Happiness Only Real When Shared

I'm going to introduce another theme to the subject of my blog. Up until now I have concentrated on what it's like being a publisher's representative "on the road" along with highlighting my Southern bookstores and the ever popular "Back in Time" author interviews. I'm now going to include writings from the general manager of Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe here in Asheville. Linda-Marie Barrett is also a published author and contributes to the store's monthly and quite celebrated, newsletter. Her upcoming story just happens (really, it's just a coincidence) to include me.


On a recent fall day, my husband Jon and I hiked up Shope Creek near our home in  East Asheville.  The trail was overgrown with thorny blackberry vines rising up on either side, snagging our clothes. A felled tree lay across one section, forcing us to scramble among the branches to keep going. We skirted the path at times, choosing easier routes. 

We sometimes strayed, unsure if we were still on the trail. At last we came to the head of the creek, to the waterfall we’d hiked to see. The summer’s dry months had taken their toll, leaving only a trickle of water upon the stones where we perched. Dampness coated rock outcroppings on either side of us. A massive tree lay against another tree, both of them bridging the ravine. Wind gusted through the trees above, light flickered upon spider webs, sparkling in the breeze. 

As I sat upon a mossy rock, I thought about forest therapy, also called forest bathing, how the atmosphere of forests—the scents, sounds, touch, air and leaf-filtered light-- calm the senses. Walking through woods always calms me. Challenges that can overwhelm diminish or fade away completely. Magic imbued the landscape that day— butterflies drinking from thistles seemed to follow us as we walked, birds called out to each other as we neared, the subtle scents of pine and fallen leaves perfumed the air.  

I just revisited Into the Wild, a movie about Chris McCandless’s adventure of self-discovery after college, a journey that finishes tragically with his death in Alaska. When I read Into the Wild, the book that is the basis for the movie, I remember being very struck by author Jon Krakauer’s elegant writing, and his respect for Chris’s seeking, however naive or self-destructive at times.   In my years at Malaprop’s, I’ve seen many young men and women who remind me of Chris. They seem a little bit lost, but also filled with yearning to look at the world differently, to question culturally-accepted expectations of how to make a living, how to worship, how to partner. I see myself in them, too, when I was younger and also a bit lost, which led to a couple of decades homesteading on a farm in Yancey County. I learned a lot about myself in those years, and I learned many skills that I have little use for now in my city life. Still, if the apocalypse comes, I’m your woman! I can make do, and make much, with very little.

At the end of Chris’ short life, when he realizes he is dying, he writes, “Happiness only real when shared.” As the actor playing Chris scrawled those words into the margins of a book, I thought about how true that phrase  is for me. The healing peacefulness of nature resonates most when I’m accompanied by another. Jon shares my love of hiking. We also share a calling to lie on the ground and feel the warmth of the sun on our faces, the solidity of the ground beneath our backs. I think of us like children, holding hands, the years washed away, life’s possibilities ahead of us. In those moments I am truly, deeply happy.

Three books besides Into the Wild that I recommend for seekers are The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel,How They Communicate—Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben. Forester Peter Wohlleben describes how the forest is a social network. Trees are like human families: tree parents live together with their children, communicate with them, support them as they grow, share nutrients with those who are sick or struggling, and even warn each other of impending dangers. 

 Another is a new book by one of my heroes, Wendell Berry, entitled Roots to the Earth: Poems and a Story with wood etchings by celebrated artist and wood engraver, Wesley Bates. Bates writes of this collection, “As our society moves toward urbanization, the majority of the population views agriculture from an increasingly detached position… In his poetry [Berry] reveals tenderness and love as well as anger and uncertainty… The wood engravings in this collection are intended to be companion pieces to… the way he expresses what it is to be a farmer.”

Lastly, read The LastAmerican Man, an early gem and cautionary tale by Elizabeth Gilbert.  Her subject is Eustace Conway, a man not unlike Chris in his dreams and self-destructive tendencies, who left home at 17 to live in a tipi; he later founded a wilderness camp, Turtle Island Preserve in Boone, North Carolina. Gilbert chronicles Conway’s intense struggle to live a simple life in modern times. 

We live in a beautiful spot on the planet, a refuge from political craziness in an election year. Malaprop’s serves many as a haven. We avoid too much political talk at the counter, our purpose to connect readers with books, to offer a delicious cup of coffee, to bring an author into your life and inspire you. Come visit with us when you need space. And then go with a friend to the North Carolina Arboretum, or the BiltmoreEstate, or down any path that might offer you some forest therapy to soothe your soul. May you find happiness, too!

Thank you Linda-Marie!


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