Monday, February 13, 2006

ROAD TRIP

Every now and then a man just has to make a journey, not necessarily to anywhere in particular, just somewhere. This past weekend was that time for me. With all the pressures of recent events in my life, I just felt compelled to get out of my shell for awhile, leave town, and ramble around for a bit.

For any of you men and women who ever really get this urge, I recommend the city of Chattanooga TN. I lived there nearly five years ago. It's a beautiful town. It's not a big city, but it's not a small villa either, and it's surrounded by so much natural beauty.

My first stop was McKay Used Books and CDs, which was my favorite place to shop for movies, books, music, and games for a long time. They do the whole buy/sell/trade thing, and quite frankly I don't think I've ever paid cash for anything I've bought from there, even though I hauled out over $200 worth of merchandise this past weekend. And that's $200 bucks worth of used CDs, movies, and video games, so it went a lot farther.

After that I went to The Comedy Catch, Chattanooga's comedy club, and one of the finest places for stand-up anywhere in the south. I forget the name of the comedian who was headlining, but he apparently opens for George Lopez on tour. I'm amazed at the healing power of laughter in large groups. The three comedians that performed that night had me clenching my side by the end of the night, and I was nearly light-headed with the chemical release of laughing so hard. Afterwards, there was an amateur comedy show going on outside, with a bunch of hacks who weren't funny, so rather than sitting through what would amount to a comedic buzzkill, I left for my hotel.

And the hotel, oh man... I know it was an EconoLodge, and it's not like five-star or anything, but people...the way that king-sized bed felt on my tired body! I had to almost throw myself out of bed so I wouldn't miss checkout time. I showered up and got ready, headed out the door, noted the presence of a church that I'd like to go to, and then took off for Lookout Mountain. (Incidentally, as you look below, you can click on the pictures to enlarge them. I can't take credit for taking them, but they're the exact places where I was.)

Talk about your grandeur! They say that you can see seven states from this particular point atop the mountain. I don't know if that's true, but I do know you can see a great deal if you look out over the cusp. As I drove around, I noted all the popular tourist attractions: Ruby Falls, the Inclined Railroad, and the ever-popular Rock City. I ended up passing them by. They all cost ridiculous amounts of money to go see, and I just have a fundamental problem with human beings claiming ownership to natural phenomena and charging their fellow man exorbitant prices to view the handiwork of God. So, rather than falling into the tourist trap, I simply drove through the snow-kissed neighborhoods. It was surreal, in a way, looking at all the posh houses and the numerous and beautiful trees all coated in white. One would almost imagine that the scenery had been ripped straight out of a postcard or a magazine or that it was some elaborate set for some fantastic Hollywood romance. And as I pulled to the edge of the mountain, exited my car and looked over the side, my breath was taken away by the scope of it all. I gazed upon God's creation and man's civilization, and at once I became very aware of my own insignificance in this world. I became aware that the problems in my life that I feel are so life-threatening are often just like what I saw below me: a speck, a particle, something small and easily overcome.

I shook the snow off my shoes, and began back down the mountain. It was not all that easy navigating around up there, so I managed to get lost and miss church. I finally found my way back to Chattanooga and went back to wheeling and dealing at McKay's again. After that was all said and done (and after packing my new PS2 gingerly inside my car) I rolled out of town and headed toward another of my old homes in Manchester TN.

I checked out my old duplex, my old workplace, and a lot of the spots that I used to rollerblade in around town, but I was mainly interested in going out to my special place at the Old Stone Fort state park.

If you're ever going through middle Tennessee, stop by the Old Stone Fort. I truly believe that there is no other place like it. Just for those of you who don't know, it's located in between two rivers: the Big Duck River and the Little Duck River. The two rivers merge at the tail end of it, and what lies between is a meadowy plateau. On either side, the waterfalls gently rush. I took the trail that started at the Big Duck right at the dam. I walked down a while and stopped as I got to the first set of falls. I climbed down a bit and just stood for a while, watching as the water fell, unable to turn away from the sight. There again I was humbled by the artistry of God. He seemed to be saying to me through the falls, You can work the rest of your life and never make anything as beautiful as this. For the first time in a long time, I was involuntarily moved to prayer, and I knelt in awe of His creation. I know that there are some of you out there who don't believe in a Higher Power, but I dare you to look at the sight I was looking at and not feel at least some respect for the wonder of nature.

