This ocean is new. I have not seen or felt it before. I have seen the other ocean, it was bluer, and the old ocean, it was louder. This ocean is gentler, calmer. There is a symmetry to it, a greater sense of balance. This new ocean is what all the oceans that came before wanted to be but couldn’t quite get their fish together, if you know what I mean.
This ocean is mesmerizing. All the seas and oceans and lakes I’ve ever seen held a certain amount of mystery, of majesty but this one – this one is unparalleled in its depth and breadth. The waves are gentle and almost obsequious, keeping their rhythm in time with the tune in my heart. I squint at the horizon as it greets me like an old friend, reaching its long lavender and rose fingers across the sky and overhead.
My toes sink deep into the soft, gray sand. Seashells reflect the sun’s light back up to heaven and there is a hint of a breeze that lightly moves each rebellious strand of hair from my face as if to say, “Let me see you, child.” For a time, we – the ocean and I – gaze into each other.
Oh, tangy saltwater on my lips and the sweet promise of oblivion!
I relate to the ones who walk out into the waves and vanish. This introduction feels more like coming home, a return to myself, although I do not remember being born here or having left. (I ponder the notion that perhaps I do not remember because this ocean has always lived within me, so we have never truly been apart.)
My soul recognizes this place. I have been here… before existence, before time and love and hunger and sorrow – long before this forward fumbling that is the human experience. I was graceful once, and fluid. Majestic, boundless and wild.
As a wave breaks over my head I acquiesce, just for a moment, to the pull of the tide, limbs and body unrestrained, relaxed in a cool comforting embrace.
Inside this tiny modicum, this speck, this trivial fragment of time, nearly imperceptible – perhaps quicker than a lightning flash – I am healed. Whole. Unquestioning, unapologetic, and true.
The moment fades, and I exit the water, taking my own flawed shape once again. I tread gently over the broken seashells at the shoreline, and I smile at them. I smile at them because I am among them, the broken things along the shore. Beautiful, weathered, eternal. I, too, am a part of this ocean and she – in all her magnificence – is a part of me. They say if you hold a seashell to your ear you can hear the ocean. If you listen closely enough, you will hear the waves within me, too.
My family and I (minus the tiniest guy) went to Chattanooga for the weekend, not knowing what to expect, but full of excitement. We all enjoy an adventure and I have a serious inexplicable need to see and touch every part of this country and other countries. I would like to put my two (bare) feet on the ground in every city in every country on Earth, if I could. I am comfortable at home, but I have a nomad’s heart.
Word to the wise: A trip to the mountains – any mountains – is refreshing to the spirit. If you’ve ever felt like your soul needs to take a good, long, tingly fresh breath, the mountains are the place for you. If you don’t believe in that mumbo jumbo, well quite frankly, Chattanooga may still be the place for you. After all, some things are true whether you believe them or not. *wink, wink*
The drive from our house to the Noog (as some of the locals call it) was an easy, painless, traffic-free 5 hours. I love a good road trip and I always like driving through Atlanta and daydreaming about the people who live and work in the beautiful buildings there. (I see you, Tyler Perry.) We arrived and met up with my step-dad, and then promptly drove over to see Mom at her wordplace. Now, I’m going to keep this place anonymous in order to protect her, but we have this running joke that she actually works at a CIA Front Operation (ala Sydney Bristow in Alias) because there is no way any workplace can be this wonderful. It’s a beautiful glass building that sits on a cliff overlooking the river, complete with coffee shop and neatly manicured courtyard including infinity waterfalls, where she’s encouraged to take yoga classes ON THE CLOCK because wellness matters. I mean… WHAT?! This alone is reason to move to Chattanooga. We took a tour of the building and I tried to get the elevator to go to the “bottom” floor, but it wouldn’t. Probably because I don’t have the security clearance and wasn’t willing to do a retina scan.
Since our trip was just for the weekend, we had to try and squeeze a lot of activity into just a few hours. We were up to the challenge, and we started with Rock City on Friday Night. I have been to Rock City once, but it doesn’t count, because it was the middle of winter and I didn’t get out of the car. My 7 year old son has been once before, so he was my official guide. Rock City is one of the most well-known attractions in Chattanooga, and I recommend it. Because we arrived somewhat late in the evening, we pretty much had the place to ourselves, which was great because we could wander and chat and it felt very relaxed. There’s a lot of walking through beautiful foliage and ancient rock formations, and at the top of Lookout Mountain, you can “See 7 States”, which is really rad. There are garden gnomes all over the place and a rickety bridge that unfortunately doesn’t come with an alternate route. I felt a little like Indiana Jones, if Indiana Jones was a complete coward.
(At the end there’s a small gift shop that has some really kitschy gifts. I chose an agate slice to use as a coaster on my writing desk, and some small vials of blood stone and citrine, which I’m very excited about.)
