Melting from stone

I had forgotten how beautiful life is and was amazed to remember.

The road traced the mountain's curves as I cruised through the Blue Ridge mountains. The wind streamed through my open windows as I led my car through North Carolina. The air slithered across my skin, bringing goose bumps from its crisp autumn caress. The sun trickled in through leaves barely touched by the season's change and curled in my lap like a cat, its warmth seeping into my jeans.

Even though my ears and fingertips stung from the air's chilly kiss, I radiated heat as my heart sang and my soul cried in joy.

Golden halos marked most trees as they hugged the road, letting a few leaves flutter in front of me like butterflies. A few bore crimson flames on their outer limbs as the trees slowly gave themselves over to fall. As the car drove through the tunnels of trees, a gap would suddenly appear and my throat would choke in awe.

The clear pale sky was a quiet backdrop to the majesty of the rippling mountains. Like forested waves, the mountains spread throughout the horizon. Those in the background became hazy sapphire cutouts. I balked every time and stole as many glances as I could safely manage while twisting my wheel around sharp turns.

My chest felt crushed by the wonder of it all as a feeling like humming filled me. This wasn't the awe I feel as I stare into the black abyss of the night dotted by stars and realize how small and finite I am. Instead, driving through the mountains with fresh air ruffling my hair, I felt connected and real and part of something.

Waking at 8:01 a.m. on weekdays, worrying over the tasks on my to-do lists, and cursing suburban traffic had turned me into stone without my noticing. I had forgotten the simple beauty of life found among the trees and around the fireplace with old friends.

Last weekend I stayed in a little cabin an hour out of cell service range. In the few days, my soul melted from stone. It wasn't just the laughter that floated above the smell of dinner sizzling or the easy conversations that deftly molded from personal narratives, politics, and philosophy. It wasn't just the crunch of leaves underfoot in the otherwise silent woods or the grace of a dead leaf dancing across a river. It wasn't just the way my cheeks blushed from the glass of wine in my hand or the tingle in my toes as the fireplace warmed the cabin. It was all of it and more; it was my ability to appreciate the gifts around me including old friends and natural beauty.

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I have never enjoyed a drive like I did through the mountains. I wish I could say that I am happier now, changed from the power of the peace I found in my experience. Yet the reality is that I still woke up at 8:01 a.m. and dreaded going to work. My mind still races with what I need to do. The difference though, is I still feel that little humming in my chest and smile despite the walls of my cubicle as I remember the mountains.

Perhaps I will not turn to stone so easily again. Perhaps I will remember how beautiful life is.

TravelElayne Smith