I walked a little further and got to the higher cliffs. I remember vividly how I used to climb down these cliffs, sit on the rocks below, and dangle my feet in the water on a hot summer day. I'd come there after a long hard day of work, slip down, kick my shoes off, and just let the water take my stress and cares away. For a moment, I wished it weren't snowing outside, because I'd have loved to do that again.

I got to the higher cliffs, and I looked over the facings that even I as an impetuous young man would have been afraid to climb down. I remembered a girl whose heart I broke at that very spot when I told her that I was like the tree on the edge of the cliff. That tree had probably been there since before any of us were ever born, but one good stout wind and it would have been splinters on the rocky bottom below. I told her that I was like that, and that our relationship would've been the wind that pushed me over. Sometimes, I still feel that way: hanging out over the edge of a cliff, nothing between me and eternity except the small purchase gained by my toes which are clinging tightly to the loose dirt on the edge, and I'm liable to plunge to my demise at a moment's notice.

Along the cliff line was the ruin of an old stone fort (thus the park's name.) It had been used as a fortress in war time, but it had also been converted to a paper mill. There's just something about looking at a fallen building. I imagined for a moment, as I stepped down into it, what it might have looked like when it was being used. People worked hard for this place, and undoubtedly some even died defending it. And yet, here it sits, a pile of stones, barely more than rubble. Not that I discount their work, as I'm sure some good must have come of it at some point, but there's still a lesson to be learned in how we live our lives and how materialistic we can sometimes be.

As I further trod down the path, I came upon the very tree root that I had mangled my ankle on while cross-training several years ago. I winced involuntarily, remembering how I had been looking at the falls to the side and not at the path ahead. That was a life lesson I'll never forget. Isn't it great when life throws you an unintentional metaphor? I also remember dragging myself about half a mile to get back out of the woods and into my car so I could get to the hospital. There's another life lesson. Sometimes when you fall down, nobody's there to pick you up, so you have to learn to get yourself out of a jam.

After I had gazed at the falls again for some time, I turned my attention to the meadow in between the two rivers. According to local history, it was inhabited by Native Americans for quite some time. I can only imagine how lucky they must have felt to find such a piece of land to settle. It was strategically placed between the two rivers on a plateau, which meant not only were they barricaded against invaders, but they also had the high ground. The fertile land must have been great for crops, and the clear (and, oddly, mostly treeless) landscape must've been inviting to them.

I then crossed around to the place I had really come to see: my special place of meditation. On the banks of the Little Duck, there are jagged rock cliff faces. Right as you get to the falls, there's a place that you can climb down if you try hard, and there are huge rocks that are just made for a human being to sit on and stare at the river. I remember many times wading out into the river and walking right up into the falls. The current there isn't particularly rapid, and the river floor at that point is solid and smooth stone, rather than silt and rubbish. It was awfully nice on a hot summer day to get out in that cold clean water. As for the stones, I used to sit on them and have my most intense prayers. Even back then, during the days when I thought the church had forsaken me altogether, I would come there on Sundays and sit for the better part of the day, talking to God, and hoping against hope for some answers. As I visited again, I found myself one more time moved to close my eyes and say a little prayer for serenity.

I carried those thoughts with me for the rest of the drive home. The rest of the trip was uneventful, consisting of meal breaks and one stop to visit a church on the way home.

I hope that now that I've had a moment of introspection that my trip has made things a bit more clear for me, and I further hope that I won't wait so long to take another such trip.

Until then, I'll be back with more music news tomorrow!

2 Comments:

At 2:30 PM, Blogger Sailorcurt said...

Thank you for sharing that. Sometimes we really just need to take a break from the grind and reflect.

I especially like your inference to the relative insignificance of our problems. Life is a beautiful thing and it is the hurdles that we must overcome that make it challenging and rewarding.

How many stories did your grandfather ever tell you about the easy times in life? The things that are worth remembering and passing on are the struggles, the heartaches, the hard times that we successfully endure and triumph over.

Sitting back for a minute and just reveling in the insignificance of our petty difficulties throughout our relatively short span on this earth can remind us all of a higher purpose; can and renew our faith and our determination to live our lives to the fullest. Even the darkest of nights eventually awakens to the dawn.

Thank you for reminding me of these truths so eloquently and I sincerely hope that your journey was a fruitful one.

 
At 9:54 PM, Blogger Texas Biscuit said...

Fantastic post, JD. I myself am only a semi-religious person, I only go to church about once a month and rarely read the bible. But I become supremely spiritual when I am in the mountains of CO or NM. You put all those feelings to words beautifully. Thank you - and glad you enjoyed your trip so much.

 

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