A Woman Named “Hello”

 Not long after I moved to Asheville, I met an extraordinary and courageous photographer named Moni Taylor, who shared with me not only her insights into Appalachian ways of being and culture, but also her unique (and many!) perspectives on life.

We met one another at a coffee shop just down the hill from my house and right away got to talking about photography.

At the time, Moni lived in a charming cottage that was the architectural and handcrafted embodiment of her own personality –

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she called it her little”hobbit house.”

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A few days after we met, she invited me over to her house to show me some of her latest work.

Shot primarily in black and white, the subject matter was so upsetting, I could hardly bear to look at it.

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At the same time, I could hardly look away.

Moni was working as a neonatal nurse at the local hospital when I met her.  And that was where she captured her most moving photographs.

With love and great compassion, Moni Taylor had documented the tiniest of lives – the ones that lasted only moments.

What began as a gift of memories for one set of grieving parents grew over time into a series of portraits of lost babies, a collection of photographs she eventually put together in a book with the poetry of her thoughts on loss and remembrance.

Moved by her work, I wrote a feature article on Moni and her photography for Mountain Xpress, a local paper.

In addition to our talks about photography, I learned a lot about life from Moni.  I loved our coffee shop chats.  I loved the hours spent sitting curled up in an easy chair at her place, or mine, sipping tea, listening to her stories.

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 I could listen to her thoughts on people and men and life and the world for hours.  She has a colorful manner of speaking that is unique, even by Appalachian standards.

But by the time I’d met Moni, she was growing restless with life in our small town.  Her kids were grown and she was ready to get back to traveling as much as possible.

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She was ready for new adventures.

After some thought, she decided to join the Peace Corps.

“I had been thinking about a life change and the Peace Corps was definitely on my brain.  I thought about it when I was younger and then life stepped in,” she told me.  “But now it’s a perfect time for me to wander.”

Much to her surprise, Moni was assigned to Malawi – the third poorest country in the world.

The idea of a nurse/photographer from Appalachia setting out to help people half way around the world seemed to me like a great storyline for a documentary film.

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And so, with the help of friends, we began documenting her life in the weeks leading up to her departure as she said goodbye to friends and family.

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Before leaving Asheville, Moni did something people around here often do,

but that she herself had never done before –

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She got a tattoo.

And not a small one either.

A devout Catholic, Moni had the likeness of the Virgin Mary inked into her skin, along with the names of her four children.

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“So the Blessed Mother will always have my back,” she said with a grin.

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And then, Moni set off for two years in Africa with her backpack, her camera and a heart full of good intentions.

“When it comes to travel and adventure, I am fearless,” she said, shortly before leaving.

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“I took my daughter to see the Grand Canyon when she was ten, just because I wanted her to see it.  And we drove.  And people said, ‘Why didn’t you fly?’  And I said, because I wanted to see the earth between here and there.  And it was fascinating and I loved it.

“So as far as being fearless and doing things, I’ve always had that.”

“And I never have ever regretted one dime I’ve ever spent on travel.  It just feeds your spirit, it adds layers to your soul.  And adds layers to your whole life that nobody can take away.”

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“And so I’m convinced I will come back richer and fuller.  And it’s going to be okay.”

After she arrived in Malawi, one of her first discoveries was that her nickname – Moni – means “hello” in the local dialect.

What a perfect name for the film on this rare bird from Appalachia, I thought –

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“A Woman Named Hello.”

I started making plans to visit her in Malawi to continue documenting her story.

But the emotional and physical realities of a Peace Corps life in one of the world’s poorest country took their toll on her spirit.

“I miss all that wonderful stuff that is the complete support of the best friends…” she wrote in the journal she kept of her experiences there.  “I need it like air these days …..

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This environment is so different than any I could ever imagine myself living in ….. I have thought a million times, ‘why was I sent here?'”

Disheartened and ill, Moni left Africa and the Peace Corps before I could get there.

These days, she continues to travel and share her nursing skills, her passion for photography, and her Appalachian-rooted world view with people in different cultures and countries.

Periodically – and always without warning – Moni will appear on my doorstep

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 and tell me all about her latest adventures.

[All photography by Kristin Fellows with the exception of the black & white photo, which is by Moni Taylor, and the one of Moni in Malawi, for which I have no photo credit]

The Mystery of the Grave Is Revealed!

“I came to tell you she is NOT buried in your backyard!” said the man standing in my front garden.

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I work from home and there are few things more annoying than having people drop in unexpectedly, especially when I’m on a tight deadline.

But when a stranger starts a conversation with those words … maybe it’s time to take a break and hear what he has to say.

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“Are you the owner of this house?” he asked.

“Who wants to know?” I responded, cautiously.

“I’m Harry Giezentanner!” he said.

I knew the name. The Giezentanners had owned my house many decades ago.

Giezentanner was also the name on the gravestone in my garden.

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When I bought this old house, no one warned me it came with a grave. Even the next door neighbors seemed taken by surprise with its discovery.

My daughter promptly googled the little girl’s name for more information and came up with a different grave for the same little girl – same names and dates, but in Tennessee. Further research revealed a third gravestone with the same information, but now the birth and death dates were both off by a year.

