Dogwood Alliance is a 20-year-old Southern US forest protection nonprofit based in Asheville.
The frost was just beginning to kiss the mountain tops when Erin Everett and I embarked on our hike on the Mountains-to-Sea trail to the Rattlesnake Lodge Ruins near Weaverville. The air felt cold and sharp, and the sky was turning a milky white that blended into the fog, making the mountains vibrant with their red and brown leaves. This was my first time on this trail and my first time meeting Erin, a profound nature appreciator who embodies the practice of that appreciation at every level of her life. Erin also worked at Dogwood Alliance in its early days and created our first newsletter, originally called Understories.
By the time we had set our feet on the trail, she had already told me how she originally became interested in aligning herself so intimately with the natural world. Erin went through a health crisis that she believes came from living near the paper mill in Canton, in Haywood County, NC, that, when she was growing up, was a major polluter in this region. The pollution caused her to become very sick. It got so bad that she was concerned she might become an invalid. She finally got better through natural medicine. During her recovery, she founded a publication called New Life Journal because she developed a real drive to have deep discussions with people about what we are doing to the world we live in and how to better live in good alignment with nature, the world, and each other.
Through her work with New Life Journal, Erin was able to focus on Indigenous wisdom and have conversations with Indigenous elders. In addition, she and her team published articles about about herbal healing, green building, and community. She is currently part of the international Sacred Fire Community, a community that works with Indigenous elders to bring back some of the fundamental cultural principles, skills, and tools that all of our ancestors worked with and that modern humans have somewhat forgotten. Through this realignment with nature, Erin began to heal, going from barely walking and wearing a mask to reduce chemical exposure to returning to a normal, healthy state.
When we reached the top of our first ascent, there was a small parting of the trees through which we could see a mountain near us. The frost had advanced over the entire top of the mountain. The trees were blue and silver at their tops. We took a minute to breathe deep and appreciate it.
Erin showed me a tree near the ruins that was hit by lightning. It was massive, with a long coiling scar running the length of its trunk where the lightning struck it. There was a plaque and we read about Rattlesnake Lodge, which burned down in a fire alleged to be caused by lightning in 1926. I was struck by how much history was in these woods and how the fate of this great tree and this human lodge were the same.
We went a bit further than the ruins and found ourselves in the frostline. The forest was so magical! Every tree was coated with tiny, delicate ice crystals. Everything was sparkling and serene. We reached another small clearing, and Erin suggested we just take it in and stand silent for a moment. The wind was ripping through the trees in a soft whistle, and the branches of the trees were softly swaying and twinkling when they caught the light. I thought of something Erin had said on our hike,
“Standing Rock highlighted something about the aliveness of the world. The people at Standing Rock aren’t giving their lives for that land to be preserved just to help their people. They’re not doing it just because the land is a symbol. They’re also doing it because they really know and experience and feel in their bones that the land is alive and aware, and they have a relationship with it.”
I feel that aliveness and that relationship with these mountains in our beautiful North Carolina home. In that moment, standing and looking at the branches above me twisting around like arms draped in lace, I felt it for the forest and the trees.