I am on vacation in Blowing Rock, NC, one of my favorite places in the world. The town itself is a quaint hamlet, but I really come for the Blue Ridge Mountains that surround it. I have spent countless hours hiking and exploring trails, swimming holes and waterfalls with my ex, and now alone. My day yesterday started with a startle, but a good omen, when a beautiful brown and orange moth, complete with a spotted yellow and furry body, landed unexpectedly about five inches from my face on an outside curtain I was adjusting on the porch. I had had one sip of coffee and was not completely awake, but he stayed where he landed, maybe just waking up himself, letting me get a long look at all of his wonder. For breakfast, I had left over trout and potatoes from my meal the night before, with a hard-boiled egg, a few crostini topped with cream cheese, sunflower sprouts with cherry tomatoes and a peach and blackberry fruit medley. I was fueled for my three and a half hour hike up one part of Grandfather Mountain.
Since it was during the week, I had the trail almost completely to myself. There were many yellow swallowtails and other small blue butterflies floating around me as I hiked, but the star of the show was one of the most beautiful black butterflies I’ve ever seen, a Pipevine Swallowtail. She was so busy flitting about a stand of tall flowers that she let me adore her for as long as I wanted. As if performing or flirting, she displayed every side and part of her. She was nectaring upside down at times, which show-cased the orange, black and white dots on her under wings. She also had a speckled body, and her top wings were a beautiful black and iridescent blue. I picked and ate wild blueberries and blackberries, warm and flavorful from the sun, saw a really interesting rippled pattern on a bolder (which I’m sure a geologist could explain the origins of in fascinating detail), and hiked by many a fern. I love how the rhododendrons create an alley along the trail, and there is a sense that I am walking through a holy hallway of nature. I ended my hike, as I always do, if possible, by splashing off my face and soaking my feet in one of the cold streams near the trail head. I spent the rest of the day reading and slept like a baby that night.
A guided meditation that I listened to recently compared the words “holy” and “whole.” I researched both in the Dictionary of Word Origins by Joseph T. Shipley. Of the word “holy,” he writes, “Note that holyday and holiday are doublets (the first, solemn; the second, for rejoicing).” I would say that this stay in the mountains has been, in some ways, a holyday and solemn. I’m taking a week-long vacation alone, dealing with the loss of my traveling buddy and all of our traditions and routines, and going for whole days uttering no more than a few friendly words to strangers as we pass each other or conduct business. I’m also accepting that my ex is not alone and dealing with the difficult feelings that fact brings up for me. I am contemplating what I want for my life now. What are my deepest desires and how can I listen to and heed spiritual guidance? At the same time, I’ve had multiple reasons to rejoice and have been on a relaxing holiday. I am grateful that I can afford to take time off, appreciate the delights of nature, drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway, watch the sun rise or set against the mountains, listen to jazz by moonlight with a glass of wine, and laugh out loud because it seemed like the cicadas and crickets were providing live percussion in perfect timing. I’ve been able to do as I please this whole week. And that does truly please me.
The word “whole,” according to Shipley, “…first meant unharmed, unwounded; hence, all there.” I have always been whole, but I have not always felt whole. As I get used to being single again, I am learning the difference between attending to grief as it bubbles up but not perpetuating it. The lyrics of a song may catch me off guard and before I know it I’m choking up and crying, but maybe it’s not useful to listen to that same song over and over again. Let the song strike its message, be grateful for the release of pain and then let it go. Move on to the next moment, where there is now a new possibility. I am unharmed, not wounded and all there. Present and accounted for, letting my life flow and unfold.
And that feels holy and whole.
Note: As I searched the internet to find out the name of the Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, Jeff Pippin’s website mentions that pipevine is a common hostplant for this butterfly’s caterpillar. I had taken a picture earlier on another hike the day before that had captured my attention. It was a leaf with a heart shape chewed out of it. At the time, I texted the picture to my friend Dawn D. and commented, “Whole, hole in my heart, either message true.” What a sweet moment of synchronicity for that observation to swirl full circle.