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Family goes 'unplugged' for Thanksgiving

Nov. 29, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

" Keep close to Nature's heart ... and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean." -- John Muir, founder and first president of the Sierra Club.

"How about we go out of town this year for Thanksgiving? Maybe go back to Boone, N.C., like we did the last time we went out of town for Thanksgiving. Remember? Maddie was really little then."

It was John, my husband, talking to me one night in early October. I was fixing dinner late once again, following our daughter's soccer game. As I took in his words, I reflected back and forward in time. Beginning in August and not ending until some point of time in November, it seemed as if almost every day, including weekends, was scheduled with "something." I am always plugged-in to my phone calendar and ongoing texts as a means to keep up. While I've spoken with other families who seem just as busy and thrive on this type of schedule, our family, frankly, does not. We value down time for its restorative properties.

"Sounds good to me," I replied.

"Hey, I remember that vacation. We roasted marshmallows and hot dogs around a campfire one night," Maddie piped in as she walked into the kitchen with wet hair fresh from a shower. "It even snowed while we were there! Think it would snow again?"

Leave it to Maddie to remember food, campfire and snow.

Once we decided to go, it did not take long for John to find a reasonably priced, simple cabin to rent near Boone. In fact, it was located in Todd, N.C., a small historic town located near the New River in the heart of Appalachian Mountains.

In the words of John, driving to Boone "was not a bad drive." Our GPS routed us through the mountains of West Virginia, Virginia and ultimately North Carolina via Interstate 64 to Interstate 77 to NC state routes 194 and 221. The ride was filled with breathtaking beauty, albeit with occasional bouts of carsickness. Yet, once there, it was worth every nauseating switchback.

We were in the heart of North Carolina Frasier Fir Christmas tree farm country. Never have we viewed as many Christmas trees as we did over Thanksgiving. It was like Lawrence County's very own Dickess Tree Farm on speed to the -nth degree.

Row upon row of trees covered the curves and bends of the mountain foothills. There were also cut trees in piles. Trees were standing in lots. Numerous "You pick it, we cut it," tree signs dotted the roadside as well. In addition, we saw countless vehicles with wrapped trees attached whenever we were driving. Still, it was the mountains, fresh air, and meandering trout streams that held our hearts most captivated.

We spent the day before Thanksgiving wandering the streets of Boone, N.C., home to former Marshall rival, Appalachian State. Boone has that typical college vibe to it, but with a mountain heritage edge. After all, it isn't every college town that boasts bluegrass concerts and story telling events, in addition to several antiques stores.

Arriving at our cabin situated on the side of a foothill surrounded by mountains that seemed to kiss the face of the heavens, we found the owner had music playing for our arrival. It was instrumental Christmas music performed on a hammered dulcimer and guitar. Talk about adding ambiance! Then, once the music was turned off, we enjoyed the total quiet surrounding us. No sounds from traffic, trains, barges etc, to interrupt the peace. And, did I mention? No TV, no Internet, no cell service. Yep, we were totally unplugged.

Thanksgiving morning arrived with sun-drenched fall weather. Maddie, John and I spent some time gathering wood from the surrounding hills for a campfire later that evening. We also reveled in walking alongside a trout stream -- there is no sound comparable to that of rushing water over rocks. Even walking uphill was made more bearable by the sound gushing from that stream. Later, we sat around the campfire viewing the overwhelming number of stars that could be seen in the clear mountain air!

On Friday, we decided to take in some local culture at Todd General Store. Registered on the National Register of Historic Places and established in 1914, Todd General Store allows visitors to recapture a time when life was simple and genuine. Offering homemade foods, antiques, crafts, homemade jellies, collectibles, rustic furniture, ice cream, floats, and milk shakes, Todd General Store is located near the south fork of the New River and sits on the Virginia Creeper Trail, one of the most scenic bike routes in North Carolina. Additionally, Todd General Store features in-season activities including Tuesday night dinner and storytelling, Friday night dinner and live bluegrass music as well as author signings, artisan displays and sales on Saturdays. We purchased a jar of elderberry jelly that we have been enjoying daily since the trip.

Next, we headed toward the town of Blowing Rock, N.C., which is known for its locally owned shops, restaurants and artisan environment. Unfortunately, since it was the day after Thanksgiving, the quaint town was overflowing with cars and people. We decided to bypass the town, and instead headed up a scenic mountain road full of more "queasy" switchbacks. Yet, what breathtaking views we experienced! Ultimately, we landed, quite by accident, at the entrance of Grandfather Mountain.

I encouraged John that we should take the opportunity and visit this mountain. Maddie and I had previously visited it with my dad and stepmom on a separate trip, and recalled it being worthwhile. Little did I remember it cost $18 per adult; and, that Maddie is now considered an adult!

That said, Grandfather Mountain is quite impressive as it is situated one mile above sea level. It is known for its swinging footbridge that "sings" in the same way as a harmonica. Upon our arrival, a weather shift was occurring, increasing the wind and chill factor. John walked up to the peak of the mountain with Maddie and me. However, he did not cross the bridge as he has a fear of heights. Although I usually don't fear heights, I was afraid for Maddie, as the winds were so strong and she possesses my knack for clumsiness. Therefore, we did not spent much time enjoying the sights from the very swinging, although strongly singing bridge.

If you, like our family, desire to "keep close to Nature's heart," I encourage you to visit the towns of Todd and Boone, N.C.

May we all "wash our spirits clean" by spending time unplugged and immersed in nature.

Stephanie Hill is a freelance writer and an eighth-grade reading and writing teacher at South Point Middle School. She is also a lifelong resident of Lawrence County. She can be reached at hill992@zoominternet.net.