Galavanting through Buncome County

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Lake Powhatan Campground

Flag of United States  , North Carolina
Thursday, June 2, 2011


     We have now been at the Lake Powhatan campground in the Pisgah National Forest for a whole month, just minutes away from Asheville, North Carolina.   We have been, for the most part, without either internet or phone service and with only two channels on the T.V.    Why, that would almost drive someone nutty enough to read a book or take a walk in the woods. 
     We came to Asheville to hang awhile because everything we read about the place said there was a lot to see and do here, and we have not been disappointed.  With it’s lively historic downtown full of fabulous restaurants and sidewalk cafes, open artist studios and art galleries, live music and theater venues,  interesting shops, it’s university, cozy independent bookstores forested surroundings, nearby Blue Ridge Parkway, Pisgah National Forest and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, it well deserves it’s reputation as one of the best places in the country to retire.   
      This is a town of about 70,000 people, (most of them from somewhere else), that prides itself in supporting local businesses.  If you want Taco Bell or Starbucks you will have to drive out to the “burbs” to find them.  Our first day in the city we were standing in front of a hip sidewalk café with a band playing inside.  We looked up and saw a young man and a young lady standing amid the tables of casually dressed patrons.  They were both tall with long gaunt faces, tasseled black hair, worn out and patched denim overalls and worn out shoes.  They looked like a couple of hillbillies who had wandered out of the hills for the first time, and maybe they were.  They stood there so still I honestly thought they were cardboard cutouts, arms at their sides and staring with blank expressions at the band.  I thought to myself, wow, we’re definitely not in Kansas.  We have often found someone playing guitar real good for free and even a guitar and fiddle duo playing turkey in the straw and other hip tunes.  Incidentally, Appalachian Blue Grass music is totally hip here and we really love it; mostly fiddle, banjo, guitar, mandolin and viola, and sweet lyrics about the simple life.  The people here are open and friendly and don‘t think twice about handing you their card and saying, “lets do lunch, call me.”  In two hours at the local book store/wine and cheese bar, you can make a whole circle of new friends.  It’s a little unnerving.
     We visited the Thomas Wolfe home here, Asheville’s native son and author of Look Homeward Angel and several other novels.  He was considered one of the great American writers, on caliber with Walt Whitman, Emerson and Thoreau. He grew up in a big boarding house that his Mother bought in the 1800’s and ran at a time when Asheville had no less than 50 boarding houses, most of them operating as sanatoriums.  People from all over came to Asheville to stay in the houses and recover from whatever disease they were suffering from.  The mountain air, water and climate was said to have healing qualities.  The Wolfe home contained tiny and unembellished bedroom next to bedroom, next to bedroom on three floors because Mrs. Wolfe was…well, a business woman first and foremost.  People were packed in there like livestock.  Earlier that day we had sat for a while in rocking chairs on the covered porch of the Wolfe home and listened to a very good Blue Grass Band play in a light rain.
     The famous Vanderbilt lived here and his 250 room castle of a home on a hill is known as the Biltmore Estate.  It is now a huge tourist attraction.  This guy had, as they say, more money than god.  He owned most of Asheville and most of the forest around it.  There is a historic brick shopping mall in the center of town (the first shopping mall in the country) that he built for his wife after she complained of having nowhere nearby to shop.  It has a really cool interior with three floors, amazing woodwork and spiral staircases.
     We visited some of the interesting small towns surrounding Asheville, including Weaverville, where we partook in an Open Studio art tour.   The art here are fantastic and so original, the way art should be.   Much of it is of museum quality at rock bottom prices.  You would think that some of these master woodworkers, potters and painters don't realize how good their stuff really is, but actually,the pricing reflects what the locals are able to afford, no matter how many hours went into the work.          
       To the West there’s Waynesville, another great artist enclave.  South is Hendersonville and Flat Rock, where we toured the Carl Sandburg Home, lovingly preserved on it’s hilltop overlooking it’s picturesque lake.  Everything’s been left in place as if the Sandburgs just stepped out for the day to go to the market.  Sandburg read as avidly as he wrote, devouring thousands of books on every subject.  In every room are floor to ceiling bookcases crammed full.  He never got rid of anything, even saved all his magazines.  His filing system was boxes---everything in boxes, a man after my own heart.  And Ilana thought I was a pack rat!   You'll even find the goats are still there in the barnyard.  And yes, you can go in and pet the newborn nubians with their spindly legs and long, floppy ears, the very definition of cute.
