About three years ago, I returned to the mountains of Tennessee, like a modern-day Thoreau, with the intention of getting lost in the woods. After several years of living in the hubbub of downtown Franklin, TN and Austin, TX where I networked, convened conferences for creatives, worked with a tech startup, and started writing, I arrived in the Appalachians with a new wife, a little green Fiat, without a home, but with a borrowed and well-loved RV.
Wounded by a series of catastrophic events that should have healed, but had not: leaving the stage after forty years, disgusted with the church, two mid-life affairs, a divorce after thirty-two years of marriage, followed by the disappearance of practically every aspect of my previous life—my dream home, my music career, my children, and my friends.
My previous life was gone, and I was no longer the person I had been. The things that had seduced me in the morning of life did not fulfill me in the afternoon of life. No one, not even me, understood this new person. A long-time friend with whom I had the second affair (now my spouse) was the only one who understood how to carry me gently, and we were convinced it was best for everyone that we be far from other people.
We ended up on fifty-four acres of remote farmland, close to the small town in Tennessee where I’d grown up, but too far away from a grocery store to call it civilization. For two and a half years we worked endlessly carving out our place in the world, clearing the meadows, digging fences, building two cabins, designing a rustic but elegant farmhouse, renovating our fifty-four-year-old tobacco barn, and purchasing two horses.
In between work, I took long hikes through the woods, during which my dog Remy would accompany me and we met endless varieties of birds, families of deer including a huge buck, a coyote, several rattlesnakes, two bushy-tailed red foxes, and a bobcat, but never any humans. And that was fine by me.
We soon discovered the RV leaked profusely when it rained, and we felt like we would be blown off the teetering stacks of blocks as we rocked back and forth during storms. But as the months melted into years we were often lonely.
We are extremely isolated, which is much more difficult for my extroverted wife than for myself, a man who is reveling in being a reclusive introvert. For me, it feels like necessary rehabilitation after a life of performing for thousands. The solitude provides the only setting in which I can develop the internal consciousness, unclouded by other voices, that I require.
The winter hikes provide unexpected gifts. Despite the Pissarro-like starkness, the monochromatic dirges amidst grays, blacks, and whites reveal a panoply of nature. The seemingly barren forest throbs with a song of everlasting life. A symphony of hope.
And oh, the Spring. When Mother Nature lifts her skirts she is the ultimate muse. She is like an artist’s model, a wife, or a lover, and I passionately explore her many facets. The meadows are megacosmic bedrooms awash with dewy, fresh, earthy grass, and adorned with soft yellow daffodils and fragrant wildflowers of every color and description.
The delicate indigo blue bunting returns and while perched on her throne atop honey locusts serenades me with one of earth’s most beautiful melodies as I listen in wonder. Oh, she seems to sing, this is what it means to be alive. Come rest and be replenished at the bosom of mother nature.
We slowly began to meet our neighbors. One family has farmed the valley nearby for over one hundred years, another family are pig farmers and smoke billows for miles from a hog pickin’ every holiday.
Up at the end of Slaughter Holler lives a survivalist, and a man down the road once shot his neighbor for shooting his dog. The neighbor that was shot lost his leg and is now long-gone and the neighbor that shot him has turned out to be a mighty nice fellow. His dog recovered and has become our dog’s best friend. Salt of the earth country folks named Bubba, Dooner, and Frosty Angel graciously helped us make our way.
The rhythm and natural progression of the seasons have helped me begin to separate the good from the bad in my life, and renewed my determination to value and nurture the good and make it flourish winter, spring, summer, and fall.
It requires a certain amount of foolish stubbornness to take the road less traveled, but rather than getting lost, I’m discovering who I truly am. Sure, it can still get lonely out here, but I’ve never been happier.
Healing, I’ve found, comes from the strangest of things. In the hoot of an owl, in the nuzzle of a horse, in shafts of light dancing in the forest, in the smell of a campfire, with every falling star, and with every rising sun.
I’m finally ready to rejoin society. And there is not a chance in hell I ever will.