Hurts so good

Perhaps all our loves are merely hints and symbols; vagabond-language scrawled on gate-posts and paving-stones along the weary road . . . snatching a glimpse now and then of the shadow which turns the corner always a pace or two ahead of us, says Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited. Beauty has the strange power to evoke the feeling of pain; it shows us a corner of something we can't quite glimpse yet, pointing to something outside ourselves. Beauty tugs us toward an intense glory we can only peak at right now.

Tennessee2011_1815

And in that tugging there is a beautiful longing.

This past week was full of beauty so deep in ways I will struggle to convey it, and I think I have held off on this post for so long because it feels so monumental, so heavy in its emotion. Walk gently through this post, as if you were walking on twigs. Take time for beauty.

Tennessee2011_9476

My familiarity with Tennessee started back in middle school; I was sure it was the ugliest place in the world. It was bad roads cut out of red clay, and humidity that gave me a migraine the second the car door opened. I have changed. Tennessee, today, is the sweet smell of smoke, the deep air of the woods, the blue layers of mountains, the sounds of frogs in the night. It is loud bugs and clear stars, and the sound of crushed leaves. It is quiet, and in the quiet---so, so alive.

The beauty of the mountains gives comfort in the way no history and no castles can give. They point up. And below, the crumbling barns and fires, the winter yellows and pale greens, and the story that spreads through the valley I once called home grows each time I visit.

I was not expecting this place to move me so much. (hello, itty rainbow!)

In these mountains, I crave more, I long more. For the wildness,

Tennessee2011_9410

the rich earth opened for us to see into the raw glory inside.

Tennessee2011_9400
Tennessee2011_9392

The vistas never change and yet are never the same, never tiresome. They exude protection, safety.

Tennessee2011_9404
Tennessee2011_1809
Tennessee2011_2008
Tennessee2011_1805

These mountains. No words.

Tennessee2011_1799
Tennessee2011_0945

This was all home a year ago. I saturated the beauty while I could then, but in the comfort of returning now, as always, there was also the refreshed vision. I wasn't seeing this beauty for the first time, but I was seeing new particles of it. And that is a poet's dream, my friends.

The poet, for the sake of completion, must move to summarize now into sweeping themes. HOME. This is the walk to the house where I lived, and it always makes me feel like I'm in a vintage postcard. And it is where I stood for hours in the itchy grass with an ineffectual pole and no fish. Or trying to convine a slippery worm onto a hook, also ineffectually.

ANIMALIA. One of my favorite unphotographed sights at the Ranch was an electric box in the middle of the woods. Spotted hens were leaning against it in the clear morning brisk. There is nothing like chickens craving technology to make me laugh. Hello, farmyards!

Tennessee2011_0981
Tennessee2011_1933
Tennessee2011_1751

There is something so sleek and elegant and wildly stunning about HORSES. I not-so-secretly want to wear cowgirl clothes incessantly, possibly just for the connection with such a rustic, yet polished culture

Tennessee2011_1788

and the excuse to pace through dim stalls and stacks of perfect hay-bales in the barn with boots.

Tennessee2011_1725
Tennessee2011_1750
Tennessee2011_1734
Tennessee2011_1001
Tennessee2011_1004

WOODS. The part of me that loves to sit drinking tea in hotels and wear cocktail dresses may be more dominant in my external self, but trudging right behind it is a ponytailed me with ripped jeans and and a button-down walking slowly through the woods. Growing up with woods behind our house was the best elixir my parents could have given me for my imagination. I love the surprise of what texture the ground will be at the next step, the endless trails of vision that lead up to thick foliage or down to mossy mini-worlds.

But what I love more than anything about the woods is not the quieting of the mind, the attention to small detail, or the scads of hurrying bugs under logs (I have a lifelong love for bugs---true!). It is the scent. The rich scent of watered wood, of cleaned air, of respiring leaves. There is freedom in that redeemed air, and life.

Oh, that cool air tastes so good!

Tennessee2011_1080
Tennessee2011_1065
Tennessee2011_1055
Tennessee2011_1229
Tennessee2011_0904

The sky is tall and the clouds are low, and this makes the mountains look SMOKY. My favorite mornings last year were walking down the hill from my house to see clouds blocking out patches of the mountains, steam rising in the sun.

Tennessee2011_1023
Tennessee2011_1020
Tennessee2011_0985

This place made me thirsty for more real beauty. But, even deeper than the land was the beauty of the people.

Tennessee2011_0968

I'm getting there . . . but not this post. This picture of me with the girls is one of my faves; photo credits for this and many of the others to my handsome man.

When I came to the Ranch, I would rub the girls' backs to get the stress out, and somehow, it became my legacy---that my backrubs hurt so good.

Tennessee2011_0962

Going back was like that. Growing. Good for me. It was good to have my vision and imaginings honed to the truth. It was good to realize nowhere in this world is ever truly home, but we're still given places that satisfy us with comfort and belonging. It was good to see the place which holds memories in its palms, and which itself is a memory. Tell me---what's your Tennessee?

There is an ache in me for this place already, but that is good.

Tennessee2011_2045

That longing, it is good.