A long, hilly gravel road breaks off Cherohala Skyway and leads to Whigg Meadow. It’s a big bald, five thousand feet high, in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Caleb, the kids, and I arrived at dusk, after a day of swimming in Indian Boundary Lake. There we’d built a thousand sandcastles and worked on teaching Levi to not steal other kids’ floats. Now Dad was helping Eric stake in his yellow tent in the middle of the windy hill. My brother’s girlfriend Erica was chopping sweet potatoes and chicken atop the cooler, and Dad’s good friend Cheryl was lounging on a quilt, her hiking boots kicked off, cold drink in her hand. The sun was starting to set. It was cold up there. The mountains beyond rolled blue and strong. I placed the sleeping Virginia in my brother’s flapping tent. Levi dove in the tall grass, rolled all around. Dad’s big white dog Studley did the same. I cracked open a beer and took a seat–my first all day?–in Dad’s green camp chair. Caleb walked to the edge of the bald, for a moment’s peace, I know. He looked out a long time–well, three minutes or so, which is a long time to yourself when you have a wandering toddler.
It marked our second night to be camping with our little people (our site was down at Indian Boundary), and we were worn out from it, yes! but glad to be in nature. The sun inched down; the clouds turned pink. Cicadas hummed and the wind, it howled. Levi’s sunburned cheeks popped like cherry tomatoes from where he lay in the grass. The tall grass waved in the wind; its graceful flowing twists and bows beautiful as a ballet.
“Come over here, Levi,” Cheryl called, and Levi went and sat next to her.
“Levi cold,” he said, so Cheryl wrapped him up in her sweatshirt. “Full moon,” said Levi, pointing up to the glowing orb.
“That means no stars tonight,” said Cheryl, a busy nurse who takes to the woods to unwind and recharge every chance she gets. “But at least we got a good sunset.”
“I hope you and Erica don’t freeze up here tonight, son,” Dad said to Eric. He was zipping up his coat, putting on his hat.
“I told you already, Dad, we have down bags.”
“Well, I worry about these things. I wish you’d just stay with us at Cheryl’s cabin. What if the wind picks up even more? Can your tent handle that?”
Eric held his tongue. Erica, an OBGYN with a calm demeanor and strong mind, looked up from her food prep and said, “We can always sleep in the Jeep if it gets too bad.”
“They’ll be fine, Pete,” snapped Cheryl. “Now sit back and enjoy this. It won’t last forever.”
“Granddad sit back. Granddad enjoy,” said Levi, staring up at the brightening moon.
“Well then, okay,” Dad resigned. He did as he was told.
Just then Caleb walked back and sat in the grass beside me. He drew his knees to his chest. “You don’t get to see a sunset like that every day,” he said. The mountains were dark as shadows now. The lightning bugs came out. “Levi, buddy,” said Caleb. “Did you see the fiery clouds?”