Nashville had never been on my ‘must visit’ list. But an invite to join a close friend (and fellow labyrinth enthusiast) on a trip there opened an escape route – away from the atmosphere of anxiety at home and towards the refreshment of exploration and discovery. We had no specific plans, but did have a list from the Labyrinth Locator for stops along the way. One stop was in Gatlinburg TN at the Buckhorn Inn. Flat jagged rocks, perched on their narrow edges and pointing toward the sky, outlined a path of wood chips in a field enclosed by trees. My breath caught in my chest at first sight. This was a structure like none I had never seen. I entered the Labyrinth with a question – “How do I balance family needs with personal needs?” – then slowly began the journey. The intense July sun radiated through dead still air and halted my steps twice, but both times a sudden breeze arose and I was able to continue on. Words to a song started to spin in my head: “you’ve got to wake up every morning with a smile on your face and show the world all the love in your heart, then people gonna treat you better, you’re gonna find, yes you will, that you’re beautiful, as you feel.” I wasn’t aware that I even knew those words, but they kept repeating, over and over. I knew it was a Carol King song, but didn’t know the title. The words accompanied me through the labyrinth. It was not the kind of answer I had expected, but I had no doubt it was the answer to my question. My smiles had been overshadowed by a furrowed brow and the love in my heart seemed to have gone into hibernation.
Following the walk I found a hammock hung in a shady spot nearby. I swung there to cool down, the words still streaming by. We moved on to Nashville and welcomed our air conditioned timeshare accommodations. I looked up the song title –“Beautiful”- and it seemed appropriate to start our exploration of the famous city of music as a song tumbled through my head. It became my personal ‘theme song’ – and remains so many years later.
Music rarely found its way into my childhood home – except once a week when the TV was tuned to The Grand Ole Opry. My parents, especially my father, loved it. Sometimes I tried to find another place to be – not easy in a small house. Sometimes I stayed but diverted my attention to a magazine or other distraction – anything to avoid listening to boring old people music. Limited exposure led to limited appreciation of music of any kind – until the Beatles arrived on Ed Sullivan! But even then, we only had our small childhood record player, and buying records was not an option easily available – not to mention that spending what little money I had on records was not my first choice. Our family radio was tuned to the news and only used by my parents, and the transistor radio I requested for Christmas had such poor reception it was of little use.
The Ryman Theatre was unknown to me, but we went on the tour at my friend’s suggestion. As we moved from room to room, the guide’s vivid description of the rich history and evolution of the music and musicians that had passed through these hallways began to unfold. I looked more closely at the photos, became intrigued by the stories about famous musicians I had barely been aware of. I became curious about what it must be like to love something so much you devote all your time and energy – your life – to creating it. My excitement built as the tour continued – and did not end when the tour ended. After, we explored the downtown. I left one of the many western gear stores with an unplanned, and surprising, purchase – a pair of cowboy boots! We had lunch at the Wild Horse Saloon and returned that evening for the entertainment advertised. The music took me back to the living room in our small house in the country. I wished my parents were there to experience it in person with me. My foot tapped and my ears captured the stories behind the notes, breeding a new appreciation for my parents’ joy, as they listened to that weekly broadcast long ago.
Next day: more labyrinths, the first in Antioch. It was a poor cousin to the one in Gatlinburg, consisting of a barely discernible brick outline in the grass. But the sun was shining and a gentle breeze moderated the temperature. The morning dew dampened my bare feet. There were no questions looking for answers on today’s walk. I moved slowly, noticing that the green portion of the path was mostly crabgrass, that stubborn enemy to my own suburban yard. Then I laughed to myself, almost out loud, maybe a little out loud, as it occurred to me that the roots of the crabgrass felt like my own – strong, resilient, deep – while the surface appearance reflected my own self image – unrefined, coarse, not acceptable in a well groomed surroundings. Tears erupted, then slowed and stopped – not fully released for fear that once they fell without restraint they would never cease. A few steps further brought patches of softer grass, and the final turn into the center was carpeted in clover. The center stone was made from bright blue shards of clay and glass embedded in concrete. The strong urge to do a yoga sun salutation won out over my resistance to putting myself on display. The sun’s rays melted my shoulders away from my neck and released my lips into a smile. On the return trip my feet landed with a lighter touch – but I resisted their twitch towards dancing.
Near the end of the path I watched a large beetle crawl up and down blades of grass, then tumble, right itself and keep going, over and over, blade after blade. It was iridescent green, gold and purple – I thought beetles were black! My journey ended as the beetle’s continued, on its own course of discovery. Thoughts of my Aunt ‘Ninnie’ flickered in – she would have loved Nashville – was she ever here? Was she here with me now? A steady intense noise buzzed from the trees nearby – Cicadas? Birds? Not sure, but it was a wild song composed by nature. I sat to write in a small copse of evergreens and the powerful scent of hemlock stopped my hand briefly as I basked in the flood of sensations. I began to wonder how often I missed these experiences as I rushed from task to task at home.
We continued on to a second Labyrinth at the Calvary Methodist Church, located just down the road from the iconic Bluebird Café -famous for its reputation as a place for singer/songwriters, both famous and up-and-coming, to shares their songs and the stories behind them. More bricks hid in overgrown grass. I confidently headed towards the center – until I found myself at the entrance again without ever reaching the middle! I chuckled and realized we can even lose our way on what appears to be a familiar route. It was time to eat, rest, and leave the serious thoughts behind for the day. And time to prepare for an evening show at the Grand Ole Opry.
We drove through a downpour to the ‘Opry’- in its large modern home, following the move from the Ryman Theatre in 1974. We could see it in the distance but struggled finding our way through the unfamiliar maze of highways, bridges and exits to get there. Once inside we found our seats near the front of the nearly full auditorium. The traditional Opry show was not on tonight. We were here to see the Oakridge Boys band. But visions of Minnie Pearl and her hat with the price tag hanging off, along with singers Roy Acuff, Patsy Cline, and Tex Ritter crept in, perhaps refuting the diversion of my attention in the living room over 40 years ago!
To be continued…..