Finding Myself

Although I love to head out the back door and walk through the woods it’s seldom I tackle the ridge behind the house. As The Deer Hunter would say-it’s steep as a mule’s face. But ever once in a while I want to scale the ut-most height and come out on the flat at the top.

As I hike up the path I’m always reminded of trying to walk up the slide as a kid. Did you ever do that? Each step is made harder by the slick layer of pine needles and leaves just like the slick metal of the slide on my elementary school playground.

Once I reach the top I find myself. Sounds silly uh? Yet it’s true. There is something about being far above, about feeling as if I’ve left life below and climbed onto a higher plane. Maybe my feeling comes from the knowledge that no one else is silly enough to make the trek and if they did I’d hear them long before they reached the top. The height makes the world and it’s worries seem too far away to matter.

Usually when I tackle the steep ridge I go by myself, that kinda helps in the whole finding yourself thing. But when the girls were about three years old I decided I wanted, I needed, to go sit on the top of that high ridge just for a few minutes to feel the wind in my face. There wasn’t anybody handy to watch the girls so I told them we were going on a special walk.

I was so drawn by the mountain I didn’t even take time to put their shirts on. They climbed and crawled their way up with only a pair of shorts and shoes on. By the time we made it back home their bare arms and little fat bellys looked like they’d been thrown in the briar patch with brer rabbit. But I didn’t regret dragging them along because I had found the bit of peace I needed to continue.

For generations folks who lived in Appalachia built their homes in the coves and hollers where they were sheltered from the wind and the weather, where they were closer to the settlements and closer to water. Yet, they too were drawn to those high ridge tops. Whether it was to hunt or to catch a moment’s peace, they carved out trails that led to the sloping flats found on the tops of mountains that were steep as a mules face.


This post was originally published here on the Blind Pig in April of 2010. 

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  • Reply
    Rev. RB
    August 2, 2015 at 12:37 am

    I think we all have what some call “a place in the sun,” and sometimes it doesn’t have any sun at all, like mine sitting at the top of the rise at the back of our property at night, watching stars and comets, and meteors sometimes, and sometimes even the space station go by.
    Wherever it is, if it brings us calm and peace, it is a sacred place, at least to us it is, to thank God for creating for us and bring us to.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    August 1, 2015 at 11:36 pm

    Chris, Don and Jim…why shore’nuff it is Bloodroot…It seemed to like the damper curves of the old road…
    My mind has been a whirlwind of thoughts and I can’t seem to get names of things organized like before…
    Guess, it will take time.
    Thanks folks…

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    August 1, 2015 at 6:04 pm

    I almost forgot to repeat a phrase I learned from a wise old sage, ” No matter where you go, there you are!”

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    August 1, 2015 at 5:19 pm

    I’m very late getting to supper table, but am delighted to see B. Ruth’s name in the discussion. Others, including Jim, have already named her bloodroot (or, as Pearl Cable called it, “red root”). It was Daddy’s favorite spring flower, and I suspect that was due, in large part to its presence near the Juneywhank spring.
    Give me solitude high on the mountain;
    In a cathedral not made by man.
    Oh, let me hear a hymn sung by the joree,
    And the whippoorwill’s long sad refrain.

  • Reply
    August 1, 2015 at 2:32 pm

    Loved this post. Thank you!
    —and the saying, ‘steeper than a mule’s face’—perhaps a future blog on similar sayings?

  • Reply
    Michael M. Cass
    August 1, 2015 at 1:40 pm

    As one or two of your commentators have said, this is well-written. Thanks for writing it and re-posting it.
    As “Jack” said, we all feel “the pull of the summit.” I’m lucky to have a summit within view of my house and reachable by a 200-foot ascent through the woods, a walk of about a mile.
    And “Amen!” to cousin Jim Casada’s comment.

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    August 1, 2015 at 1:01 pm

    love those away from it all places and the regeneration and grounding all at once. One of my favorite spots is on Grand Mesa in Colorado — especially when I could sit there with Roy. BTW Paul — it’s just a few miles from the Escalante Canyon which your song so nicely captures. If I’m near a woods I usually have to sneak off and have me a “back home” walk.

