As I pack and prepare to embark upon the westward leg of my novel-writing road trip, I took a time out to reflect upon what might be in store for me at its conclusion. I had, at one time, considered a cabin in the woods, and began to seriously consider a move to the mountains. Perhaps this may still be in the cards!
In 2008, while teaching on the eastern shore of Maryland, I met an old woman sitting alone at a table in the corner at an art showing in the quaint little town of Berlin. I asked if she was related to the artist on display, to which she smiled and said, "Aren't we all related in some way?"
"Why are you seated at this table?" I asked her. "You appear to have some purpose."
She produced a deck of cards from beneath the table, and spread them out skillfully.
"I read cards," was her response. "Would you care to have me read them for you?"
I was taken aback by this unexpected offer. Tarot cards! She read Tarot cards! Whether there was anything to it, or not, the idea of them had always fascinated me greatly, and for a very long time. How could I pass up such an opportunity.
"How much? I asked the old woman.
"Thirty dollars," she said so matter of factly. I agreed, and she motioned for me to take a seat right beside her. Moving the cards aside, she asked for both of my hands. I obediently stretched them toward her. She turned them both upward, then asked me to grip her arms above her wrists, and she did likewise to my own.
We sat quietly and motionless for what seemed like a long time, but I'm sure was no more than a minute.
"Mountains," she said, breaking the silence. And then repeated, "Mountains."
"Mountains?" I replied.
"Yes, mountains," she repeated again. "You want to go to the mountains, but now is not the right time for you."
"Oh?" I felt forced to ask.
"Yes." she went on. "Now is not the time for you. Your finances are not what they need to be for such a move at this time. You must wait until 2010. Then it will be your time."
I just sat there somewhat stunned by her words. You see, for more than two years, after returning to Maryland from a lengthy hiatus in Key West, I had a growing desire to do just that: go to the mountains...the Smoky Mountains...specifically, Asheville, North Carolina. How could she possibly know!
On two isolated occasions, while in Key West, I had been asked by total strangers if I was from Asheville. The first time this happened, I simply ignored the matter. But when it happened the second time, at a different place, with different people, I could no longer let it slide.
When asked the second time, I pressed the issue asking for an explanation. Their response was simple and unanimous: "Because you just look and act like someone who might come from there."
Going home that night, I got online and Googled Asheville, and checked it out, curious to discover possible hints of me. There were many!
In 2006, I returned to Maryland and back to teaching college. While at a Happy Hour at a local sports bar, I joined a fun group of folks who insisted on buying me a drink. Soon into the conversation, a woman asked if I had ever been to Asheville. What?!!! Florida Keys, Eastern Shore of Maryland, there was no escaping Asheville. Third time's the charm, they say, so with Spring Break coming up, I decided to spend it in Asheville, and once and for all, experience it for myself. Somehow, I felt I had received a mandate from the universe.
"It is meant for you to go to the mountains," the old woman went on. "It is there that you will receive your crowning glory."
So, while waiting on 2010 to arrive, I decided I might at least inch my way closer to the mountains. I moved to Shepherdstown, West Virginia, and began teaching part-time at Shepherd University. It was in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and I believed it would give me a small taste of things yet to come.
While in Shepherdstown, I began to pursue another longtime interest: getting back to Nature. I was teaching college, but was myself hungry for knowledge: of a physical, as well as metaphysical nature. I began to study Nature, to collect and study stones and minerals, mass a pantry filled with herbs and spices, and study uses in cooking, as well as for holistic medicine.
My interests also turned to American Indian customs and lore. I bought myself a cedar Native American flute, and began teaching myself to play. For nothing more that its spiritual benefit, I added a Native American deer skin drum to my collection. At times, I drum as I meditate. It's always soothing to the soul.
I spent more time outside amid the trees than I did indoors. One favorite tree I named the "Thinking Tree," because it was beneath it I would sit for hours, and when inspired, write. When not there, I would be in the hammock stretched between two apple trees, or at my seven-foot fire pit, wooden staff in hand. There was something so very natural, so wonderfully primitive, to commune daily with Nature.
It was during this period of natural discovery that I encountered a work of art on display at the University Bookstore. There happened to be student art on display there. Being all about students, and all about art, I was quite vulnerable!
One piece, in particular, really captured my attention. So much so, in fact, that I visited daily when on campus, and spent long moments studying it. It was for sale. The asking price: $100.00. I wanted it! After two weeks of tormenting myself over the expense, I caved in and purchased it.
It was a very detailed pencil sketch of Hansel and Gretel, drawn by a former writing student of mine. It wreaked of Nature! How could I resist?!
She had so cleverly written the entire story into the bark of the trees on the second page of the work. That's what sold me on the piece!
The drawings spoke to me. They reminded me of my own deep desire to live out my life somewhere deep within the forest... perhaps somewhere in the mountains.
In the story there was a witch, a very misunderstood old witch, if you were to ask me. Curiously, I related with that old woman. Whether or not I would ever admit it to myself, or anyone else, I was slowly transforming into a shaman... a wizard... a witch, of sorts.
My new and vigorous study of Nature, herbs, minerals, the forces of Nature, American Indian lore, were teaching me to "walk in the ways of the wise," as it were, along the path of hedonistic pagans throughout history, who sought to understand, and use Nature for health and for the good of mankind. Like the witch in Hansel and Gretel, they were often victims of the imposition and ignorance of others ~ victims in being called witch in the first place.
They were different, and society always seems to discriminate against those who are different. Ignorance has traditionally bred fear, and many who studied and practiced alchemy had been put to death, solely for being different.
My own study of Nature aligns me most closely with what is known as Wicca. I do not classify myself as being Wiccan, though I admit to embracing much of its teachings, especially those focused on the natural world. I've found Wiccan books to be a great source of knowledge on matters of Nature.
There is no Satan, or Satanic worship involved with Wicca, nor is there any connection to dark, Gothic garb, or heavy metal music. However, there are persons and groups claiming today to be Wiccan who are connected with all the negativism mentioned, who cast a dark shadow upon those who are true advocates of the Earth, the moon, the sun, the universe, and all of Nature. These true advocates then, as well as now, follow a very simple creed:
Getting back to Nature, and adopting a simple lifestyle, is epitomized, and has been immortalized in Henry David Thoreau's Waldon.
I have been a fan of Thoreau's writing, but more so with his life. It is my wish, my fantasy, to live just as simply as he did for his two years on Waldon pond. I would love to build myself a small, austere dwelling somewhere in the woods (of course, in the mountains).
Just like Thoreau, I would continue my study of Nature, and of those things that really matter in life, away from the madness of the modern world, away from the artificially imposed distractions that blind our senses, and prevent us from experiencing the kind of purity and simplicity of life that Nature intends for us to live.
What a shame for one to die never having fully experienced life!
~ GJ Duerrschmidt
"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."
Henry David Thoreau