The first week of May had a lot going on this year. The Foundation’s Board of Directors met on Saturday, the 2nd, and, of course, there were the preparations for Star Wars Day, May the Fourth. (As in, May the Fourth be with you. Okay, I heard the groans out there. Knock it off.) I actually managed to find a connection between those two events, which I have to say surprised me a little bit.
The Board met at Grace Moravian Church in Mt. Airy, NC., which is the home church of our board president, Gail Theard. For those of you who are not familiar with the Piedmont region of North Carolina, Mt. Airy lies right at the feet of the Blue Ridge, a range of the Appalachian Mountains, with Winston-Salem about 35 miles to the southeast. It’s a pretty drive from Winston-Salem to Mt. Airy, passing Pilot Mountain, a distinctive state landmark. Wikipedia lists Pilot Mountain as a monadnock, which it defines as an isolated rock hill, knob, ridge, or small mountain that rises abruptly from a gently sloping or virtually level surrounding plain. On clear days, we can see Pilot Mountain from Winston-Salem, and it’s one of the few visual reminders that we live close to mountains.
Here’s what Pilot Mountain looks like from state Highway 52 on the way to Mt. Airy.
I only had to stay for the first part of the board meeting – to be available to answer questions about the presentation of the financial reports – and since I was going to drive that far already, and it was a gorgeous day, I took my husband with me. When I left the meeting, we kept going up Highway 52 into Virginia, and on to the Blue Ridge Parkway.
The Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469 mile long National Parkway that runs from the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina. It was begun in the 1930’s as part of the New Deal plan to put people to work during the Depression, with the work being carried out by agencies such as the Works Progress Administration, the Emergency Relief Administration, and the Civilian Conservation Corps. It wasn’t finished until the last stretch of road was put in place in 1987. That last stretch was the spectacular Linn Cove Viaduct, a 1,243 foot long, freestanding structure that circles Grandfather Mountain rather than being built into it so that it wouldn’t damage the mountain itself.
Here’s the Linn Cove Viaduct on an equally beautiful day.
The Appalachian Mountains are not the Rockies. They’re not huge, monolithic, dramatic mountains. They are estimated to be 480 million years old, compared to the Rockies’ age of 55 to 80 million years. That means they’ve been eroded and worn down – rounded and softened – for 400 millions years longer than the Rockies. I always think of them as motherly – warm and comforting and comfortable – rather than huge and kind of intimidating like the Rockies.
The Blue Ridge Parkway has to be one of the most beautiful roads on earth. The next picture is one I took that Saturday when we stopped at one of the many scenic overlooks. They built circles off the side of the road, with places to park, so that you can stop and take in the beauty of these gorgeous mountains when you visit. As you can see from the picture, it was a beautiful, clear, sunny day, and you could literally see for miles. If you look closely at the picture, you can see three mountains in the distance. The one to the right, separated from the other two, is Pilot Mountain. I looked at the map, and we were roughly 30 miles away from it. It was an extremely clear day.
The title of this post – “How Glorious a Greeting” – comes from a quote from John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club. The full quote is “How glorious a greeting the sun gives the mountains.” That was certainly true on this day.
Any time I’ve needed to get away from it all, the Parkway has been my refuge. Not only are there the incredible long-distance views, but you also spend long stretches driving through forests. On this particular trip, at the higher elevations, the leaves were just coming out on the trees, so they were that beautiful, fresh, first of spring light green. As we descended along the drive, we began to see the first spring flowers in bloom. In June, the azaleas, rhododendrons, and mountain laurels will be in bloom, which is always almost unbearably beautiful. And in the fall, driving up to see the changing of the leaves is a state-wide ritual.
So what does the Blue Ridge Parkway have to do with Star Wars Day? As I stood there that Saturday, looking out over that beautiful landscape, the Force was definitely with me. Or forces, that is – those of grace, gratitude, and generosity. I thought not only of the grace that created these beautiful mountains in the first place, but also of the grace that eighty years ago created jobs for starving people, and the generosity that continues to provide for this beautiful public space and the contact with nature that we don’t often have in our daily lives. I was reminded of the opening lines of Psalm 121 – “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, whence cometh my help.” For me, that help has always come in the form of peace and the easing of burdens in that contact with nature. I’m so grateful that we have places like this available to us, and that we live in a place that is this beautiful.
What is it that you’re grateful for, and how does that influence your own generosity? Is it nature, is it people, is it your church community and the good that it can do in your area? Whatever it may be, how do you plan to act on that gratitude? How will you respond to the many things you have to be grateful for?