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Hometown hike: coming back to your first landscape

Chandler Chastain spent the Thanksgiving holiday in Signal Mountain Tennessee. – courtesy of Chandler Chastain

“You can’t go home again” is a phrase not often associated with the commercial, feel- good of the holidays, and for good reason. Why sell the idea that it’s hard to leave a place and come back, only to see it changed or unchanged?

I think the idea of coming home is so hard to understand because it’s unique to each person’s experience. To some, it’s tied to memories, family or friends. For me, it’s tied to landscape. This past Thanksgiving, I went home again and experienced the landscape around which I grew up. This time, though, I experienced it as a blend of both new and of memory.

My hometown is Signal Mountain, Tennessee, and I go back during the holidays to enjoy good food, family and friends. Each time I come home, stores have come and gone, new subdivisions have spread faster than the kudzu creeping up the mountain, and there is always a scandalous new story about someone’s arrest. There is still one red light, and there is still the sense of familiarity that I have come to enjoy.

Coming home to my mountain during the Thanksgiving break means going back to the woods in which I grew up and hiking those familiar trails. The day before Thanksgiving, I took my boyfriend to the Julia Falls overlook, a part of the Cumberland Trail system.

Chandler Chastain spent the Thanksgiving holiday in Signal Mountain Tennessee. – courtesy of Chandler Chastain

The rocky 45 minute hike has some treacherous footholds but beautiful scenery. The hike descends down from the Signal Point overlook, curving around the mountain as it opens up to an overlook over the Tennessee River, Edward’s Point and Julia Falls. This trail is one of the seven wonders of Signal Mountain, often becoming the spot where “proposals,” or engagements or at least really well-liked Instagram photos happen.

The landscape of my mountain is both changing and constant. New homes arrive, old ones leave, but to my eye, this trail’s overlook is the part to which I come home. It’s a little bit of everything. It’s the bold pine trees peeking under the rock, it’s the sight of Edward’s Point across the canyon where the late night bonfires roar and it’s the knowing that I could keep walking for another four hours and be on someone else’s mountain.

Of course, I notice different things now that I’m older. The graffiti littering the rocks is one of the major eyesores, with some names of hikers carved in 1980 and others written in 2017.

Also, hiking the trail as a 22 year old is different from hiking it as a 8 year old with your dad. There’s still goofy aspects and rock climbing along the way and photo stops, but there is less newness to it all.

But there is something wonderful about coming back to the Julia Falls overlook that I never experienced as a child: thankfulness. Those woods are just a 5 minute drive from my house, and within 2 minutes of walking on the trail, I can see the river below and follow it to the overlook.

As an adult, I am so thankful for the opportunity to have grown up in such a beautiful place, and I am so thankful to be able to come back to it. So, this holiday season and from now on, I’ll be proving Thomas Wolfe wrong, and I’ll find the many ways to see home.

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