     In the Smoky Mtn.’s we took some winding drives and hikes through the thick hardwood forests.  Wild rhododendron was everywhere but not yet in bloom.     Small streams, waterfalls and abandoned water-wheel grinding mills abound.  In small clearings among the trees were the remains of old Appalachian farmsteads, with their small, primitive, hand-hewn cabins, where families of ten and twelve were crammed into two spare, windowless rooms.  Windows were left out of the construction to conserve precious heat, and also because cutting the openings for them was too labor intensive.   In those days the forest was comprised mostly of chestnut trees and the pioneers and Indians coveted them for their nutrition.  The nuts  were fed also to the hogs, (pork being the main meat because it could be smoked and stored without refrigeration for long periods).  The hogs went nuts for them (I come from a family of pun makers).  This is probably where the term “hog heaven” came from……or so I imagine.
     Speaking of old Appalachian sayings, did you know where the term “flying off the handle,” came from?  I didn’t think so.  Well, as you know, the first brooms were made in Appalachia from a round bunch of corn tassels fastened to a stick.  All the first brooms were round, and every now and then when Granny used to swat one of the kids with the broom, or if the broom was used to fight somebody off, as the story goes, the sweeping part would fly right off the handle.   Eventually somebody figured out how to make a flat broom with the tassels sewn together and how to notch and bind them to the stick.  So the next time you fly off the handle, picture the broom.  It helps.
     Taking an evening off to go fishing, I drove South, through Canton, to the Pigeon River, which is supposed to be one of the better fisheries in the state.  The part of the river above Lake Logan is supposed to be a wild trout water.  I fished the river in several different places and fished it hard.  I  drove up a forest service road and fished the West Fork.  There I took a picture of the river in the evening light.  Then I drove farther up the watershed and climbed down through the woods to meet the stream where it tumbled down the mountain in a series of plunge pools.   For all my effort I caught one eight inch trout, finally deciding these North Carolina trout are fussier eaters than my dog.
     On the way back and with the light quickly fading I got a little turned around.  I saw a few people standing in front of a church, so I pulled over, lowered the passenger side window and said, "excuse me but is this the way to Canton?"  The woman in the group sauntered over and leaned her elbow on the door frame as she peered over at me.  She appeared to be about my age.  Smiling wryly as she examined my fishing shirt with all the tools dangling off if it; my surgeon's pliers, my line cutters, my dry fly floatant and the other stuff,  she looks me in the face and says, "Yall been operatin on somebody?"  I told her no, I had just been fishing on the river.  "Oh," she says, "so have you been operatin on the trout then?"  One of the men chimes in then and says, "Canton is back over the bridge and left all the way to the traffic light, then left again.  And I live right down the road so you can just drop all those trout off at my place on your way home."  Then he winks at the other guy.  Say what you want to about Southerners but they do have a sense of humor.
     We attended the White Squirrel Festival in Brevard, a funny little town that even has a white squirrel shop with everything from white squirrel stuffed animals to white squirrel key chains.  More than one shop in town has actual photos in their windows of white squirrels clinging to trees or eating acorns.   I had though that white squirrels were either rare or about as real as jackalopes but here is undeniable proof........unless the colors have been doctored up on somebody's printer.   There were arts and crafts, lots of fair food, and even a box-car derby, where the kids roll down the big hill off Main Street in their home-made racers.   Where else do they do that anymore?  One of the kids even had a stick with a lunch filled hankerchief hanging off the end as if to say, "If I lose this race I'm outta here."
     Next up, Virginia, where as a tourist once told the docent at the Tourist Information Office, "Y'all worship your ancesters, don't ya."


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susan slonim on

i totally enjoyed suantering through your thoughts. it took a load off a my day just to enjoy yours.

Mel and Nora on

Wish we could have done likewise. I enjoy you adventure so much. You have a gift of words. I know if Nora could write now, she say wow, that sure sounds like a place we should go as well. May be in God's grace and time we might just be able. Love Mel and Nora

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