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Warnings and Welcome

Updated: Nov 6, 2023

This sign. It’s the way our world feels right now. Twisty-turny. Uncertainly dangerous and certainly strange. The paradoxes of Life and This Road beckon, however, with portents of adventure. Such a path curves through surprises of warning and welcome, of dark beauty and lightly nervous tension. But I get ahead of my story.

On a wet, dreary February day in 2019 I left the wedding reception of a dear young cousin in Gatlinburg for my brother’s home in South Carolina. My GPS pointed me on a route I’d never taken. Yay! Not only would see new vistas, the way was not through over-crowded Pigeon Forge where cars swarmed for the Presidents’ Day weekend. Thank goodness!

LOCAL TRAFFIC ONLY the placard read. What??? A previous sign indicated I could go this way and my car’s avatar on electronic screen showed the pretty pink line turning right. No “recalculating” warning was sounded. So, despite an arrow that pointed left to I-40 and a Truck Advisory, I turned right. Besides I’d lived in East Tennessee for over 40 years; I was feelin’ local.

Newly paved, the narrow two-lane road wound me through gray-green back country. Hard rains the past two weeks gave a sheen to evergreens and darkened the bare trunks of deciduous trees to a contrasting black. A pleasant easy drive. So my brow furrowed at the next sign: Attention Truckers: Pavement Ends in 11 miles. Well, I’m not a trucker I think…so…

Then with surprising suddenness – rather like Life’s own unforeseen changes - the leisurely curves gave way to sharp switchbacks and a steep climb. Mountain boulders, soft-bright with moss, tumbled with unexpected waterfalls cascading now with an abandoned fury from recent incessant rains.

Each bend, each turn brought a new wonder. Leaf-blanketed ravines. Ridgelines backlit by the dim gray afternoon light. Architectural sculptures of bare trees. Rhododendron, with flowers long gone, greened the forest understory.

The road was uninhabited except for a small farmstead here and there.

A red barn. The occasional bird.

Enveloped by calm, the abruptness of the next sign rocked me. White letters on bright red shouted: Do Not Enter. Your GPS is wrong. A clear warning punctuated by the bullet holes from someone's target practice… all is not friendly in this world. The road followed a fence line full of more ominous signage. Private Property. No Trespassing! Do NOT Turn Around in Driveway.

Why these angry admonitions? Did previous interlopers take advantage of the owner’s generosity? Or was it just an unnamed fear?

For sure that red sign disturbed any notion I might have had of complete harmony. But on I drove – I certainly wasn’t turning around or stopping in this unfriendly place! Had I needed it I couldn’t have called for help either; my cell phone had zero signal. I was alone.

As my car twisted higher up the mountain road those signs with their implied threats created a twinge of nervousness, enhanced by the mist settling around me. Mountain haze became dense fog ~ and I realized I was driving through cloud. The wonder of it! Cloud! There is something spiritual about the very idea of moving through cloud…as if I am touching sky. As if the barriers of Earth and my humanness and those threatening signs no longer contain me. I am one with the cloud. One with the Spirit. One with All.

The road shows no sign of ending, but I think to myself (...well, who else would I think to?...) …if the pavement ends in a dead end with no Interstate access the worst that could happen is that I would have to turn around. And I haven’t heard banjos.

And then...

I smiled at the charm of this hand-lettered blessing near the driveway of a small tidy home. The tension in my body relaxed. All the things those other signs lacked, this one offered with abandon. Welcome. Acceptance. Help if needed.

As if conjured by some magic in that sign, the heavy cloud began to fade away to a shy mist. So on I drive until at last – Pavement Ends in 1500 Feet.

And sure enough, the road becomes gravel, widens a bit at Horse Camp #1, and a small sign on the right reads Appalachian Trail. Ahhh…it’s been decades but I suddenly know. This is familiar. I have hiked from this very trailhead. A few more turns reveal the Waterville Power Plant. It’s a striking brick structure built with beauty to generate power from flowing waters.

Soon I’m on the Interstate zipping along at top speed. There’s something to be said for smooth, well-traveled, predictable roads that get you to dinner on time. But there is much to be gained in the slow adventure of not-knowing that lets control go and allows the backroads to wind around your soul.

On my original journey I had no idea the story these signs would tell – or the lessons I would continue to ponder. So recently, on a warm summer day, I retraced those eleven miles to photograph them. I found it interesting and perhaps significant ~ a few signs were not quite the way I remembered. The energies, too, were different in the lush green of that gold June day. And, of course, I knew exactly where I was going. The first trip had had the tense edge of unknowingness. This one presented the anticipation of memories.

My lessons from these country drives were several. First and always – trust my instinct and go the way I know I must. Respect the signs, but don’t follow them if I sense they are not meant for me. Keep my heart open for the adventures on gray days in the wildness of Life as it twists ~ there is Truth there.

But my best lesson is from the wisdom of that comfortable Welcome. At the end of the day I simply long to be welcomed. To be safe from the twists and turns of an uncertain road. To be loved. And to offer that same welcome to my fellow travelers.

I have one more sign to share, posted by the same family with the home-made welcome.

I believe that God has such a sign posted for all of us…his beloved, but often stupid children. A sign of Love. Forgiveness. And Unconditional Acceptance. A sign that asks others to show the same kindness. As above, so below.


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