Tuesday, September 29, 2009

chasing fairy-tales.

Listening To: Each Coming Night by Iron & Wine
Happy Anniversary: Mom and Dad! Love you!! :)

A few weeks ago, I went to North Carolina with Mom and Nigel.

Nigel is the name of my GPS. At first, I merely called this device The TomTom (because that's the brand), but then I discovered a way to change the voice. I made my GPS British (of course) and then I named him Nigel. Nigel is a primary character in the following story (the antagonist, mostly), so I wanted to introduce him early on.

The adventure began on Friday night, when we went to the airport to get the rental car. It was the first time I had ever been to my city's airport. I always fly out of Nashville or Atlanta because they're cheaper (an hour and a half away, but cheaper). However, this airport is really pretty. It's small and sweet and it's surrounded by the same dark, gorgeous mountains that surround the city.

While mom was at the counter signing for the car, acting like a grown-up, I was walking around the airport in "aw shucks" mode. When it comes to 1.) really big cities and 2.) airports, I still go slack-jawed. Big buildings. Big planes. London. Sunsets. Vending machines that sell nacho flavored Bugles. A sighting of the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile. All those things make me lose any semblance of maturity. If I ever see them all at the same time, I'll implode.

Eventually, I wandered back to the car rental place and saw a statue dedicated to ... Harry Potter.

Freak out!

... Then I got closer and realized it was Harry
Porter. Alas.

Tangent. I feel I should go ahead and put this in writing: someday, if people decide to make a statue of me (and why wouldn't they?) do note: I want it to have the same anatomical proportions as Dolly Parton. Tangent complete.

We woke up early(ish) on Saturday, stopped for Starbucks, then set out on our great adventure. Our eventual destination was the Blue Ridge Parkway. To get there, we drove over the Smoky Mountains, through a few quaint NC townships, and over many curvy mountain roads.

And this is where Nigel enters the story.

Somehow, and I suspect my dad is responsible, Nigel was set to avoid all interstates. Also, Nigel mostly avoids any path of travel that makes sense. We didn't need Nigel while we were driving over those gorgeous mountains there to the left. There's really no way to go except through. (Is that a famous quote of some sort? Tis making the memory bells go ring-a-ding-ding.)

But toward the end of the journey, when we wound up in Asheville while it was dark, we needed him to help us find our hotel. I plotted in the address for the hotel, a Holiday Inn or something. Nigel took us on various remote backroads through Ashveille. Not pretty ones. Mostly the roads Nigel chose were the kind that trigger a reflex known as "make sure the doors are locked" over and over again. Finally we pulled into a driveway ... which lead to a small brick house.

And Nigel said, "You have arrived at your destination."

Obviously, Nigel had taken us to a house, not a hotel. This affirms my theory: that Nigel gives directions while he downs another pint at the pub.

The front door of the home squeaked open and an old man with a long crooked nose held up a lantern and screeched, "Who goes there?!"*

"This is a private residence Nigel," I whispered frantically, while Mom swerved out of the driveway.

She drove toward the interstate.

*Nigel slams his pint down on the bar* "Tuhn around!"

Mom said, "I'm getting on the interstate."

Nigel said, "Tuhn around!"

Mom said, "I am getting on the interstate."

I think Nigel mumbled something not blog appropriate.

Mom and Nigel did not get along. Eventually Mom said something like, "If that thing doesn't hush, I'll throw it in the river."

As if on cue, Nigel made a loud sound like he was banging on a gong. This is his signal to let you know you are speeding.

"Nantahala!" Mom screamed. The Nantahala is the massive river that twists through NC. Clearly, Mom meant business. After she pointed at Nigel like a fourth year Griffendor and yelled, "Nantahala!" ... he hushed.

Eventually, Nigel huffed and said, "Get on the motorway." Except he said it like, "mo-tuh way". Which is his word for "interstate." How cute is that?

After we arrived at the real hotel, I spread all my maps out in front of me** and plotted the next day's destination. I felt like Uncle Traveling Matt. Remember him? From Fraggle Rock? I'll post his picture there to the left.

On day two, we hit the Blue Ridge Parkway. Complete gorgeousity. If you've never driven it, put it on your list of things to do someday.

Once we got to the highest point on the Blue Ridge Parkway, I asked Mom to take a pic with my cell phone and send it to Dad. Then I looked down in time to see a mouse very close to my foot. After almost saying a word that wasn't blog appropriate, I moved back toward it and realized the wild beast was kinda cute. Very Rats of Nimb-ish:

And he wasn't afraid of people at all. He was just chilling by the sign having a snack. Understand: I think he is cute because he stayed in the grass. He would not have been cute at all if he had scampered up my pants leg. And that long tail is just ... ugh. *shivers*

One of the highlights of the trip was our stop in Franklin, North Carolina. It was such a sweet town. We ate at a funky little bistro called The Frog and the Owl, which was delicious. In effort to remind the world I am not classy at all, I looked at the menu, then looked at mom and said, "This is like something off Top Chef!"

She said, "It looks great, doesn't it?"

