We rolled in from eastern Tennessee late, late last night. It was a long 14-hour drive each way, bearable for the good company and interesting scenery: leaving Fayetteville through the picturesque Boston Mountains, driving over the Delta lowland rice fields, crossing the Mississippi River, stopping in Memphis for a quick and sweet visit with family, seeing the downtowns and industries of Nashville then Knoxville, the colorful autumn approach to the Appalachians, then Roan Mountain herself for the Fall A.R.G.H. Gathering, and back again in reverse four days later.
The gathering was a mixed bag for us. I'll likely be doing a lot of thinking and writing about it, but of course life will go marching on as I process the experience for myself, so I'll share some highlights here in this post and I'll let the stories percolate up over the next couple of days, weeks, or months.
Without further ado, here's highlight number 1: Visiting with family.
This is Woody playing some dragon warrior role playing game with his Uncle Brian at the Mulhearn house in Memphis. He also watched his cousin Lizzie dress up like a kick-ass Jack the Pumpkin King, listened to his cousin Patrick do some pretty awesome Who licks on the guitar, played a little drums and keyboard, ate a little of his Aunt Annie's chicken cacciatore, and asked questions about his parents' sneezy, wheezy allergies to the cat, Tiger.
Highlight number 2: Pumpkin carving
We hit the funshops early on Monday, eager to plug in to what was going on. Among the offerings, Woody was most interested in free playing with the toys in the corner of the room and doing this.
Highlight number 3: Football
Daddy Honey (deleriously happy in the orange shirt) hosted a touch-football game on Monday afternoon. The dads were really into it, as was one teenager, Max, but the other kids, including Woody, preferred to drop in and out of the game.
Highlight number 4: Trick-or-Treating
Here are the Nana-sewed knight costumes! We took shining armor to a whole new level with this fabric. The scythe there is to help communicate that Woody is a "Haunted Knight," ready to collect souls like the Grim Reaper. Fox got spooked at the first house, and so we returned him to our cabin to pass out candy with Daddy Honey and continued to the rest of the cabins.
Here's Woody's pumpkin, a four-eyed vampire bat.
Highlight number 5: Hiking the Roan Mountain State Park trails
I was in awe of Woody on Tuesday morning when he scampered up and down the ridges on the Cloudland Trail, which is justly rated "moderate" for its tricky , narrow paths at the beginning along the river and steep, uneven grades down the backside of the ridge. I was the only one who slipped.
Also, it was really, really beautiful.
Highlight number 6: Snowballs
Woody had been crazy excited to see snow since finding out we were moving from Florida. Eight miles outside of Roan Mountain State Park is Carver's Gap, where we drove up to this patch of woods after hiking the two trails inside the park. In about thirty seconds, Woody got the hang of snowball forming and throwing, and he and Daddy Honey blasted each other until their hands were pink and numb.
Highlight number 7: Hiking the Appalachian Trail at Carver's Gap
Just across the highway was the entrance to the Appalachian Trail right at the Roan Mountain grassy balds. I had never seen a landscape like it. Woody headed for the shade beneath the trees where there was still some snow on the ground, and Daddy Honey ran to the top of the ridge to see what he could see.
Right before I got pregnant with Woody, I was making plans to do a thru-hike with Joshua (not yet Daddy Honey) after we both graduated. I had imagined 2006 to be my year on the trail, but it turned out to be my year with my new baby. This was my first time on any part of the Trail. I was so happy to be there. Woody took this picture of Fox and me with the trail right behind us. This was my favorite part of the whole trip.
Highlight number 8 (mine): The circle talk
I almost didn't go to the circle talk. I was tired after our morning of hiking, but I thought I'd just sit in a rocking chair and listen. It was powerful. And hard. I heard stories that challenged me. I thought I had a lot of things figured out, but I realized quickly that I have a lot of hold-ups, places where I use other people's ideas of the way things ought to be done to inform my parenting rather than what works for my kids, my family. The part that bothered me the most was when the conversation turned to parenting in public when things turn ugly. This is so, so hard for me. I get often get a little social anxiety anyway, just by myself, so when Woody does something that's considered socially unacceptable, I feel embarrassed, and I get panicky on the inside and sharp on the outside. I left feeling unsettled and sad.
Highlight number 9/Low point number 1: The yellowjacket sting
But as is often the case with parents' self-indulgence, it was short-lived. Daddy Honey came up to find me toward the end of the talk, and he and the boys played with toys on the porch waiting for things to end. Just as I walked over to them, a yellow jacket flew down Woody's shirt, got stuck, and stung him on the back. He howled. And he kept howling. He's not allergic--he's been stung before--but he was really, really shaken up by the pain. When he couldn't calm down, and when his skin began to turn red where he tore at it trying to get the insect out of his clothes, the rangers came to check things out. They took his pulse and blood pressure. They listened to his breathing. Woody calmed down some. About 45 minutes later, the whole thing was over, and Woody and I went back to the cabin for some quiet time.
Highlight number 10/Low point number 2: The dance party
I didn't recover all that well into the evening. I had lost confidence in what I was doing after the circle talk. Woody was out of sorts, and I wasn't handling it well, which didn't help me to feel better about myself as a parent. I probably should have skipped the dance entirely, but I went, and then felt overwhelmed and had to go back to the cabin early. Before I stepped out, Daddy Honey invited Woody to dance "fight dancing," where they pretended to fighter jets circling one another and taking shots. Woody was OK with it since "it wasn't quite dancing," and Daddy Honey was glad to be out doing something fun.
So, that was our trip. I didn't notice this van until the last morning as we all gathered to turn in our keys and say our goodbyes. It seemed a fitting end to the experience, kind of like parting sound bytes on wheels: