Family, forests, and farming. These are the three main reasons our little family took the giant leap of leaving Kansas City for the wilderness of Western North Carolina. This weekend we got to relish in two of these: family and forests. Both of my (Kyle) parents decided to spend the weekend up in the mountains for some much needed mountain R&R. Friday was a wonderful evening of errands, grocery shopping, and a hyper toddler hopped up on ice cream causing laughter for all. Saturday started ambitiously with packed backpacks, pancakes, and a “planned” hike. Well, apparently, Mother Nature likes to be tricky in the mountains because the rain that was supposed to clear up by noon was still around at one and two and three o’clock. Not ideal for a Saturday afternoon but we made the best of it by meandering the charming streets of downtown Black Mountain.The itch of the trail would have to wait to be scratched.
We were greeted Sunday morning by beautiful, crisp, cool air and sunny skies. The perfect hiking weather. Unfortunately, we had to bid farewell to Grandpa who had to be at work Monday morning, but we were able to convince Anissi (Grandma) to stay in the mountains for a couple more days (the perks of being a teacher and being out of school). So after some car trading and repacking of backpacks, we were off to the mountains via the beautiful Blue Ridge Parkway.
We drove for about an hour to reach the trailhead of Graveyard Fields, one of the more popular trails in the area. As the main trail researcher, I wasn’t really sure what we’d find. To be honest, I didn’t do my usual research into the trail, I just saw the label “moderate”, “waterfalls,” and a relatively low elevation gain of around 600 feet and said “SOLD.”
The trailhead was at a fairly packed Blue Ridge Parkway scenic overlook. We were greeted by steps and a paved trail, which is not typically the type we go for. However the restroom was a welcome addition to our usual hikes. We looked at the trail map and decided we’d go to the water and then take the trail to the upper falls — a fairly easy 3.5 to 3.9 mile round trip.
So down the stairs and onto the paved trail we went. Under the rhododendron and through the trees we went until we arrived at a beautiful river cascading over slick, sliding rocks. Off came Adi’s shoes and into the chilly but refreshing water we went. We were able to make our way to the edge of the lower falls and look down on the crowds sunning themselves in the pools and rocks of the lower falls. After some fun sloshing and picture-taking, we packed our bags and headed for the trail that would lead us to the much more breathtaking Upper Falls.
We made our way along the trail stepping over tree roots and dancing around mud puddles. Those over the age of 3 went “around” the puddles. Some of those in our group decided to jump INTO the puddles with squeals of joy. That is, of course, until her shoes got sucked in and then it was “Daddy help you.” Pronouns are hard.
We continued along the trail breathing in the wonderful mountain air and observing the still green, wild blueberries. After a peaceful jaunt, we arrived at an unmarked fork and had to make a decision. One trail was wider but much muddier, and the other was narrower by dry. After a quick scouting trip on the muddy trail we decided to try the other path.
We took this little path for a quick minute and ended up at the main river, which was met by more squeals, laughter, and applause by the munchkin on my shoulders. However, the trail ended here. Well, the marked trail ended here. But the good Lord always provides a trail, and Athena and I knew where there’s a waterfall there’s a river, and we were standing in a river, and if we followed that river upstream, eventually we would arrive at the falls. So away we went, upstream without a paddle.
The water was cool and refreshing, and the canopy thick and green. We splashed and trodded, ducked and dodged, and waded our way up the stream. We sloshed from smooth rock bank to smooth rock bank. We made it to one bank and Anissi called out, “Hold on, stop. Wait a minute. Snake……”. I peered through the low branches and sure enough, a 2 foot black snake, what we would later find out was a rat snake, was lying in a sunbeam on the smooth river rocks. After a couple taps with a stick on his tail he decided the water looked more inviting than the annoyance on the shore and swam off. And we continued on our way.
It could not have been a more rough and fun hike. We had to stop several times and scout out routes, sometimes even climbing up to the shore and taking beautiful, narrow deer paths along the river around the thick brush that blocked the river, before sliding back into the cool shallow water. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t worry- and bump-free. The going was slow, and there were times when heads were bumped and arms were scratched and footholds lost, but nevertheless, we pressed on.
As the rocks became bigger and more frequent we knew we had to be close. Eventually the path became more congested to the point where we would be basically climbing very decent sized rocks, and we decided to climb the banks and look for a way around. As we climbed up to the forest and looked north we caught a glimpse of hikers on the trail, and we headed up the banks to the trail. We weren’t on the trail for 5 minutes before we came upon some large rocks and heard the familiar sound of falling water. And just around a 20 foot rock we saw our destination, the Upper Falls. We stopped and took a much needed break to munch on some snacks and take some good, deep, refreshing breaths, enjoying the shake in our legs and the labor in our lungs.
