I found a dress in the back of my closet. It’s one of those cocktail party dresses I used to wear to family weddings and company Christmas parties at pricey hotels. I nudged aside a few boxes looking for the matching shoes back in the dark recesses of the wardrobe. The shoes were manufactured by nameless faces in a drab and soulless factory deep inside a country with an unpronounceable name and a penchant for child labor. These are the type of shoes purposely designed to cause agony when employed to encase human feet. The heels provide only a modicum of balancing capability, so this footwear should only be worn when the wearer does not have to walk too far or look the least bit confident. There was a time when I was the woman who wore this dress and those shoes. Back when I lived in the city and did city things like attend galas and corporate functions. I am no longer that woman.
I lived the majority of my life in Houston, Texas, a land that ran in straight lines like a flat-chested socialite. My husband and I ditched our city duds after our move to the mountains, where the terrain is rugged and as curvaceous as a plump country grandmother. We allowed ourselves to be enveloped by her embrace and learned to dress according to her dictates. Decades of big city habits had to be overcome. The painful, girly shoes and slinky, sleeveless frocks were siphoned off from my collection and handed over to local thrift shops. I saved only the dress and shoes found in the back of my closet in case I was elected mayor and had to attend my victory party.
“Seasons and topography,” are the reasons my husband gives whenever inquiries are made as to why we migrated east. Notably, we had to adapt to the weather and all those hills. My Houston apparel no longer served my needs. I had not experienced winter in all of my adult life! I never had to walk up a hill nor climb to the top of a mountain on a Wednesday morning. I did not need couture, I needed gear! Long sleeve shirts, flannel pajamas, thick wooly socks, knitted caps and down-lined outerwear began to take up room in my dresser and closets. The desire to play outdoors for as many days as weather allows forms the foundation for every choice in all the clothing I now acquire. I need to be rigged for back country trails and neighborhood avenues in all seasons.
Once the appropriate garments and shoes were purchased, I needed to adapt my physique to the rigors of going anywhere that wasn’t inside my house. With the exception of the trails along the rivers, every walking surface in Asheville is hilly. For the past four years I have mostly worn hiking boots. I have town boots and mountain boots, which I consider interchangeable, but I have two pairs to cover all occasions. The parties here are casual. If there’s a local restaurant that has a dress code, I do not know of it. The painful pumps are detrimental to digestion anyway. My own social circle dresses as if they would like to be ready should a spontaneous hiking expedition be suggested.
As they say, “The wardrobe is willing, but the flesh is weak.” One has to acclimate to the rigors of the geography. When I first got here, I had the legs of a flatlander, the delicate knees of a pale, online gamer. My feet had never encountered any surface that wasn’t smooth and flat, at least not on a daily basis. I had to take my precious new hiking boots out to scuff and tear on the pavement before I could subject them to the roots and rocks of the high-country, backwoods trails. So, I began to walk every day to every location my legs would carry me in order to harden my appendages to an appropriate condition to warrant the purchasing of all that flannel and Gore-Tex.
Then came the trips along the Blue Ridge Parkway, 5,000+ feet of elevation, where no trails are parallel to the sky and precarious root systems lurk to sabotage your good mood and bring you closer to the ground. Like, face-plant closer. Or, ankle-twist closer. Or the best of all falling scenarios, butt closer. I had to harden numerous body parts for this level of hiking, so we drove up to these locations to hike on a weekly basis until it got too hot or was too icy atop our highest mountains. And we purchased good hiking poles to stabilize ourselves on rocky outcrops and add to that hardy-retiree-hiker vibe.
The past few weeks, the most promising part of the fall season, brought us cool mornings and warmish afternoons perfect for hiking and glorying in the color of autumnal mountain trails. We wanted to rejoice in the bright reds and yellows of the season. So, we did just that on Thursday. It was the one-year anniversary of a dear friend’s passing. It seemed fitting to spend our day contemplating the complexities of life on earth as one season departs and another roars into life by noting the passing of time and the joy and hardships of loving our fellow beings.
Though it was a weekday, loads of other people were driving up to the same location along the Blue Ridge Parkway for their own purposes. The scenic area pull-outs, handy for hopping out of cars and snapping a few pictures, were chock-full of gawkers. I took a few photos from our moving vehicle instead of jockeying for a position in order to get a peek at the best scenery. The drive itself delivered magnificent views of these iconic mountains, even if we had to share them with numerous fellow motorists–much like a Monday morning in Houston on I-10 east, downtown bound but with better scenery. For some reason, the congestion of like-minded leaf peepers did not bother me as much as it might have in the past. I was happy to share both the road and the seasonal vistas.
Our relocation from the flat and steamy, hurricane-prone Gulf coast to the seasonally diverse terrain of the mountains in Western North Carolina has led me to a kind of metamorphosis. Much like Gregor Samsa, I have adjusted to my newly-hardened outer shell, but instead of being at the mercy of my changes, I find myself deeply grateful for having the capacity to adapt to circumstances of my own choosing. My husband and I might not be mountain-worldly, we don’t shoot our own food or make moonshine, but we are transplanted, ever-evolving beings with a brewery in the basement and a garden that won’t stop giving us tomatillos.
I feel like a mountain woman these days. With my feet (mostly) firm on the uneven ground that is my path forward in this hilly place I call home, I have shifted away from the urban identity I carried with me when we moved here. I feel these peaks in my bones now since I have tumbled down them a few times, yet still have the yearning to conquer their altitudes and enjoy their beauty in all seasons. We are currently preparing ourselves for the coming winter (31° this morning!) and are relying on the gracious acceptance by our new-found tribe of aging trekkers to keep the warmth and joy flowing as we move gracefully from season to season with nary a cocktail dress in sight.