  • Reply
    August 1, 2015 at 12:34 pm

    I know the feeling you describe so very well, Tipper. I don’t do much steep walking at the moment, but I’ve done much over the years. Thanks for reminding me!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    August 1, 2015 at 12:28 pm

    In my youth I found it was easier to run up a steep mountainside than to climb. You get a run-a-go down at the bottom and let your momentum help carry you to the top.
    Climbing back down can be as worse as climbing up unless you just turn loose and freefall. You have to plan your course carefully to do this. You need to scout out the limbs and saplings that you can grab onto to slow you down. If one breaks or you just plain miss it and you fear you will be at warp speed before you get to the next one, you might have to throw yourself on your back and ballhoot the rest of the way. Ballhooting can be fun too as long as someone else has to wash your clothes.
    Yes I said “as worse as”

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, PhD
    August 1, 2015 at 12:19 pm

    Tipper: Once again I felt like I knew you well. Nothing like taking a hike with those you love.
    Wish my friends in the THURSDAY Smokey Mountains hiking group were not so determined to set records on how fast they climb!
    Nah! They are a great bunch who will slow down one of these days!
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    August 1, 2015 at 11:40 am

    I know the feeling! When I was much younger I roamed all over these mountains and high places. It’s a feeling like none other!
    I can just imagine Don’s feelings of those serene places when he is bushwacking in the high country.
    Sometimes it’s good to just get
    to a quiet place and unwind…Ken

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    August 1, 2015 at 11:36 am

    B. Ruth–Don would indeed know–it’s bloodroot. There’s lots of it around the spring at the place in the Park where our father grew up. I’ve always considered it, along with pussy willows and sarvis, as harbingers of spring.
    A year and a half ago when a first cousin of ours, city raised, visited the place where her mother was born and where Daddy spent the most meaningful years of his long life, she was taken aback by the ruggedness of the terrain, the remoteness of place, and the very idea that her mother could have spent her earliest years in a holler high up on Juneywhank Branch.
    I think it was a truly meaningful pilgrimage for her, her husband, and their children. She spread some of Aunt Jessie’s ashes around a single bloodroot that was in early flower as if it had beckoned her mother back home–to the place of her roots.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Evelyn Richardson
    August 1, 2015 at 11:30 am

    Thanks for posting this story of a time that brings back memories. I never lived in that area, but my ancestors lived in the mountains and hills of this great country.

  • Reply
    Debbie Nobles
    August 1, 2015 at 10:37 am

    Since I am not lucky enough to have a steep hill to climb I go to my swing in the back yard. I listen to the birds, watch the butterflies. Someday maybe I will get to return to the land where my ancestors roamed. I think we all need to get away from all life’s rush and be still and quite with nature.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    August 1, 2015 at 10:27 am

    I’m jealous that you can go out the back door and into the woods. I have missed that for 23 years living here and I will keep on missing it. The other night I heard someone say they walked their woods looking and looking for a special place; trying several before finding the one. How much I would like to have that problem/opportunity. I grew up with National Forest about 100 feet from the house and I guess it ruined me.
    I wonder how many of the Native American trails followed the ridges instead of the valleys. Guess it varied a lot along the same trail and in different terrain.

  • Reply
    August 1, 2015 at 10:18 am

    Ruth, Is it Bloodroot? Chris

  • Reply
    August 1, 2015 at 10:11 am

    I understand the pull of the summit. I rarely plan a hike unless there is a mountain top or a waterfall as a reward. There are supposedly certain mountains that native americans hold sacred/ or inhabited by bad spirits and are to be avoided. I haven’t run across any of those, although reaching the top of some has often been an ordeal.