And I said something like, "I should've brushed my hair. I didn't know we were stopping anywhere fancy." *spits on hand then uses hand to tame down some windblown frizzies*

(Just kidding. I didn't do that.)

(But I'm not above it ...)

When we left, we walked to an adorable coffee shop just a few doors down and chatted with the owner. Her husband is an artist. She sells his work in her coffee shop (way. too. cute.). I bought some of his bookmarks.

There were several cute art galleries there as well. We ducked in one gallery to find a band dressed in renaissance flair playing their instruments. The owner of the gallery had on an ankle-length crocheted vest and dangly earrings. Further up on main street, people were sitting out in folding chairs, listening to a girl sing country music songs. It was really fun. It was everything I hoped it would be. Everything I pictured in my mind.

The main point of the weekend was just to have a getaway trip with my mom. But there was another reason for the trip as well. To make a long story just a smidge shorter, my mom read The It***, and she's wild about it. And I know that's not saying much, to say your family and friends like what you write. My mom, however, is a really tough critic. She can spot my grammar goofs with ease but, more importantly, she can help me figure out where the story is lagging. I always tell her she should have been an editor, then I immediately retract my words because I don't want to share her :) Anyway, Mom hearts The It. She said we should go on a roadtrip and see the places I'd written about.

So. In part, we were going to be tourists and see places we had never seen before. But really, mom, Nigel, and I spent the weekend chasing a fairy-tale all over the Blue Ridge Mountains.

No matter how tired we were, we squealed when we saw fog rolling through the woods and over the water. Because in the story, something happens when the fog rolls in ...

We hiked up little stone trails, up to the place where mountain laurel snaked across the path ahead of us. And we said, this is just like the place where she sees ...

We kept our eyes wide open for secret passages, cliffs, and caves.****

And while I have been, and will always be, kind of evasive about all this It biz-naz, I can give you a fun clue. We hiked up some stone steps of a fairly popular trial. We walked out on the edge of the mountain, to the point where it felt like we were on the edge of the world. Even though I'm not afraid of heights, my hands started trembling just a little bit. Mom said, "Can you imagine jumping from one of those mountains?"

I smiled. And I said, "No. But she could ..."


Fear defeated me. And yet,
not in faith and not in madness
but with the courage I thought
my dream deserved,
I stepped outside. It was gone.
Then I whirled at the sound of some
shambling tonnage.
Did I see a black haunch slipping
back through the trees? Did I see
the moonlight shining on it?
Did I actually reach out my arms
toward it, toward paradise falling, like
the fading of the dearest, wildest hope --
the dark heart of the story that is all
the reason for its telling?
- from "The Chance to Love Everything" by Mary Oliver

* This part of the story might be a fabrication ...
** Just because it seems like a road-trippy thing to do. I think maps are pretty. They look like tangled Christmas lights. As for reading them ... meh.
*** Not actual title.
****Also, bathrooms. It is wise to plan ahead, girls ... because there aren't many.


  1. I went on a road trip with one of the girls in my Bible study and we named her GPS Gail. Gail led us astray in the busy and confusing highways of Dallas and Ft. Worth. I am like you with big cities - pretty much, in awe/feel so small/not sure what to think, but Gail apparently didn't understand my nervousness and thought it would be fun to take us on detours. Your detours through the mountains sound like a little more scenic than concrete and asphalt.

  2. Oh, and I decided to use Jen Hatmaker's "Road Trip" study for the community group I lead. I have only done the first two days, I I think it is going to be really good for our group. Thanks so much for the suggestion!

  3. Samantha, you are so right! I have no room to complain. I lived in Dallas ... and I NEVER knew where I was going! :) Being freaked out trying to navigate that pyscho city is totally understandable. And I've often said the skyline in Dallas is beautiful ... but various parts of the city are all the same shade of concrete. At least my route was pretty :) Let me know what you think of Jen Hatmaker! I learn so much from her books. And she makes me laugh :) She has a new one out called Connected (I think...) that I'm excited about reading.

  4. What a hilarious story! My brother and I actually visited this exact same area (that is, the general area where Georgia, Tennessee, and NC meet) with our aunt, uncle and cousin a few years ago. One day we drove into NC to go whitewater rafting on the Nantahala, and that night we were winding our way through dark, devious mountain roads back to our rental cabin in northern Georgia. My uncle was trying to use his new GPS but it was totally NOT working for him! I don't think we ever gave it a name though. It didn't help him that my brother, cousin and I were singing opera in the back seat. :)

  5. Loved your story. :) And I'm excited about this "It" you keep mentioning...I fully expect to see it in print someday!! *fingers crossed*

  6. Natalie, I love this!!! We have a TomTom as well! And what's cooler is that my mom chose the British accent and named him Nigel too!!! I guess you and she think alike :) I love how he says mo-tuh-way. You can set it so it doesn't alert you when you're speeding or scream about the driving break every two hours too. Yay!! :) Also, today I was assigned some Mary Oliver to read for my advanced conducting class. I had never heard of her before but now I'm really excited! :) If you like her work, then I know she must be good :)

