“If you get to North Carolina, you’ve gone too far.” Those were the final instructions in my mom’s landmark-based directions to the secret woodland trail I was determined to find. I laughed at the caveat, until we missed our first turn and crossed the North Carolina border. Once we were on the right road, searching for the trailhead, we ended up in North Carolina again. We turned around in the gravel driveway of a house that bore a sign: “Honk for service” What kind of service? You never can tell, with those North Carolinians.
We were headed back to the main road, having all but given up on finding the trail, hidden by years of memory, when the curve of a gravel side road caught my eye and I shouted, “Stop!”
My best friend and her husband were not only patient, but enthusiastic about searching for an unmarked trail I hadn’t been to in oh, maybe eight years. They are two people around whom I feel perfectly at ease being my genuine self, which is always a relief for an introvert.
Over a creek, hidden away in tall weeds, was an opening in the trees. “This is it! I think this is really it!” I crowed, and we piled out of the car. We entered into the trail, enveloped by green and the patient words of the creek.
I’m not sure where the original knowledge of the trail came from, but my grandparents used to take us there in early spring. We called it the Trillium Trail, partly because it didn’t have a name we knew, mostly because the ground was covered in the elegant wildflower and when it bloomed, the forest floor was carpeted with fairy flowers. On this cool Memorial Day, it was a little late for the trillium, but I had a deep desire to find the place and cement it in my mind as more than just a wispy, flowered memory from childhood.
Some trails have a solid feel, acceptable and approved places for human and nature to interact. Ah, admire the wildflower. Listen the birds. Isn’t nature a splendid thing for us to observe and enjoy? Other trails, you feel as though you have stepped into a world quietly ignorant of you, a location out of time, not growing for our admiration but for the purity of its own existence. You, the hiker, feel partly an intruder, partly a silent integration into the patient life cycle of the tangled woods. Your words hang in the air when you speak them, then are hurriedly lost in the muffle of the trees.
It is those places that keep me going back to the woods.
Our discovery of a tiny spring house, green all over with moss, leaning permanently, confirmed that this was the place we sought. I have a picture of my grandmother and my great aunt, in their older years but ever playful, pretending to hold up the leaning structure. The spring house grows out of the hillside, over a tributary, as if it has always been there. Looking up the hillside, we noticed one trillium variety still blooming: wine-colored petals hanging under a three-leaf umbrella. I wanted to take pictures, because I always want to have pictures, but for all my wanting to have pictures I never can seem to remember to bring my camera.
We passed an older fellow who gave us a friendly greeting. He seemed to know the trail personally.
The trail ended in a hot meadow at a turn of the creek. We waded in the very, very cold water. A trip to the mountains is not really complete until you stick some part of yourself in an icy creek. We swung around on an old knotted rope but decided we didn’t really want to get wet past our knees. We headed back to the car and ate a picnic lunch by the water. More people passed us. It didn’t feel so much like a secret anymore.
Back in the car, warm and sticky, we made our way back to the slightly flatter parts of Georgia. I slept most of the way, tired and content. Later we had a Memorial Day dinner with Katie’s parents.
I hold this day in my memory as a reminder that days of simple and pure enjoyment exist, respites for us in a rocky life. On that day, the sun shines, we laugh, we marvel at the tangled beauty of a Cherokee rose, we get mosquito bites, we sit quietly by the water. The world had not yet turned sepia. Everything is fresh and green and innocent.