  • Reply
    August 1, 2015 at 10:08 am

    Tipper, this is so well written, and you truly captured the moment. It seems nowadays I find my inner self too much. Your post takes me back to the days when I could climb, explore, and lose myself in the mountains. Mostly I shared these walks with a friend, and it would seem lunch and soft drinks were never a necessity. We could get lost in the adventure of the moment.
    There was an old logging road that climbed straight up a mountainside, and at the top was a huge rock called “Indian Rock.” for whatever reason. My best friend and I went up to the rock, and we actually lay there on our stomachs staring at the magnificent view–daydreaming about a life that would take us beyond the “rock.” We explored old cemeteries, and sometimes would get off the beaten path fighting briers and high weeds. We didn’t see many critters back then, as I think most wildlife had been killed out during that time. Snakes were always a danger, but we were not concerned in those young, carefree days. It is difficult to have that inner peace in a world that is full of distractions and responsibilities.
    Now getting away from it all means just getting lost in a backyard garden.
    I am so glad you are able to find your inner strength by escaping into what nature so freely provides.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    August 1, 2015 at 9:22 am

    Loved this post…Wishing I could push my roll-lator up my hill (small mountain) in the back of the house! I too used to just walk up the old stage-coach road up to the top. It has a curve or two before getting to the top, before going over to the other side down into the valley. There was one bank that “Trailing Arbutus” grew on. I fear we have lost that wildflower since the past rains I remembered seemed to have been washing it further down the bank. One area there were many Birds Foot violets too. and the white flower that bleed red from the stem, blooms in March that right now I cannot think of the name..Don would know..It’s bloom is inside its curled over leaf before it opens, just beautiful..Many trilliums, ferns etc. There is or was some “Pinkster” and “Laurel” and a patch of wild blue berries…The increased elevation contributed to their growth and habitat. I always felt when I would hike up to the top that we had our little bit of the higher mountains of East Tn. and NC…
    I too loved the peace and quiet…
    However, I always kept watch when I sat on a log or edge of the bank…Before we bought this place, it was told to us that our hill was called Copperhead ridge/hill and also their was known to be rattlers up there as one neighbors dog had been bitten. Vet said the distance of the bite marks and shape of the wound was most certainly a rattler not a copperhead!
    Still want to climb that hill!
    Thanks Tipper for this post…

  • Reply
    George Pettie
    August 1, 2015 at 8:18 am

    I know the feeling well, and how good it is to have a friendly mountain that lends itself to us for a vigorous hike and an inspiring view.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    August 1, 2015 at 8:11 am

    Tipper–Our forebears were sharp folks. They built in the hollers to be close to water, land that could be cultivated, for protection from winter’s bitter winds, and other practical reasons. They knew that high places would give them lovely vistas and inner peace.
    By way of sharp contrast, some of those who choose to move here insist of building on ridgelines, thereby scarring the earth, the vistas of others, and the very sanctity of the mountains to which they have fled.
    It disturbs me a great deal.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Henry Horton
    August 1, 2015 at 7:46 am

    Oh Tipper, i do so relate to this…before leaving Hawaii i often “visited” my buddy’s place over the other side of Cedar knob from here on Google Earth and i knew from elevation studies and lateral measurements there that the ridge behind his cabin was 45 degrees, but it just didn’t look that steep. Then i got here and got up the next morning (we’d gotten up from Atlanta the night before at 10:30 pm) and whoah! was i set back on my tuffet My plan of sauntering up that ridge for morning coffee and sunrise (he lives on a northwest facing slope) was reappraised by the “ground truthing. And yes, i do agree there is something so uplifting about getting up above it all and looking out across the mountains. Even in town as i was for the last two days every time i saw the mountains in all directions i was reminded of my second most favorite quote from the Bible: “i will lift up mine eyes to the hills whence cometh joy to me.” Amen to that and thank you so much for your daily blogs. Your posts do a lot to remind me that 10 months ago i did indeed come home to a place i’d never been before” and am every day learning more about the land, the people, culture, plants and other creatures that call these precious “hills” home. Mahalo nui loa. (Great long thanks!) as they say in Hawaya!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    August 1, 2015 at 7:25 am

    I love this post, Tipper. I loved it the first time around. It reflect that inner space we have that must be fed or we can’t survive. Can I go up there with you sometime?

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    August 1, 2015 at 7:18 am

    Thanks for reposting this wonderful piece, Tipper. Getting away is a means of getting things into perspective. You’ve reminded us of the importance of time apart. Thank you!

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