  7. Natalie, Your story was hilarious. Nigel sounds like a fun "person" to travel with. :) The places you went sound beautiful. I definitely want to visit the mountains one day. I live in Oklahoma, so there aren't any here unless you count the area by Falls Creek. I don't. You are writing a new book? :) I have two chapters left in Paperdoll. So good. I'm going to read it again. Oh and the wedding was beautiful!! Autumn was a beautiful bride and Justin looked handsome as ever. They are happily married in their little coffee shop looking house. Love them. :)

  8. Poohbonnet, I bet rafting the river was so fun! I would love to try that someday. I need really tame rapids though ... :) I read there are stretches on the Nantahala (or maybe the Ocoee...) that are way tame. Good for little kids and, uh, people like me. I bet your uncle was really relieved to get out of the car ;)

    Ruth, thanks! At this point, I don't think it's publishable. I really like it ... but I don't know if it's print worthy yet. Maybe someday. :)

    Abby, your mom is brilliant! :) Nigel just sounds so posh and British, doesn't it? I do like Mary Oliver. I'm not familiar with a ton of her work, but I especially like the poem I quoted here, another called "The Journey" and the one about Blackwater Pond. Let me know if you find some you like! :)

    Steffanie, so glad the wedding was fantastic! Cute little hipster couples make me smile :) I'm really glad you're liking Paperdoll too! As far as the new book ... it's something I've been playing with for awhile. I'm not sure if I'll ever try to publish it, but I've had fun doing it. One of those ideas that kind of consumed me for awhile. I went with it, and really like it outcome. It's fiction. Fantasy. Maybe someday.

  9. Check this out. Next time you're strapped for bathrooms... www.go-girl.com. It's a hoot.

    The It sounds way exciting! You've got my ears (eyes? imagination?) itching.

    Also, one day I want to run my own coffee shop and sell my husband's artwork. And have really quirky t-shirts and swing dancing on Friday nights. And songwriter's nights. And a tea bar. And soup. Near the mountains, in a small town. Preferably in the south, but possibly in eastern Europe. Maybe both. Or a big city as mystical as London or Prague.

    I think it's funny when you type "It****" because it looks like you're typing something that's not blog appropriate.

  10. Ooh. Without a doubt, I am losing my mind. I could've sworn I commented on this before.
    First, let's talk about The It. Now that it has passed the all-important Mom-approval test, does this mean we might get to see some of it soon? Because..
    Second, your road trip and the fact that the MC of The It might be able to jump from one of those mountains makes it really, really hard not to ask.
    Third, I love the fact that you went on a road trip with your mom AND that you have a shady British GPS called Nigel. Love it.

    PS: I wouldn't mind a Dolly-like statue being made of me either. Or action figures, really. I mean, the High School Musical kids have some.

  11. Ashley, ... the go-girl. That is really something. I thought you were sending me to a site that had bathroom stops mapped out or something. I was not anticipating ... a device. A hoot, for real. You would have loved Franklin! You would really like Waynesville too - there are so many funky, arty towns in North Carolina. Also, very little humidity. I could move there so easy. I can't wait to visit your future coffee shop :) (The It*** does look kinda funny. Heh :)

    Sarah, I might slap some of it on here one day. IT has an ... odd premis. But I think it's fun. I feel like I have to post a big disclaimer that it isn't a big literary undertaking. Just something fun, exciting, and weirdly sweet. Sometimes I'm itching to show it to people and sometimes I want to keep it hidden. I'm sure you know what that's like too. I think I feel that way about everything I write. And I had never considered an action figure ... but that might be cooler than a statue ... :)

  12. Hey Natalie,
    I love this story about you and Nigel and your mom! That sounds like something that would happen to me and my mom. We go on road trips and sometimes get lost, but we don't really freak out about it.
    I'm so glad you came to the Blue Ridge Mountains! I live in them and I don't think I ever want to leave! I love to drive down the Blue Ridge Parkway in every season. If you're ever in the VA area of the Blue Ridge Mountains, let me know and I'll totally take you (or give you directions) to a gorgeous little coffee shop that has old-timey music one night a week. It's so cute and it seems like something you'd love.
    I really really would love to read The It! Haha I love that name. :) If you need someone to test it out, I'm here...
    Hmm...somehow, I don't think I want a statue of me to look like Dolly Parton. A little action figure of me would be awesome, although I think my brother would steal it and put it in strange places...

  13. This absolutely made me laugh out loud:
    my theory: that Nigel gives directions while he downs another pint at the pub.

    And your trip sounds beautiful. Have been thinking about planning a vacation in the next year near to that part of the ctry.

  14. Sounds like you had a great time! Loved the story. Makes me want to buy a GPS unit so I can give it a British accent and name it King George or something. And then I would have something else to blame for my horrible navigational skills. ;)

  15. P.S. I was a little audacious and sent you an email...I have a spammy kinda of name, so please take a look for it in your spam folder if it doesn't appear in your inbox. Full name: Carra Carr. Yes. That's right. ;)