The road led into the mountains. Into the mountains and through them.
Rain began to pour, but only for a moment. Long enough for me to wander through the park's visitor center and snag a free pin from the welcome desk.
The pin was green. It said that I'd found my park in Shenandoah National Park. I tossed it in my backpack's front pocket, next to the tiny book on the park's Skyline Drive that I’d found at a housewares store in Brooklyn four months earlier. The book had compelled me to do the drive, or more precisely, I was compelled by the feeling I had when I held it.
I continued winding my way up the drive, higher and higher into the mountains, pulling over at every place where the road widened to meet a scenic view - rolling green mountains, white wild flowers, tall pine trees. The higher I drove, the colder the wind grew. I pulled a black cardigan out of my pack. It was enough.
I reached the drive’s highest peak and pulled over to a series of cabins. I picked up the key for one and read the guest log of animal sightings: Big bear! Big bear! A mama bear and three cubs. One large bear asleep on a rock.
I reached my cabin. It was named Dogwood after the Virginia state flower - the one I now have tattooed on my left arm. I left my pack and guitar inside before climbing down a series of large grey rocks.
The rocks faced west. On them, I sat and waited for the sun to set. As it descended, its light stretched, forming an orange band below the blue, but at its center, it stayed white - all white - and an ant crawled around my foot.
I ate dinner in the guest center, where a man covered country classics and any other song requested by the crowd. I asked for Jackson. He reminded me that that's a duet and asked me to join. I warned him that I didn’t remember the lyrics, but we tried it anyway. We both forgot the words, but nobody cared.
Searching for Why
After the show, I thanked him, told him how I write music, how I was thinking of moving to Nashville. He told me how he lived there for awhile, how writing never came that easily for him, how he's from Virginia, so he moved back, moved back to the same city where I was raised. We soon realized that I knew his niece. That she and I went to high school together and worked at the same shop in the mall during summers in college. Now, we both live in New York.
Is this why I found the book? Is this why I felt I needed to do this drive?
He handed me his CD and wished me luck.
The next day, as I was hiking, I passed three park guides. They asked me if I was alone. I told them yes. Well, whistle or something so the bears know you’re coming.
So I whistled. For three miles, I whistled, and I sang, and I kept my eyes open for bears, hoping to see them, but I never did. I guess maybe the whistling worked.
Other hikers on the trail told me they heard my singing too. In New York, I would have cared.
I sat at the summit's edge, letting the breeze flow over me, gazing at the expanse of green mountains, watching a bug struggle to swim out of a puddle on the rock where I was sitting. It made it.
And I drove out of the mountains singing.