Please read the very first 100 NC Counties post for background info on our quest here.

“Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander, and my faith will be  made stronger…”  Oceans, Hillsong United

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In July, my oldest set off for church camp in the mountains. Ma (my grandma), my two littles and I headed for Avery and Watauga Counties.

During our four-night stay:

*We enjoyed a five-hour excursion at Tweetsie Railroad, perfect for my 7 and almost 3-year-old.

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*My daughter and I got lost on Buck Hill Mountain, never found the dang outlook spot after hours of hiking, and got some type of plant poison for the first time in our lives.

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*We all (minus Ma, who waved from the bank) went tubing down the Toe River. Breathtaking, both for the view from the river and the chilly mountain water.

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*We rode the Blue Ridge Parkway between Plumtree and Boone countless times, hiking new trails and experiencing as many views from the top as we could.

 “I got my ticket for the long way round, the one with the prettiest of views. It’s got mountains, it’s got rivers, it’s got sights to give you shivers…”

“….but it sure would be prettier with you.”  Cups, Anna Kendrick

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Wandering is great, but when I come away with more love in my heart, having shared it or knowing how to better share it with others, while also having passed on an appreciation for our earth to our youngest generation, then that wandering has some true purpose.

In the midst of our exploring, I had to pull myself away from the river and the mountains and shut myself in my car to have a difficult phone conversation with a friend one evening. Difficult because I would rather be planning my morning hike or sitting by a bonfire. Difficult because it was confrontational. And I don’t do confrontation. At least, I didn’t. In the past I probably would have told myself our differences were too big and she had offended me and my family too badly and I would have CUT HER OUT. Swiftly. Who needs long-lasting relationships, anyway? I still don’t do confrontation well. So the phone call was hard for me. It was a bold step in really uncomfortable territory. But I felt the nudge and knew the ugly had to be brought out into the light. I knew God was working on me and relationships and I couldn’t say no. And that evening He blessed the obedience.

I got off the phone that evening, looked around our campground, and realized I could take a note or two….

Buck Hill Campground ( consists of about 90% seasonal renters, meaning that the majority of those who park their RVs here do so just as soon as they open their gates in the spring. They leave places like Florida, where they’ve spent a warm winter, and stay at Buck Hill for a mild summer until the fall when they return south.

All of the people that I met at Buck Hill were of retirement age, with the exception of the campground managers and one homeschooling family whose husband/father had a temporary job in the area. Once the tight-knit community saw that we weren’t a bunch of loud, disrespectful hooligans (as the last pop-up camper in our spot had been) they welcomed us warmly into their circle. They gave my shivering daughter a friendly golf cart ride to a warm shower once she finally exited the Toe River after sundown. They invited us to a bonfire gathering at the next RV over. They showed concern for our camper when it was left alone, all the windows open, in a freak afternoon thunderstorm. And they politely closed their windows when my 2-year-old screamed his head off from sheer exhaustion and his defiance to give in to it. They shared their hobbies and health concerns with us, their old photos and their stories. We experienced a makeshift leather workshop and learned the intricate process of this handiwork, leaving with our own impressive leatherwork goodies.

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On the morning that we left, I took a walk to snap a few photos of the incredible gardens on the campground. Most campground lawns are cut by the owner, leaving basic trees and shrubs. Buck Hill allows seasonal renters to maintain their own “yards,” resulting in beautiful gardens tucked between RVs and lining the river.

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A woman came out to me as I shot of photo of one of her flower creations. Uh oh. I had asked permission of someone else, whose response had been, “Oh sure, people do that often.” But you never know when you’re going to offend someone, and I thought I had.

Instead of being angry, however, the woman pulled me over to a section of her garden that I couldn’t see from the main path, and what she showed me was quite special.

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There was a man who had been a part of their summer RV community for years, as many of them have. The man got older, and then he got sick. Eventually, he couldn’t come anymore. A couple months before our visit, he passed away. Some of his belongings were cleared from the site that had always been his. The woman pointed to an old, rusty, broken-down wheelbarrow hidden amongst the Black-Eyed Susans in her garden. “My husband told me he was taking the old wheelbarrow to the dump,” she said. “No you don’t, you bring it here,” she told him. She placed it in her garden and created something of a memorial for her friend, from something that could have been seen as junk, a place where things are now alive and beautiful and growing.

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This community had become a family in their retirement, with new relationships, new purposes, new experiences and seasons. And even when bodies depart from this earth the souls of those we love live on within us.

The summer has been a tragedy-filled one in my little corner of the world, and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t pray for those who are hurting. Time is precious and relationship is a gift. But relationship can be tough.

To choose a community like this, close enough to rap on your neighbor’s door from your own yard, inspires my daily walk, as it did when I had to make that confrontational phone call from my peaceful getaway. Conflict will arise and it cannot be avoided. We must deal with the ugly on some days, in an effort to get to what is beautiful. We must jump in the freezing water to experience the splendor of the river and mountains all around us. We must take the itchy rash and sore legs to be blessed with the quiet solitude of the forest. We must take the bad with the good, loving in unlovely times, with the faith that one day….

“He will give a crown of beauty for ashes,
a joyous blessing instead of mourning,
festive praise instead of despair.”  Isaiah 61:3

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