresh, and that’s when we realized the forest had recently burned and we were walking through the new growth. A potent reminder the most powerful creative force in nature burns foundations regularly and rebuilds from the nutrient dense ashes, whatever survives the burn is strong enough to withstand the forces brought upon it. My mind immediately goes to why creatives are so good with failure, we’re usually happy to set fire to what is holding us back from creating something better, and we’re very willing to start over from the beginning even if it’s hard or it hurts to do so. Attachment is the death of innovative solutions.
Once we summit and get our bearings at the top we all three set to making camp. You know how well you can live with someone based on how well you camp together, and for our first household outing as a party of three we seamlessly moved through establishing a forest home. Our final endeavor in the day after pitching tents and tarps and hanging bear bags was a seemingly impossible task… making fire with wet wood.
After burning a few fingers, breaking open wood with our hands to pull out dry shards for kindling, putting our entire lit box of matches and some cotton gauze in the center we get a solid flame. The three of us nurse it to life until it begins to blaze without our lovin.’ An effort that proved to be even more worthy once we encountered two other travelers seeking to use the adjacent campsite. We invited them to join us as the mist rolled in heavy and the night chill fully set in. We cooked our dinners together and watched their hearts and souls warm themselves by the flames they were so grateful for. They had been hiking in the cold rain for the last four days. Pete was from Denver and flew out to meet Kat who was here from Italy to hike portions of the AT in an effort to hit the reset button on her life. We swapped travel stories, laughed about camp food, watched the fire dance. We even heard a tree fall in the forest and collectively agreed if we had not been there it would have made a sound. Within the mist of rhododenron the last embers were struggling to survive before we retired to our beds.
Our timing proved to be perfect as the wind began to howl, the adjacent campsite began to moan. There’s no mistaking the sound of female orgasm, especially at around midnight on the top of a hazed mountain. We all silently cheered for their good jubies and let the rain lull us in and out of sleep. As morning broke the sun dappled on our rain fly and we went to investigate the day. Amidst the sunlight through fog and dew, we see our neighbors had left us with only the tale of their journey and the sound of their passion.
We pack to move onward, our goal is to scout 5+ different locations in the full coverage zone and we have a month to do it, we had one more to check off the list for this trip. Coming down the mountain we reflect on how well we pulled this whole trip together by seamlessly pitching in what we had to contribute, in the process we created temporary community with random strangers around a hearth and in our own ways realized the same thing… the very ideas of independence or away are narcissistic illusions. When we think we are being independent some aspect of our life is depending on the life of someone or something else.
We only exist because fungus feed the forests that create our oxygen. We only exist because fire makes way for new growth. We exist because two lovers decided to join in a momentary bliss that makes the wind whipping through the trees sound tame. We make life work by the community that supports us. We thrive because of the love and generosity surrounding us. Sustainability isn’t about tree hugging, or green washing, it’s realistically looking at what it takes to sustain our ability to thrive as a species on a planet with other species trying to survive.
If you look at the range of success stories they always have more than one relationship or circumstance to credit; success requires diversity not a vacuum. This means, we’re only as strong as our relationships, to ourselves, each other, and the ecosystem that supports us. Making memories while spreading love as we dance around the sun on this planet is the meaning of being here now.