I noticed it right away. The scent. The thinness of it. It’s my favorite part of the transition from travel to arrival. The first gulp of air in a new place. A piece of this new place in you, flowing.
The Asheville air became a thing this past weekend. An item. It was the Asheville air or maybe it was the mountain air, either way it was crisp, fragrant, invigorating. In the morning I would slowly open my eyes and gulp it down. Take my coffee and sit outside where the trees felt primordial, like ancient giants that passed the wind to each other in whispers.
We had conversations with our friends about it as we rolled through the Blue Ridge Parkway to the soundtrack of Hozier. We talked about how this thing felt like it was cleansing us. About how we wanted to bottle it up and take it home. All the while it painted the vast mountain range in the distance blue.
The second to last night we pulled into a dirt parking lot. We were at a brewery but by the looks of it we had just pulled up to a long-forgotten industrial building. As we walked closer to the entrance it was apparent we were at an Asheville brewery – all the token landmarks were there: open garage doors, picnic tables, cornhole, and some of the most relaxed, makeup-less people I’ve seen in a while – (coincidence?). We settled into a spot on the grass that was dappled in sun. Slowly, it transitioned to shade as the bluegrass music filled the mountain air. An outdoor bluegrass music festival at a mountain brewery. Even just writing those words conjures a generic nostalgia in me that has nothing to do with my actual experience. Some combinations of words just do that to me. But I was careful leading up to this trip to not imagine what this place was, what pictures I would get, what things I would see and do and eat.
I’ve learned through much trial and error that sometimes the idea of something is better than the actual thing (and vice versa). Imagination is a beautiful thing. A wild thing. It gets away from us sometimes.
It seems things, too, have taken on new dimensions and definitions for me. Can air be a thing? Surely it can. It felt as real as the bubbling cider I held in my hand on that mountain brewery. A commodity, the cider is. Something that gets made and acquired. And then consumed. “Commodity” sounds weird applied to air and “resource” sounds bureaucratic. But it’s a thing. Real. Wild. Nothing for the imagination to improve upon. I feel myself drawn to these invisible, indelible things more and more.
We left Asheville early in the morning. It was so early our hour-long drive to the airport was the same shade of black. Despite the darkness I knew that the mountains were out there in the distance, I knew the trees were swaying, and I knew we were all breathing in our last gulps of mountain air. But we didn’t talk about it. We didn’t talk at all.