We were puzzled. Where was she? Who was she? And what had happened to her?

Fragments of information came slowly to light.

A neighbor’s former wife – also in the Giezentanner family – had told me what she knew about Mable Ruth the day before Harry appeared in my front garden. She assured me that Mable Ruth’s parents, the Nannie Lou and L H Giezentanner on the gravestone, were living in Marshall, a half hour up the river from Asheville, when their little girl died. Harry confirmed that.

During our conversation, I noticed he often looked past my shoulder, curious about the house.

So I invited him in.

It had been decades since he’d seen it. As if in a dream state, he wandered from room to room, sharing memories of his grandparents.

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Some time after Harry’s visit, I came across a newspaper write-up with the full details of the tragedy.

On the 13th of July, 1928, The News-Record in Madison County reported the story of Mable Ruth’s death. It was front page news.

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“The community was greatly surprised and terribly shocked Thursday afternoon to hear of the sudden death of little Mable Ruth Giezentanner, who was stuck by a Buick roadster Thursday afternoon and fatally injured…. The accident occurred … where Mr Giezentanner, who holds a position with the Southern Railway as telegraph operator, works.

“Mrs Giezentanner and the child had gone to Rollins in a taxi driven by Mr Romeo Ferguson, to carry Mr Giezentanner’s lunch to him. Eye witnesses said that the child stepped from the taxi and walked around in front of the roadster which struck her, the accident being declared unavoidable. It is said that the roadster was traveling about 15 or 20 miles per hour.

“The driver of the roadster stopped and picked up the child and came back to Marshall with the parents. The driver of the car was accompanied by his wife, both being from a North State, and they were both nearly prostrated with grief by the horrible occurrences. The child was carried to the Marshall hospital where she died shortly after.

“Little Mable Ruth was a sweet, pretty little girl, much beloved around Marshall, and she will be greatly missed by all who knew her.”

Harry assured me that little Mable Ruth (who would have been his aunt) was actually buried in Tennessee, and the marker in my garden is just that – a memorial stone placed there by grieving parents.

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Bears Everywhere!

You don’t have to be able to outrun a bear, Tom once told me –

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you just have to be able to run faster than your friends.

He threw his head back and laughed. (He often finds his jokes a lot funnier than I do.)

Here’s another piece of advice: “It’s important to be able to distinguish the difference between the skat of black bears and the skat of grizzlies,” he says. “Black bear poop has nuts & seeds & smells like berries.”

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“Grizzly bear skat has little bells & smells like pepper spray.”

Mountain humor.

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Bears are everywhere in Asheville, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission biologist Mike Carraway was recently quoted in the local paper as saying. “If we gave you a map showing the bears’ movements, it would be a solid map of Asheville. The east and northeast and south have more bears, but there are pretty much bears everywhere.”

But running into one often happens when you least expect it.

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Like the afternoon I happened to glance out my living room windows and saw a large black shape that wasn’t normally in the garden.

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A black cub had sauntered into my yard to snack on fallen apples. I grabbed my camera and sat on the back deck, listening to him as he snuffled and munched contentedly, taking photographs with shaky and cold fingers.

Or the time I was gardening, and happened to turn around in time to see a large black dog run down my neighbors’ driveway. But then I realized, oh right,

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they don’t have a dog.

Watching out for bears is something to ponder here when you ride bikes – just ask Tom, who once had to fend one off while out riding along a mountain ridge.

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Or jog on the local roads.

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And even when (and how) you put out the trash.

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You may even need to yield to a family of bears when driving.

But folks around here weren’t always that accommodating. Years ago, bear pens were built in areas or gaps where bears had been seen. Bear hunters would stack up logs and rig a trip line attached to bait. When a bear pulled at the bait the logs would fall on the bear, killing it.

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These days, bears are, for the most part, respected and tolerated and many of these areas have since been put to better use as scenic overlooks and trail heads. People have learned to give bears a respectful amount of distance for co-existence and “a lot of people are pretty much OK with it,” Carraway says.

So has Asheville become a bear mecca?

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“We have bears moving in and bears moving out,” Carraway says. “Some are staying in a small area, and some are moving around.  And “some young bears born in the city wind up leaving.” Pretty much like human offspring.

This recent bear study – a collaboration between NC State University and the NC Wildlife Resources Commission – also found that town bears generally are healthier and better fed than their country cousins because they are supplementing their natural food with food from human sources.

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But then, anyone who’s accidentally discovered that Asheville bears like coconut water,

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 already knew that.

© dating appalachia & kristin fellows photography

Christmas in Appalachia

For several weeks now, I have been on the lookout for moments to photograph that (at least to me) show the customs, culture and spirit of “Christmas in Appalachia.”

But so far, all I’d been able to find…

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 was Santa and Mrs Claus breakfasting at the Moose Café (a popular farm to table restaurant),

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an aging elf trying to transport wrapping paper on his bicycle,

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and a young mermaid surprising Santa – none of which were what I had in mind.

The days passed and suddenly Christmas was upon us. Tom and I drove up to his parents’ farm for dinner.

