in the mountains, with a clue, if not a camera cord

Posted by on April 6, 2012

On Monday I put two girls and one big suitcase into the car and left around 11:00 in the morning for the mountains of western North Carolina. It was a spontaneous decision in one way, but not so much in another, because a road trip had been secretly germinating inside of me for many days. The destination was up for grabs, and I was considering a few different possibilities, but the fact of the road trip seemed imminent. Esme’s school is on spring break this week and the thought of staying in DC for that duration, trying to figure out how to keep the girls occupied each day in a little apartment where they cannot run outside and have to be coaxed and prodded to and from the park–a destination which, by the way, I find insufferably boring for my own part–was just too much to think about. I was grateful, so grateful, to have the option of loading them into the car and finding somewhere else to spend the week with them where there would be more options–especially the option of running barefoot out of the front door and playing in a mountain stream, with buckets.

So here we are, and there is a lot more to the story than just what I plan to write today. My mom is here with me. She drove up from Florida to meet me. She comes here often enough so I suspected that if I merely suggested she come join me, she likely would, and my suspicion was correct. Spontaneity is a quality which can be relied upon in my mother, although there is an inherent irony there, I realize, since it is also what can make a person very unpredictable.

While driving to North Carolina, I could not help but note the cyclical nature of growing older and repeating patterns that I received from her. I think that it is the integrity of a place– one place that I keep coming back to with the same people– that allows this to come into relief, into the light of revelation. So I am grateful for the stability of this place in my life. Because my grandfather made the fortunate decision to build this old cabin in the woods of the Blue Ridge mountains, I get to experience it as a locus of my life and my family, a sort of old timey hearth not so common in our uprooted culture these days, where memories and patterns are given the long stretches of stable space, and, as John O’Donohue describes, the memory of place, that they require in order to emerge and make themselves visible. But it feels almost like dumb luck that this happened for me, almost accidental. My mother used to toss us kids into the car and bring us here year after year during my childhood, and now I am highly conscious of the fact that I have turned into the mother, tossing my children into the car and repeating the pattern. It is admittedly so nice and such a blessing and privilege to have this place to come to, but it is not all one big rosy picture, because there is this onion analogy that I cannot escape from. That is, family–that sweet, crazy thing called family–keeps getting de-layered before me on the cutting board, making my eyes water. Perhaps all of this writing I do is to try to get all of those pungent layers of raw onion into a pan with some healing oil, to caramelize into something mild, mellow and ultimately palatable.

There is still so much to resolve, and my mother carries all of this irresolution with her into the hearth and serenity of a mountain retreat like a palm tree bending and fraying in a Florida hurricane. But however crazy this can make me feel, I can still thank God for the fact of it, because without it, and without that continual returning and turning to one’s family, one’s origins, what could I know about myself? Instead, I am given little clues to hold and decipher. And if I thought I had all the clues in my possession, I was wrong. They are yet forthcoming, and this seemingly innocent little road trip has proven that without any doubt. But the good, dawning news is that God is my true parent. Ever so slowly I transfer all my trust and expectation to a higher place.

I forgot to bring my camera cord, so Photo Friday is going to be delayed. I did the assignment, “looking up,” but I cannot get the photos onto my computer. The cabin has no internet, naturally, so I am in a coffee shop in downtown Black Mountain just checking my email, as it were. My fingers feel cold and slow at the keyboard after only a few days of being unplugged– they almost had to warm up, along with my brain, before I could even think of how to write anything. Every now and then the mountains let a text message through and my phone makes a little noise. But for the most part, I have to throw some shoes on and walk a few paces out of the front door to get a signal. It is good for me to spend time in such a place. 

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  1. Manuela
    April 8, 2012

    I am happy you were able to go to North Carolina. It seems like it was the right decision.
    I hope the trip back goes well. I tried calling you a couple times this week, but did not expect for you to answer. I just miss you a lot these days.

  2. Evelina
    April 8, 2012

    Julia, your post made me realize something, and it is why do I find it easier to be a mom of a boy than a mom of a girl. It's because I, being myself a girl and a daughter, don't have a first-hand pattern for a mother-son relation. And so, we have "pure" relations with my boy, based on what comes first – love. But when I am a mother of my daughter, I inevitably use the pattern that I learned as a daughter of my mother. Even if I try to escape from the pattern, it is still this one pattern (and not another) that I'm trying to change. I have struggles to elaborate, issues in which I unconsciously involve my innocent little girl.
    I believe this is the reason that makes it easier for fathers to relate to their girls, the absence of a pattern, since, of course, they have experienced a father-son relation and learned that one.
    And, what scares me, is that my daughter will grow up and will be as unsatisfied with her mom as I am with mine, despite all my good efforts – and despite all the efforts my mom did, as I can't help but realize.

    By the way, that mountain cabin sounds like a great place!

  3. Annie M. B.
    April 9, 2012

    Jules, the onion is awesome–watering eyes, then caramelizing. I love this post, and I just thought to look it up b/c I was on another blogger cite. I can't wait to see pics!
    Love you!

  4. A M B E R
    April 10, 2012

    Oh, you are such a good writer. I would read anything you wrote. It is your talent, my dear.

    I am also a bit jealous of your history with that family cabin. That is just the kind of thing I wanted so badly as a child (and also something I'm learning that most introverted types really enjoy having–familiar places to return to).

    The photos are lovely too!