How My Mother Sent Me To The Mountain

JULY 2013
Yesterday was the Fourth of July, a day to celebrate freedom. Here, in Asheville, NC, it poured rain for hours, the kind of hard, wide-streamed deluge that soaked the ground in seconds, flooded roads, bent fields of flowers, induced electricity to flicker dangerously close to completely shutting down. I stayed in all day, mostly reading, a little disheartened that I had not been called this week to the writer’s retreat for which I was on a cancellation list. And I thought a lot about my mother, who inspired me to write, and who died on July 4th, 1996. Among her last words to my aunt Esther were, “I want to be free.” The morning she passed, I awoke minutes before my sister called at 2 a.m. telling me the news, and that she had had a vision of our mother lifting out of her body. Shortly after my mother’s passing, I often sensed her twirling happily free of gravity, free of age, free of limitations of body or mind. A few years later, after a very strange dream, she came to me in a vision.
antique photo Henrietta
My mother Henrietta


I dreamed a room where
not-quite-chairs and giant protractors
and four foot sheets of plexiglass slid
toward me, dancing me
against walls, into corners, attaching
themselves as if I had become
a human magnet.

Frightened, I awoke, scanned my body
for foreign parts, then my mother,
four years dead, glided toward me.
(I drew her with my loneliness.)
She looked how lately I feel her—
thirty-five with dark-again hair, waving
a rose silk scarf, boundless in her freedom.
She knows things now.

I wondered what would happen if
I touched her. Would my hand slice air?
Would it burn in angel light? Could I draw
her to me tight like life draws death, death life,
a riddle of attraction, opposed yet irresistible,
charged by something we cannot divine?

In 1998, I came across an ad in Poets and Writers for a writer’s critiquing workshop at Wildacres Retreat near Little Switzerland, NC, about an hour and a half from Asheville. I felt my mother had guided me to that ad and wanted me to go. My life, at the time, was dissolved in drama, depression, anxiety, and lack. Although I was still doing leatherwork—custom orders for hand crafted deerskin bags with natural edges, some with braided seams, painted designs, and unusual adornments—and working on my first novel, A Love Apart, my life felt lonely and unsettled, especially financially. I couldn’t imagine how I would get the tuition to attend the workshop.

I thought about it for days, then contacted the director for further information. That brought up even more anxiety. I was not comfortable with having to share my space with a strange roommate, or being in a large group of people (about a hundred, I was told), especially when I knew no one. Still, I wanted to go, to get serious feedback on my writing, to crawl out of my cave. As for the fear, a very wise and loving Spirit Guide once told me, “Gotta a fear, make an appointment,” which was exactly what I did.

After much consideration, I elected to sell the few pieces of jewelry I had of my mother’s. It was a very difficult decision, but I kept feeling her encouraging me. I took what I had and brought it to a large pawn shop. The owner offered me $485, not a penny more. The hair on my arms spiked in that “covering of truth.” It was the exact cost of the workshop! Feeling my mother hovering close, I cried all the way home, apologizing for having sold her jewelry, thanking her for the reassurance. And, the workshop that year started on July 4th! the anniversary of her death.

Luna Moth
My first luna moth at Wildacres

The hair on my arms spiked in that “covering of truth.”

For nine subsequent years, I spent two weeks—the workshop week plus a retreat week—with the family of kindred creative spirits I had longed for and found in the literary Brigadoon that came to life atop Piney Knob each summer. I looked forward all year to those two weeks in July. It was there I parked my ego at the door, honed my craft—at that time, mostly fiction—formed deep friendships, danced under a yellow moon, gathered in the auditorium for readings, and afterwards on the porch for music played late into the night. It was upon that mountain each fourth of July that I celebrated the memory of my mother and her message of freedom and courage.

During those summers I dared to experience feelings I’d long forgotten, try things I’d never done before—reading my writing in front of a hundred people; walking down the blacktop by moonlight, arm in arm with friends singing every Broadway show tune we could remember; performing in satirical literary vignettes, a workshop tradition.

Our “magic mountain,” as we called it, seemed to strip away pretense, to instigate every emotion, and over the course of those years, I’d felt my spirit lift to the stars and my heart crack into bits.

Wildacres Writers Workshop Wildacres Retreat Center
Sharing a laugh with writer friends
Wildacres Writers Workshop Wildacres Retreat Center
“Oh, no Black Dave, not the livestock!” (Yes, that’s me in the cow head.)
By 2007, although I still stayed in close touch with several of my dearest summer writerfriends, I felt myself moving in a new direction. There were things I needed to write that I wasn’t ready to share. We’d all talked endlessly about how our mountain was the only place we could be our true selves, about how we counted the months, weeks, days, hours until we could leave our inauthentic lives behind and drive up the gravel road to Brigadoon. Even though I knew I’d return to that magic mountain whenever I could, I no longer wanted to think of my life in that way. For me, it was time to live every day from my authentic self, to see where that might lead.