This is the part of the blog that is supposed to have some deep meaning about letting the negative vibes flow away like a waterfall or something equally cliche metaphor for life, but I just don’t have that. Sometimes a beautiful hike is just that, a chance to stretch your legs, get away from a screen, and get into nature. It’s just a chance to be in the moment and enjoy the path. And sometimes it’s a time to get off the path and follow your own instincts. We knew where we wanted to go and we knew the river would get us there. Sometimes it was tough and sometimes we had to take detours to get where we were needed to be, but nevertheless, we continued to move forward to our goal. And I guess that is my cliche little metaphor for our journey towards homesteading. We know where we want to be, and we know that this path will get us there. We don’t know what’s around the corner, we don’t know what “wildlife” we’re going to encounter, but we know as long as we stay together as a family, and we keep our eyes on our destination, we’ll get there when we’re meant to, and we’ll take some excellent pictures along the way.
I often reminisce about the times as a child my Dad would take me hunting with him in the mountains of New Mexico. This wasn't the hunting I typically see (and openly do not respect--even if I wasn't a vegan) in the Midwest where someone sets up a tree-stand near their food trap or blind and sits and tries not to fall asleep (or freeze to death) waiting for a animal to pass by while foraging for food in the winter and then the "hunter" snipes it with only the skill needed to not stink too bad, not fall out of a tree, and operate some kind of gun or mechanically balanced bow).(And I know that in some areas deer can be serious (even dangerous) "pests"...but there are much deeper and greater issues afoot there on that mole hill than can be addressed in this journal entry).
My memories of going with my Father hunting into the wild of the cold winter wilderness are deeply cathartic and still move my heart and soul in greatly important ways today.
When we went hunting as a family in those days, we would pack-in deep into the frosty winter woods on horseback into the mountains of New Mexico with all we would have to sustain us for a week or more. We would eat lightly and forage if there was anything to forage. We would build fires for warmth and drink strong dark coffee by a fire each morning before the sun was quiet ready to shed it's own sleeping bag.
During this trips my dad (who will never give himself any credit for the amazing teacher he is) taught me how to track animals, not get lost in the woods, how to respect the intelligence and the wild that is nature and generally be in awe and wonder at the depth of our often neglected tie to this type of raw wild.
These times taught me what it meant to live off the land (even if it was in short, brief bits) and be thankful for having "just enough" amidst the wonder of our own fragility... and honoring, with great understanding and a Spirit long-lost to the white man, the loss of life it took to provide meat for a family for many meals. My family would also make use of, or give away to be used, every part of the animal...nothing wasted...no life taken in simple greed or sport.
Now to be honest, someone could have looked at my little pale, slightly green face watching my dad gut an elk in the sun while eating my orange ....and known, "this kid's doomed to be a vegan..."--or at very least not be able to eat oranges or elk meat for a long while now. Ha! And they would've obviously been right.
Looking back with honestly and with a more "aware-of-my-own- heart" hindsight, I was sad for that animal. I can honestly say though that the memory is both joyful and sorrowful. Like any memory that continues to move us years after its creation.
I would only going hunting wild-life with my camera these days... however, I am thankful for and will never forget the visceral experiences I gained (and the wonderful memories I built with my Dad wondering in the wilderness) during those times that have deeply moved my life and influenced my core values about living, respect for nature and all of life.
The difference is night an day between sitting in a blind (which can be literal or metaphorical for our common Western Culture) and that of riding my strong, well-loved horse into the forest with a pack to spend a week tracking the paths of nature through a wild forest, eating only what we had brought or what we could forage (getting to drink sugar with coffee in it... like a big girl), feeling the fragility of our humanity in the sub-freezing temperatures of the living, singing night and watching an animal die at the hand of a human (even if used in a very ethical way) will forever be in my DNA.
I see sparkling reflections and gentle shadows of these childhood memories, that are overall still some of the most deeply cherished I have (wild moments in the woods with my Dad), and recognize their continual influence on my life today. As a growing homesteader that also values all life enough to eat, clothe, and purpose my life differently, I hold onto these memories and others with a strong gratefulness. The bitter of them and the beauty of them, it all moves me at a level greater than most anything else.
Kyle and Athena
Welcome to our Farmstead Journal. We warmly invite you to read along as we share our journey as we learn and grow more authentic is our care and honor of the earth and all our fellow inhabitants, as we pursue our search for our own land and explore the meaning of homesteading and growing within plant-based/"veganic" principles. We seek deep authenticity, true peace, sanctuary for all and simplicity as our continual journey of learning and growing as a family.