Ten years ago when my daughter was just two weeks old and my son two, we purchased a home in the mountains. Unknowingly, we were not just signing paperwork for a second home. We were signing up for more time together as a family. West Jefferson quickly became our home away from home, allowing us to experience quietness, adventurous, intentional, unintentional, on-the-go family bonding time. Despite listening to two hours of a newborn screaming and a two year old crying to “make her stop”, it was well worth it when we pulled into the driveway. Once there, the mountains never failed to deliver the zen we all were seeking. The stream from behind our home rushed to greet us, while the wind patted us on our backs while filling us with fresh air. Even the birds seemed to say hello, as the rocking chairs anxiously awaited our company. Ahhh. Detox. While Charlotte may not as big as other major cities, she still delivers bills, traffic, internet service, phone calls, work, to-dos, and more. In fact, she can be quite demanding. West Jefferson, on the other hand, doesn’t ask much from us in return. She gives and gives and gives.
With babies on our backs and shoulders, we immediately started venturing around the mountains. Over the ten years, we have returned to many locations over and over, with each time feeling like the first. Jim has never failed to greet us as friends at his trout farm. He has an amazing ability to clean a trout in less than 15 seconds for only 25 cents a fish. At Thistle Meadow Winery, Tom the retired pharmacist, gives our kids lemonade in wine glasses while we sample his wines made from grapes around the world. The wide open spaces there call the kids outside, where they hop from one side of the stream to the other while running until they fall down. The New River has taken us on miles of adventures in kayaks and canoes, teaching the kids how to manage navigating the rapids on their own. Bikes have been imaginary ponies, as we rode along the Virginia Creeper multiple times forgetting that humidity exists.
In the mountains, ponies don’t have to be imaginary. Real miniature ponies graze along the fields and ridges in Grayson Highlands State Park, VA. The ponies and waterfall hike have been calling our family to visit every year. You can get to Grayson Highlands State Park (located in the Mouth of Wilson, VA) in under two hours from Charlotte. If you haven’t ventured into the mountains this summer, I highly recommend you make this the trip! Your kids will love it! The Appalachian Trail runs through elevations of almost 5,000 feet, giving you breathtaking scenic views. The only items you need with you are a camera, picnic and five dollars for the entrance fee. We have seen up to 20 ponies gather together, with babies of all ages either sleeping in the grass or trying to nibble our clothes. Just writing about it makes me want to go back.
If you are thinking of journeying more towards the Boone Blowing Rock area, then definitely put Grandfather mountain on your list. You can either drive or hike to the mile high bridge. We hiked it for the first time as a family when Carson and Addie were seven and nine. They loved the challenge of the hike, including the ladders you have to climb to scale the rocks. The walk over the bridge is extraordinary and frightening at the same time (especially if the wind is blowing). There are also simpler, no fee hikes around the area too. Jefferson State Park in West Jefferson offers views from the Blue Ridge Mountains that take your gaze for miles.
Carson and Addie are friends. They love one another, protect one another, and confide in one another . The mountains of North Carolina wove through them and cemented that friendship. In our little house, we watched them grow tighter and closer, giggle, laugh, adventure, play, rest, and share a room together. We owe the unbreakable friendship they have with one another to all these adventures they share side by side. And all these experiences add up to time. Time that is hard to carve out in our day to day lives. It is this reference to time that pulls us back to the mountains. While we don’t get up there as much as we would like anymore, we make sure to go when we feel like we have not had enough time to just be with one another. Yes, I have threatened to sell our house in Stonebridge when Charlotte delivers her bills. But when it comes time to execute, I can’t. My heart goes back to all these adventures, searching for salamanders in the stream, and dinners at the red table in the cabin. They have collectively helped to created a family that I really like. Our family has grown more connected with each experience. We always get dirt under our fingernails but come home feeling cleaner.
And home is certainly where the heart is.