Friday, June 03, 2011

Appalachia revisited

In general, hitchhiking is not conducive to falling in love. You are totally in the moment, and that's good, but at the same time you are totally unprepared to take the time to get to know someone, or even stay in any place long enough to do it. That's why I figured, while I traveled, that it probably wasn't going to happen, and I didn't worry about it too much.

There, was, however, one woman who actually picked me up hitchhiking in Wyoming; her name was S.G., and she was not afraid of anything. We stopped at an overlook facing the Tetons, that afternoon, as the sun was going down over them, and shared a certain feeling, an awe at the majesty of the mountains, the fresh western air. I'm not sure it would be right to say I fell for her. I didn't even know her. I told her the truth: that I was about to visit a cousin who was a park ranger there at the park. This was true, and I couldn't change it, really. At the cousin's cabin she felt a little left out and decided to keep on traveling.

Much later, I was hitchhiking southwest through Pennsylvania when who should come by but S.G.; she was driving the same van. She was on her way to Charlottesville, Virginia, she said, where she now lived; she was living with her boyfriend, but it was pretty much over. I was welcome to come along, she said.

I was interested in Charlottesville because it had several things that I valued in a town. It was fairly small. It was close to all the important places on the east coast. It was in the mountains. It was old and pretty. But, best of all, now I had a friend there; I could conceivably stay until I had work and could pay rent, which wouldn’t take too long. It was a possible landing site.

But S.G. and I landed there, and she immediately announced, to boyfriend, roommates, colleagues and friends, that she was leaving, with me, in a couple of days, just long enough to gather her things, close up shop, and get out. This was news to the boyfriend. He was not happy about it. He confronted me soon after. I told him, somewhat impulsively but truthfully, that no, she wasn't really my girlfriend; I was just passing through, and she was traveling with me. You must understand, I told him, that I mean you no harm. She's a free person and is doing what she wants; I'm not causing or provoking this. Uneasily, he refrained from pounding me, or killing me in the night, though I didn't sleep well. But, true to her word, in a couple of days, we left.

The problem was, we weren't going anywhere in particular. I'd helped her get out of a situation, obviously, but I didn't have one that I thought would be better; I didn't even have a destination to speak of. Going southwest, we settled on a little hollow where I'd spent part of a winter earlier, down on Clinch Mountain, near Bean Station, Tennessee, and pretty quickly we ended up there. There was a pullover there where one could camp on the road, and we did.

I found myself twisted inside; if we were to become a couple, I would become a liar, and I would have trouble living with myself, though I might never see her ex-boyfriend again. It was also a question of what I really wanted: but I didn't know what I wanted.

This may not have been what she wanted to hear. She drifted off, and moved to the Netherlands; I never heard from her again. I'm not sorry I let her go, wistful, maybe, but not sorry. She was one person who shared with me the absolute wanderlust, the pure joy of being suspended at that moment when the sun goes down over the ridge. It's not always pure joy; sometimes, it's more like pure suspension, with the possibility of joy, but the possibility also, of having everything burn off, like a mountain fog.

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