In Wilkesboro, at the edge of the Appalachian Mountains, this weekend, I came across a John Muir quote I had seen before: "The mountains are calling, and I must go."
Driving downhill Sunday afternoon toward the Coastal Plain, hundreds of feet below the place where I had spent two days and three nights, I thought about the Muir quote and felt the tug on my heart for the places I had been, where the horizon rises up, reaching for the sky. The mountains are a different place, not just a different topography but a different environment and a different culture.
The hardwood trees are leafing out now, giving an opaque green cloak to the hills and mountains. In the fall, they will wear different colors and in winter will shed their clothes and stand like starkly naked skeletons against the sky. We walked along a gravel road and crossed a burbling mountain stream, falling over rocks to make a soft song of comfort and ease. We sat on the screened porch and listened to the creek's lullaby.
Trees crowd the steep hills all around us, their roots giving aid to the granite stones to keep the hills in place. Here and there, a pasture interrupts the forest or a house peeks through the trees, but mostly the landscape is covered in trees, unlike farther east, where housing developments and huge farm fields erase nature from view. The sight of mountain trees beckons me and reminds me how long it has been since I visited.
Anyone who has spent any time among the hills knows mountain culture is different — simpler, earthier, less formal, some would say less refined — than a few hundred miles to the east. I am a part of that Coastal Plain culture and relish it, but still the mountains call. And when I go, I know I've been away too long. The arduous hike to the peak to look all around at hills and knobs and prominences is worth the effort. You can hear the mountains calling and feel the tug on your heart.