The brown, grotesquely dull landscape of northern Florida and Georgia transforms as you move North through the Carolinas. The landscape is replaced by rolling green pastures running wild with rivers of lavender; a delightful change of scenery. Far off, beyond the vast rolling sea of green, a giant blue wave grows high in the sky, spread wide across the horizon and seems to run directly towards you. But like an experienced surfer, we shy not away from this intimidating wave, we paddle towards it, climbing higher and higher so that we may revel in the beauty and thrill that sits atop. Yes, this wave, which stretches from South Carolina all the way to Pennsylvania, is in fact the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Traveling North from Florida to Maine, unrestricted by time and free of responsibilities, I seek to escape the tightening grip of society by journeying, alone, along the famous Blue Ridge Parkway. Officially established in 1936, the parkway stretches 469 miles through North Carolina and Virginia. Since its creation over eighty years ago, millions of travelers have gravitated towards this elevated oasis. After journeying only a handful of miles along it’s winding spine, it becomes vividly apparent to me why this gravitational pull exists.
On one side of the ridge there is a steep drop-off that opens up to reveal a vast horizon. Dwarfing your very existence, this spectacle has the ability to generate feelings of both significance and insignificance simultaneously. You experience feelings of insignificance because of your minuscule size in comparison to the immense stage set before your very eyes. The giant wave that is the towering mountain range which you are riding along begins to break into smaller hills as it drops off. A gentle wind blows from behind you, over the ridge and down through the smaller hills, making the treetops sway back and forth as it wanders further into the dark green sea. Eventually, your eyes fail you and the green sea begins to fade to blue; the convergence between land and sky becomes blurred, the line between heaven and earth unclear.
Horizon along Blue Ridge Parkway (photo taken by Chris DeLisle)
You experience feelings of significance because you are here, high atop a grand mountain range, traveling along an impossible route seemingly carved into existence specifically for you. The feeling that this was no accident starts to overwhelm you; the stage has been set for you; the play itself scripted on your behalf.
The other side of the parkway is a foreign world, utterly alienated from that which opposes it. Here, the most unbelievable rolling farmland dominates the landscape. The hills represent a cartoon depiction of a giant guitar string being strung.
Rolling farmland in Blue Ridge Mountains (photo taken by Chris DeLisle)
Cattle graze lazily, as they are destined to do, through knee-deep grass that dances constantly in the warm summer breeze. Fences, of course, run through the hills, restricting the freedom of the cattle’s graze. These fences seem to have been constructed long ago. Cracking and covered in moss, rotting, but once sturdy wooden beams are staked into the ground every few yards, connected together by slim strings of rusty barbed wire.
Old fence running through rolling hills in the Blue Ridge Mountains (Photo taken by Chris DeLisle)
The gentle wind that blows through the fields and wanders over the ridge into the vast green sea beyond seems to take any hint of progression with it. Time, however, does not stand still here. Rather, time ticks persistently forward, but the grinding gears of “progress” seem to be broken. Left behind are only bones, fossils of a time long since past. Abandoned farms, churches, and houses are a common sight throughout the parkway.
Abandoned Church along the Blue Ridge Parkway (photo taken by Chris DeLisle)
Giant holes have seeped into the rusted tin roofs of old, decaying barns. Whole sections of wooden siding are gone. Buckling under the weight of their age, barns seep low towards the ground, tired, begging to be reunited with the animals and people who once worked the land long ago.
Decaying farm along the Blue Ridge Parkway (photo taken by Chris DeLisle)
The country is tragically beautiful. Beautiful in its fervent effort to cling to the past, refusing to let go of the innocence and purity long since been forgotten by the rest of the East Coast. Tragic because of the incredible toll that it has taken to achieve such a feat: to become frozen in time. Protected landmarks, like the Mabry Mill, will continue to exist to serve as a display and hub for the common traveler.
The Mabry Mill (photo taken by Chris DeLisle)
But the true remnants of the past, honest portrayals of what life once used to be like, will soon return to dust and be forgotten. Thus is the nature of all things. There is no stopping it from occurring, and the process of falling into obscurity is in itself immortal and beautiful.
There is no doubt left in my mind why I, or any of the other millions of people have seemed to gravitate towards this alluring oasis. Somehow, we seek to find something by straddling the cusp between the past and the future. By surrounding ourselves with the past, amongst the ghosts of those who came long before us, but always keeping a watchful eye to the horizon, to the future, we hope to find whatever it is that we are looking for.
Another horizon along the Parkway (Photo taken by Chris DeLisle)
That is why we are here, but what we seek remains unclear, trying its best to allude our capture. Maybe we are here to discover the true essence of life, to understand the temporal nature of ourselves, of others, of all things, and to grasp at something that is just beyond our reach.
But in the end, arms outstretched, the answers seem to slip through the fingers of most. Our arms can’t reach it, our eyes can’t see it, and our ears can’t hear it; only the soul can understand the answer to the question that we don’t yet know how to ask. Most refuse, or simply do not know how, to look inward for the answers. That is why they come to places like this, places where they believe that their senses will be stimulated enough to discern the answers.
Another old wooden fence along the parkway (photo taken by Chris DeLisle)
But neither sight, hearing, taste, smell, nor touch can distinguish what it is that we are looking for. So we take pictures, we laugh, we smile, and we tell others about our adventure. But, in secret, we leave disappointed, still searching for the answers.
The truth to why people come here is in-fact ambiguous, and I can only speculate that people come here for an underlying purpose similar to that of my own. Still, even I am uncertain why this needed to be done: to travel alone for 2,000 miles away from anyone and any place that I had ever known.
But, in solitude, beneath early morning sunrises and late-afternoon sunsets, I believe that the answer was whispered to me.
Each day started and ended the same while traveling through the Blue Ridge Mountains, as it does throughout the entire world, with the rising and setting of the golden sun.
Sunset in the Blue Ridge Mountains (photo taken by Chris DeLisle)
Sunrises and sunsets are almost identical in appearance, but they stand for entirely different meanings and trigger an array of opposite emotions. There is always a certainty to both; each end leads to a new beginning, and each beginning eventually leads to an unavoidable end. The fading rays of light during sunset are more cherished than those at sunrise, for you know that soon they will be replaced by darkness, remaining only as a memory. But the growing rays of light at sunrise are of a different nature. They hold the promise of a bright future, a hope for the coming day, and thus offer a level of infinite optimism.
Sunrise in the Blue Ridge Mountains (photo taken by Chris DeLisle)
Sitting alone, beneath either the growing or fading rays of sun, gazing into the vast and spectacular expanse laid before me, a thought began to take hold of my conscious. Each and every human being is much like the sun that rises in the East and sets in the West. We travel through the sky and across a great stage; we encounter an infinite number of people and an infinite number of experiences throughout our day.
There are two certainties to our day: there will be a sunrise and there will, of course, be a sunset. The rays will shine the brightest and most unappreciated during the dawn, but they will be more cherished and beautiful at dusk, right before they fade to black. We will leave behind our own bones, our own fossils, memories of people and places from a time that has since passed us by as we travel through the sky.
Leaking old aqueduct running into the Mabry Mill (photo taken by Chris DeLisle)
But we must not become prisoners of the past, nor can we only look to the future, for those are already certain and beyond our reach. We must set our gaze upon the present, focusing on each step that we decide to take along the ridge when the sun is high in the sky. For it is in the often insignificant and unappreciated present where we form lasting memories, the soon-to-be fossils that seek to dominate our consciousness as we make our way towards dusk.
Dusk in the Blue Ridge Mountains (photo taken by Chris DeLisle)