Letter from Flattop Mountain

I got to my writing office this morning to discover a terrific surprise in my mailbox:  a letter–yes, an actual letter–from my childhood friend, Nan.  You might remember Nan from my earlier post, Being Home.   She and I go way back–all the way to middle school. Her mom was our Girl Scout troop leader, and I have fond memories of selling cookies, plodding through dozens of craft projects in her garage to earn badges, and running from wild boars at Girl Scout camp.  We had plenty of late nights telling ghost stories and playing “Light As A Feather, Stiff As A Board,” at sleepovers, and spent hours choreographing dance routines to “Hotline,” by the Sylvers.  We even double-dated to our high school Valentine’s formal.

The last time I saw Nan was ten years ago, at our friend Kathy’s wedding.  We shared a table at the reception, and I remember listening to Nan talk about her upcoming adventure. Recently divorced, she and her new boyfriend, Mason, had just quit their jobs as a journalist for the LA Times, and were planning to sail around the world.  The catch was, neither one of them really knew how to sail.  Nan had taken some lessons as a Girl Scout (we’d shared a boat), and the farthest Mason had ever sailed was to Catalina Island, twenty-six miles off the southern California coast. “But what about storms?”someone at the table asked.  “What about sharks?”  Nan shrugged off our questions.  She’d let her hair grow out and now, streaked with gray, it fell past her shoulders. She wore a pair of funky glasses similar to reading glasses we’d all be wearing ten years later.  What did they have to lose? Nan said. They didn’t have kids or a mortgage to worry about. They surely weren’t going to let a lack of experience stop them. Life was too short. She promised to keep friends and family updated with periodic posts on her blog. I remember sitting there thinking about my two kids and my mortgage, wondering if I’d made the right choices. I admired Nan’s courage, her willingness to step off the track and take the road less traveled.

Nan and Mason were gone for two years. They sailed from Los Angeles down the Pacific coast to Equador, then west to Bora Bora.  I read her blog religiously, held my breath through stories of storms and near-disasters, gazed longingly at photos of her lounging on deck or going ashore in some tiny fishing village, with the South Pacific glistening in the background.  Good for her, I thought. Bravo!  But I couldn’t help but wonder why I wasn’t taking bigger chances in my own life. What was I afraid of? What was I waiting for?


How strange and funny that I’d hear from Nan now.  I was just telling someone about her, taking pleasure in knowing someone ballsy enough to quit her job and strike out for the unknown.  When I saw Nan’s name on the envelope, I ripped it open.  I couldn’t wait to find out what she’d been up to.

Turns out, Nan and Mason have traded their sailboat for a hunting cabin on five acres in the backwoods of Tennessee.  They’re living off the grid–literally.  No electricity. No running water.  While Mason fixes up the cabin and brews his own beer, Nan gardens and takes their dog on long walks.  Sounds pretty good to me.  The older I get, the more I find myself thinking about a different kind of life. Maybe it’s time to get off this hamster wheel.  I love living in San Francisco, don’t get me wrong; but it’s expensive. There’s lots to do and see, which I love, but there isn’t always time to just be quiet and think.  I love our circle of friends here, but I don’t see them as much as I’d like.  Life if just busy.

I don’t know much about Tennessee.  In her letter, Nan wrote that their closest full-time neighbor is a mile away, and that days without the “crackle of gunfire are rare.” If I had my drothers, I’d have a place in Louisiana.  I don’t know if I’m suited for hard-core country living, but I’d settle for a little house on the bayou; on enough land to make me feel like I was alone, but close enough to town that I could socialize when I wanted to.  I wouldn’t mind having a garden.  I’d like to have enough time in my days to write, read, and watch things grow.

Getting Nan’s letter has made my day.  It reminds me that it’s not too late; that there’s still time to make other choices; that life, does indeed, unfold in phases; and that the risk is always worth taking.  At the end of her newsletter, which included a picture of her and Mason on a tractor, she invited her friends to visit.  She said we can stay in the “beer room” and promised good food, stories of life in the woods, critters and gunfire.  I think I’ll take her up on the invitation. I’d love to see my old friend. I always adored her. In the meantime, I’m going to write her back.  She said she’s not on Facebook, but she gave me her email address and included a link to her blog if you’d like to check it out. I don’t think I’m going to use either.  I’m going to sit down and write her a good ole’ fashioned letter.  For some reason, that just feels right.


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