Saturday morning found me moving quickly through a little-known mountain pass that connects North Carolina to Tennessee. The pavement has never met across state lines, and to this day, a strip of gravel poses special challenges in wet or dry weather. This narrow road climbs from the valley floor to a pinnacle point where the Appalachian trail crosses and then descends sharply through a number of switch-backs. I first traveled this road as a child, peering over the dashboard of my grandfather’s truck nestled with my aunt and grandmother on the bench seat.
It wasn’t a road we traveled often, so it always offered unexpected surprises. This morning was no exception.
At the point of the Appalachian Trail crossing, I had to slow to creep between cars and hikers eating their breakfast and, on the other side, trucks loaded with hunting dogs preparing for training. I was so excited to reconnect with my long-time and too-long-estranged friend that I found myself pointing toward the steep descent before I realized what I had seen. I backed up through the curves and parked in the spot adjacent to the group I had just passed. “Do you mind if I take a picture?” I ask. What a strange question this must have been, but everyone in the group agreed with positive attitudes. “What do you want us to do?” they ask. “Exactly what you were doing before,” I say.
“What are the photos for?” one of the hikers asks.
A good question and one that would take too much to explain. It is in my nature to be outside the circle so that I can quietly observe, and, while I may delight in what I’m observing, I don’t necessarily feel comfortable with being drawn into the center. Giving them a full answer would require a shift in position that I was not ready to embrace. So, instead, I posed more questions: “why are you here?” followed by “why do you think they are here?”
It didn’t surprise me that both groups, the hikers and the hunters, answered the same way: “we like being outside,” and “I wouldn’t wager a guess.”
After thanking them for allowing me to interrupt, I got back in my car to continue my drive to meet my friend. Of course I thought over what the photos were for, and I contemplated other things. Questions like, “why was each group encroaching into the roadway when there was a large parking area right beside them?”, and “will anyone from either group cross the road to speak to the other?”. That last question led to “would anyone from either group find a comfortable place moving into a shared circle? Would I?”