Saturday morning started early with a 6:30 am wake-up to run in the city. I had planned to go alone and use my MapMyRun app, but Mom wanted to run too, so my step-dad drove us over to the Walnut Street Bridge and off we went. Firstly, the weather was fantastic! We started just before sunrise, and I tried to take some photos of what I was seeing but the photos don’t do it justice at all. It was cool, not humid at all (a big change from home), clouds hovered around the mountains and there was a nice breeze. Ideal running conditions. Walnut Bridge itself is fun to run, it’s made of wood and forgiving on the joints and it’s over half a mile long. My legs felt fresh and breathing was easy. Excellent way to start the day, and running is a wonderful and underrated way to explore a new city. We ran through the Bluff View Art District and Coolidge Park, saw several interesting works of art, and smelled tons of baked goods being prepared for the day. The run was so good, we repeated it on Sunday morning!
That brings me to two other great things about Chattanooga: The food and the architecture! The amount of coffee shops and bakeries here is mind-blowing and extremely pleasing to the fat girl inside me. I’m sure I could eat my weight in delectables at Rembrandt’s Coffee. (If you’re ever there, try the Nutella Macaroons!) Many of the buildings in C-town have a German feel to them. I lovingly refer to them as gingerbread houses. My husband lived in Germany for several years as a kid, so I was particularly excited for him to have the opportunity to see something familiar and tied to happy memories.
Beyond patisseries, there are LOTS of places to eat in Downtown Chattanooga (we mostly stayed around the downtown area for this trip). We chose to eat at Sticky Fingers BBQ, and it was a magnificent choice, if I do say so myself. Here in Georgia we use Sticky Fingers sauce and until we drove past the building, I didn’t realize they even had restaurants. I chose a sampler plate that included a pulled pork sandwich, ribs with sauce (you can also choose them dry), veggies, and sweet potato soufflé that will make you say Hallelujah. The food was satisfying, the ribs in particular were very well cooked – tender and flavorful – and the sweet potatoes were some of the best I’ve ever had (which is saying a lot, given my affection for my aunt’s Senator Russell potatoes) and our server was very friendly. I can’t wait to go back and have more ribs.
After our exhilarating run, we headed over to the Tennessee Aquarium. For my son, the Otter Whisperer, this is a big deal. We arrived to see that the Saturday Market was going on right outside, so that was fun. We shopped and met local artisans and crafters and I was reminded that we humans are creative. We are wildly imaginative and talented, and I’m proud of us. High five, homo sapiens! Inside, the aquarium was a little crowded but the place is huge so the crowd moved freely. There are escalators to the different floors, which is nice, and the air was on “Arctic” setting, which after standing outside in the sun for a while was a welcome break. Sadly, the otters didn’t feel like playing, but we did see penguins and the gator feeding show, and I pet something! I honestly do not remember WHAT it was, probably because I was terrified, but on coaching from my son I put my fingers in the water and touched some kind of gross fish! Check that off my bucket list! It was softer than I expected, and kept swimming back for more loving. It acted like a cat, but was definitely not a catfish. I learned some new things while there, which I love doing, about jellyfish – the Sea Walnut (which reminded me a lot of a flux capacitor) and the Upside Down jelly, in particular. I also was a magnet for the Sea Horses, which just reaffirms my belief that I am Snow White. Even though it wasn’t an outside activity, this aquarium was one of the highlights of Chattanooga for me. If you get a chance to go, please do!
I touched it!
Sea Walnut Jellyfish
That night we went by Publix, ate at Mom’s and watched Jurassic Park. It was lovely to get a rest and some family time just relaxing. Everyone slept early, which was also nice.
Sunday after the run, we packed up and went to Shoney’s. Step-dad wanted us to go and Emmett is nearly dumbfounded at the idea that you don’t have to wait for your food, you can just go get it! The breakfast bar was delicious, and I ate way too much. For our last stop before driving home, we hit up Build-a-Bear at the Northgate Mall. We don’t have a Build-a-Bear Workshop near us, so this is a special treat that Emmett gets each time he travels to a place that has one. After some deliberation, he chose a Pokemon outfit for his bear, and we hit the road.
The Noog was fun, refreshing, and educational. I really have nothing negative to say. Some things were a tad bit expensive, though someone pointed out that it might have been due to large crowds traveling up to view the eclipse. We didn’t get to see Ruby Falls because of an enormous crowd, and I’ll also blame that on the eclipse. The great news is, the tickets we purchased are good for a whole year! So we’ll be back to Chattanooga in the Fall to see Ruby Falls and Christmas lights. There was a LOT of art and friendly people (and dogs!) and we walked 4-5 miles each day. We saw the Trail of Tears and a handful of other historical places, and I got a hug from local radio DJ Joe Cook, my mom’s friend who I’ve known and loved since I was around 5 years old. Shops like All Things Groovy have a special place in my heart, and while I didn’t photograph them I did shop them. Highly recommend the Chattanooga experience to anyone who wants to feel a mix of down home and big city, shore town and mountain hideaway, hipster-friendly with an appreciation for history.