Blue Ridge Shangri-La

Last spring, there was a suicide in this pasture. Rodney Patrick*, a native to this area of Virginia, took a pistol to his temple right there – just beneath the twisted white oak.

“You’d thought that he could’ve saved himself some trouble, hung himself instead, those branches so low,” Bill says in his unhurried, North Carolina drawl. Bill’s my neighbor. He’s 93 years old, but we walk two miles North on the Blue Ridge Parkway together every morning except Sundays just the same.

Bill tells me that back in 1959, Patrick left his home here just as soon as he could. He went to Ohio and started a new life for himself – became an engineer, got married, had 3 children named Betts, Molly and John. I imagine they’re distantly my cousins, but most people are around here. Bill doesn’t know much else about Rodney, except that when he came here to make his end at age fifty-three, “he didn’t tell a single livin’ soul.”

It was a strange decision, if you ask me.

If there’s something after all this living comes to an end, I hope it’s a lot like this pasture. The tall, soft grass parts like creek-water as I wade through it. The occasional bull, massive yet gentle, steadily munches dandelions and daisies next to my ankles. Concealed by a fortress of forested foothills, this field stows us away from what lies beyond. It is an oasis, a harbor, a Shangri-La, an Elysian fields in southwest Virginia.

It’s what we’re all looking for, isn’t it? Isn’t this it?

Maybe it was all too much for Rodney Patrick, I think. To know this was here – this downy sky, these muted grass-blades, this unencumbered space. To know it was once his home and now it was not, and that with the responsibilities of a modern Ohio-man, the only way he could stay here, was to die here.

Of course, there could have been no reason at all.

Bill and I sit in the pasture a while staring at the twisted old oak. We’re silent, but that’s nothing extraordinary. There’s never very much to say. A sudden breeze relieves the sweat on our temples. It’s been an unusually sultry July.

*names in this essay have been changed for the privacy of the involved parties.

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