We celebrated his birthday during our trip to the mountains. On the agenda: two waterfalls, a scenic gorge, gem mining, and ice cream.
To appreciate how this afternoon unfolded, I have to return to Mother’s Day 2009, our last trip to the North Carolina Mountains. I grew up in suburban Detroit. In Michigan, we have lakes – Great Lakes, you know – but we don’t have oceans, and we don’t have mountains. When I moved south twenty-five years ago, I knew I’d love being so close to the shore, but I had no idea how much I would come to love hiking, camping, exploring waterfalls, white water rafting, tubing, etc.
I want my children to love what I love and high on the list is this magnificent landscape God has given us. Mother’s Day 2009 rolled around, and I told Dave I wanted to spend it in the mountains. I was just entering my third trimester with Ainsley, so white water rafting and strenuous hiking were out. On the agenda: two waterfalls, a scenic gorge, gem mining, and ice cream.
It was Sunday, so we headed for Mass in Highlands, North Carolina. We were halfway through the twisting, curving route when Kolbe emitted a primal groan. “I feel sick,” he said. We made it to the church parking lot before Kolbe lost his breakfast.
After Mass we headed down Highway 64. We drove behind Bridal Veil Falls. John and Tim were marginally impressed. Kolbe just groaned some more. We headed for Dry Falls, a spectacular water fall you can walk behind. We spotted the sign ahead, but it was covered with burlap or something. As we reached the boarded-up parking area, it was clear that Dry Falls was under construction, and we would not be seeing it that day. We headed for Callasaja Gorge. Kolbe threw up again. He was too sick to get out of the car to take so much as a glance. We headed for level ground and gem mining, but by the time we descended into Franklin, North Carolina, we concluded that Kolbe wasn’t recovering anytime soon and that gem mining just wasn’t happening either.
I was crushed.
Fast forward three years. We were headed for Route 64. Kolbe was pumped with Dramamine and feeling swell. Agenda unchanged: two water falls, a scenic gorge, gem mining, and ice cream. We hit Route 64 and could hardly miss the flashing lights that said “Road Closed Ahead.” But it was closed eight miles ahead. We’d miss the gorge, but the waterfalls and gem mining were okay.
We drove behind Bridal Veil Falls and headed for Dry Falls. And then we spotted the burlap covered sign. No way, I thought. There is No! Way! this waterfall is still under construction.
Yes, we passed the parking lot, and it was full of construction vehicles. The gem mining operation was about a hundred yards before the road closure, and the gorge was just beyond it. Gem mining was in, the gorge out.
The kids absolutely loved gem mining. The attendant was very knowledgeable and told the kids all about mining history as they scooped and sifted through sand. The skeptic in me figured the “gems” were planted, but if they were, well, at least they planted lots of them. It really was cool.
Gems sorted and bagged, we headed back up the mountain for ice cream which did not disappoint. On the way back to our condo, we decided to hike to another waterfall, this one not under construction. It was a steep, one mile trek.
(Note to self: When you spot returning hikers who are: a) two thirds your age and b)half your body mass index and c) huffing and puffing and dripping sweat, you might reconsider the hike.)
But if caution had prevailed, we would have missed the real gift – better than Dry Falls or Callasaja Gorge or ice cream. And that would be the gift of John, my brown-eyed bundle of verve and humor, John of my heart, one of my two late-in-life wonders.
As we headed down the path, John spotted one sparkling rock after another. “It’s a gem,” he yelled and stopped to dig it up. He’d hand his gems to me and off he’d run.
“I’m a gem working man,” he told us with all the wide-eyed enthusiasm that is age five.
Pretty soon John lost interest in sapphires, emeralds, and rubies.
“Gold,” he yelled. “It’s piratey treasure!”
Don’t tell the gem mining folks, but there’s gold in them thar hills, and John found plenty of it. Trust me; I hauled it all back to the van. The return hike was a tad daunting. Gem working guy eventually collapsed in a heap and urged, “Just leave me here.”
Though I felt his pain, we persevered and made it back to the condo, sweaty and weary. Dinner was left-over birthday cake, whatever snack food we could scrounge, wine and beer (for those of age). We ended the day with a rousing game of Sorry. Just as I was attempting – with practiced stealth – to stack the deck in John’s favor so the birthday boy wouldn’t come in dead last, he drew a one and managed to get his last guy home.It wasn’t the birthday I planned, but it was beautiful birthday nonetheless.
Happy birthday, John. What a gift you are.