I slid into the last remaining aisle seat on a plane bound from Denver to Nashville and smiled at the woman sitting next to the window. “I hear this plane isn’t full,” I told her, dropping my book, cell phone and water bottle onto the empty middle seat. “Maybe we’ll get lucky and have some extra room.”
“I love your accent,” she said. “Are you from Tennessee?” I nodded while resisting the urge to tell her that, in Tennessee, I don’t have an accent. “I’m going to spend a whole week there and I’m so excited I can hardly stand it,” she said. She went on to tell me that she was a teaching assistant and lived in Salt Lake City. “The furthest I’ve ever been from home is Colorado Springs,” she said. “I’m 50 years old and have never seen any kind of scenery except deserts and plains. And mountains, of course. But I hear the mountains in Tennessee are different.”
“That’s right,” I told her. “They’re not as tall. And they’re rounded, not jagged. And really, really green. We’re the greenest state in the land of the free, you know.” I wondered if she was too young to recognize that line from The Ballad of Davy Crockett. “What all do you plan to see while you’re in Tennessee?”
“Oak Ridge,” she said. “And Pigeon Forge. I’m going to Dollywood. I just love Dolly Parton. I hope I’ll get to see her.”
I told her I was a big fan, too, but that I wasn’t sure if Dolly spent much time hanging out at Dollywood. Maybe, though, she’d get lucky. As the plane began to taxi down the runway, my new friend put on her headphones and found a movie on her I-pad. I buried my nose in my book. Two hours later, the pilot announced we’d soon be descending into Nashville. My friend put her things away and pressed her face against the window. “Oh my goodness!” she exclaimed once we were below the clouds. “It’s more beautiful than I ever imagined.”
We parted ways at baggage pick-up, where I wished her happy travels. Dusk was falling by the time I retrieved my suitcase and car. Just east of Mt. Juliet, when the traffic finally thinned out enough that I could take a good long look at my surroundings, I was shocked.
Things had changed considerably in the week I’d been gone. All the trees had leafed out and the landscape was so lush it almost hurt my eyes to look at it. Ox-eye daisies and yellow ragwort carpeted the roadsides. The Caney Fork River flowed clear and strong as I crossed over it five times. The sun cast its fading glow on our beautiful green mountains as I ascended the Highland Rim.
I’m glad my seatmate got to see Tennessee in the lovely month of May. And I sure hope she got to meet Dolly Parton.
(May 19, 2019)