The journey to Table Rock is a bit long, not one I make very often. To get to the trailhead one must drive over seven miles on a gravel road that winds through forest and nothing else. So yes, it’s beautiful. And today I feel pulled to this place of rock and wind and soaring height. It is my birthday, after all. And once one gets to the trailhead, it’s only a one mile hike to the tabletop, and it’s not even straight up. Why not?
As I drive along the Parkway I second guess myself, wonder if I’ll drive the whole way. Maybe I’ll do another hike in the area, not drive the seven miles deep into the Linville Gorge Wilderness. Maybe I’ll just go to the Falls. That’s where Andrew and I were wed. That’s where I took McKinley on his first hike, when he was three weeks old. And it’s a lovely enough place for a solitary birthday hike, and about thirty minutes or so less of driving time.
But no. It’s the Rock that’s pulling me. I grab a measely bite to eat in a restaurant and resolve to go. It’s a Monday, and not yet Summer, so I might even be alone on the trail. I think about this as I weave through the forest. It makes me a little nervous. Several years ago a couple was murdered somewhere in these very woods by some freak that wanted to be like Eric Rudolph (bomber of women’s clinics and the Atlanta Olympics). And of course I managed to leave the cell phone at home. Andrew doesn’t know I’m out here. Nobody does. I could fall off the cliff and never be found. Or some freak…
I let this go. I trust in the magnetism of this mountain. I recall the first time I ever came here, years ago with good friends. The blueberries were ripe–they’re everywhere on this mountain. We feasted. Even their dog Baxter feasted on the blueberries, nibbling them gently off the bushes with his front teeth. Feasting on wild berries of any sort is so incredibly fulfilling, and even though I know they’ll be only blueberry blossoms this early in Spring, the memory of that nourishment lingers like wild medicine. It is the mountain that fed me, and it’s why I’m returning.
There are several cars parked at the trailhead, and this is comforting to me. As I head up the trail I pass two men coming down, one with a heavy camera around his neck. We exchange cheerful greetings. Only a little further up I meet a group of younger folks with dogs. I tell them to come back in August, to come eat the blueberries. “Bring your dogs again, too.” I tell them. “Even the dogs will feast on the berries.” They look at me like I am a bit odd, which I guess is about right, then continue on down, mingling their chatter with the wind. And then it is just me. Me and the mountain and the sky.
I took a piece of quartz back home with me. A small piece from the Gods’ tabletop. And I stayed up there, silent and still and happy to be me, opening up to all the blessings of my life, all the blessings of the world. The sun streamed through the now-thick layer of cloud, dappling the landscape with yellow-green. I stood on that mountaintop and sang out to the Trees and the Sun and the Clouds and the Ancient River below. I gave back what blessings I could, and took that wild place again into my heart, nourished by the food on the Table, the gifts laid out before me.
And when I got home (after driving at reckless speeds on the Parkway so as not to be late), good friends and good food awaited me. Strawberries and honey, pottery and flowers. Cake and the birthday song.
I am eternally grateful for the goodness that is my life.