Monday, February 13, 2012

Love The One You're With

Cherokee Lake, Jefferson County, Tennessee

Back in the 1970s, Stephen Stills sang, “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.” Even as a teenager I realized that, morally, he was on thin ice, but I guess you could say that about most popular music. It was sometime during this period in my life that I began to realize that a celebrity may have great musical or artistic talent, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he has anything worthwhile to say. Great music is often matched with lyrics which, if taken seriously, lead to a shallow, meaningless existence. Nevertheless, there is a sense in which “love the one you’re with” is good advice…
I’ve had a life-long love affair with the Smoky Mountains, and I’m thrilled that I live just an hour away from them, but I also love Yellowstone, Acadia, Yosemite, the Black Hills, and the Grand Tetons, and I’d be thrilled to live near any one of them. I suppose if you held a gun to my head and made me choose, I’d say the Smokies are my favorite national park; although, to be honest, I don’t know if I prefer the Smokies because I truly believe they’re the best national park, or because they are close by and a guy ought to learn to appreciate his home territory. Love the one you’re with.

Part of the secret to a happy life is simply to learn to love where you are, whether that’s the coast, the mountains, the desert, the suburbs, or cornfields. Every place has its own charm which may consist of panoramic views and fabulous sunsets or it may consist of birds, bugs, and weeds. No matter where you are, Nature is always nearby – sometimes right out in the open but sometimes lurking around the edges.

  • Fielden Store Road, Jefferson County, Tennessee

For a lot of city folks, their closest encounters with Nature typically consist of pigeons on ledges and weeds in vacant lots. Not exactly national park material, but Nature nonetheless. And if you are destined to live there, you might as well learn to see the beauty in it. Even a dandelion in the crack of a sidewalk can be a happy reminder that Nature won’t go down without a fight, and while most of us hate dandelions because they are a blemish on our picture-perfect yards, a field of yellow dandelions is a beautiful sight.

If I want a serious, Saturday-sized dose of nature, I’ll go to the Smokies or some spot in Cherokee or Nantahala or Pisgah National Forest, but I can also appreciate the beauty of the farmland along Fielden Store or Indian Cave Road just a few minutes from my home. My in-laws live in a quiet spot where pretty much nothing happens but the weather… and even that doesn’t happen very often. It’s a pleasure to simply watch the cows, horses, tractors, mockingbirds, swallows, and the occasional blacksnake do today what they did yesterday and what they’ll do tomorrow. Love the one you’re with, even if it’s a slithering reptile. (If it has round pupils, you could even pick it up, but keep in mind that even non-venomous snakes are reluctant to love the one they’re with, especially if that one is a human.)

I try to get out and walk several times a week, either in my neighborhood or at Cherokee Dam; although during the summer it’s likely to be behind a push mower. I must admit that I’m usually just ready to get it done because I’m doing it for exercise, and it’s just another item to be checked off my day’s To Do list. But every now and then I’ll be overcome by the fact that walking in a place that I love should be a pleasure, not a pain. I can sometimes get myself in a leisurely, observant frame of mind by reading something by Henry David Thoreau, a committed walker if there ever was one. Or, Robert Frost’s poetry speaks of being acquainted with the night, or leaning against his hoe to talk to a neighbor, or walking along an old wall, replacing the stones that have somehow tumbled down during the winter because “something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” Of course, James Taylor’s “Walking Man” must be listened to during an autumn walk just as Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” fits a springtime amble.

Just one of a thousand Smoky Mt scenes

I recently discovered a Copland instrumental called “Down A Country Lane” that fits any quiet back road during any season. The first time I listened to it as I walked down an empty, country road under a starry October night, I cried. Really. I don’t know why. Maybe it was the cold air in my eyes. Maybe it was the fact that I’d just spent a couple of hours with my grandkids, and I was thinking about generations coming and generations going. Or, maybe that’s what you do when you are glad to be alive in a place where you are glad to be.

Love the one you’re with, and before long, it will become the one you love.

Four Generations