They live in a picturesque holler, a small valley that lies between mountains in Yancey County.  This wasn’t my first visit here, but I had never before seen it at dusk.

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 Their home, with the windows glowing and smoke coming out of the chimney, set against a backdrop of mountains, looked like a scene from a Norman Rockwell painting.

Tom is a fifth generation Appalachian and this entire valley was once owned by his great-great-grandparents. Over the years, the land was subdivided and then subdivided again among the siblings of each successive generation.

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Family descendants still live in homes and on farms throughout the valley.

During the 45-minute drive up the mountains, I saw a few possibilities for the photographs I’d been after. But it wasn’t until we walked inside the family farmhouse

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that I realized I had finally found exactly what I had been looking for.

Each room was decorated for the season and table was beautifully set with Tom mother’s Christmas china.

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Mouth-watering smells filled the air and pretty soon, a feast of ham, garlic cheesy grits, sweet potatoes, and oyster casserole was laid out before us.

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And for desert, there was a delicious homemade fruit cake (made with applesauce) – a recipe from Tom’s great grandmother.

Farm, family, food, and celebration – it was all right there.

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And it had been all along.

Want a taste of Appalachian Christmas?  Try Tom’s great grandmother’s recipe!

Granny Young’s Applesauce Fruit Cake

  • 1-1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 1 quart applesauce
  • 1/2 lb butter, melted
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup figs, 1 cup dates, 1 cup nuts – chopped
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp cloves
  • 3/4 tsp allspice
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 3 cups plain flour
  • 3 tsp soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Mix nuts, fruit, sugar and spices together in a large mixing bowl.  Stir melted butter into mixture, then flour and soda. Mix well. Pour into a well-greased and floured tube pan and bake in a 350 degree oven for one hour and 15 minutes (or until done.)

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Merry Christmas from Appalachia!

The Road of Good Intentions

Sometimes I get the crazy feeling that Appalachia is speaking directly to me.

Sometimes it’s subtle, and sometimes it seems (at least to me) pretty obvious.

Like the wrong turn I took while driving out in the countryside just days before the end of the year that brought me unexpectedly face to face with a very unexpected street sign.

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Why on earth would someone name a road ‘good intentions,’ I wondered (when I wasn’t wondering where the heck I was.)

But then I got to thinking about the past year and decisions made – based perhaps more on good intentions than good sense.

On the first day of a brand new year, maybe it’s time to simply appreciate that positive thoughts had been at the root of them all, let it go, and move on.

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Thank you, Appalachia – I can’t wait to see what surprises you have in store for me the next time I lose my way.

© dating appalachia & kristin fellows photography

Mistletoe Misadventures

When you live in the southern Appalachian mountains, you don’t buy mistletoe in a store.  You go out in the woods and blast it out of the treetops with a shotgun.

“Seriously?!” I asked Tom when he told me.

“Yes,” he said, seriously.  “It’s called harvesting.”

Mistletoe is a lazy and opportunistic plant.  It’s capable of creating its own food through photosynthesis, but it much prefers to wriggle its roots down into the bark of a host tree and freeload nutrients, often harming or killing the tree in the process.

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Once I learned this, I didn’t feel so badly to hear that it sometimes gets shot out of the sky.

Mistletoe is most often found in the top branches of apple and oak trees.  And while it tends to be more common in the Piedmont and low-country of the Carolinas,

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 Tom says he sees it from time to time up in the mountains.

“Oh, please take me with you to find some!” I begged him.

This is exactly the kind of Appalachian adventure I am always looking to capture in photographs. Tom wanted an excuse for kissing and so the hunt for mistletoe was on.

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By now I have lived here long enough to know that life in Appalachia can be a tease – any time you assume you are in control of your own adventures, you may quickly find out how very wrong you can be.

You may discover, for example, that the search for a seemingly innocent plant leads you down a trail that instead reveals a romantic encounter from your boyfriend’s past.  (This should hardly come as a surprise, though, considering Celtic Druids thought mistletoe represented the oak tree’s heart or soul and Greeks considered it a symbol of sexuality and fertility.)  But to get back to the story –

Tom began looking for mistletoe each day as he drove around for work.  On the weekends, he scanned the trees in the mountains surrounding his parents’ farm.

Nothing.  No luck. The upper branches held nothing but the occasional squirrel’s nest.

So the Sunday before Christmas, I decided to drive out through the countryside myself.

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Rural areas surround Asheville and it takes only a few moments to find yourself in a completely different world.

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A world where you still see mailboxes piled up alongside the road, like baby birds waiting to be fed.

A world where you might have to be a little careful if you are an outsider who happens to wander onto someone’s property….

Just as I was rounding a curve, a bundle of green hanging on a nearly porch caught my eye.  Was that a bunch of mistletoe, I wondered?

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I pulled the car over and got out to take a closer look.

(Upon closer inspection, as you can see, it turned out to be a fuchsia plant.)

But it was a pretty scene and I had already taken a quick photograph when I heard the front door open and a gruff voice say, “Can I help you, ma’am?”

I froze.

The man attached to the voice was perhaps in his early 70s.  His piercing grey eyes looked at me from underneath his cap, sizing me up.

Trying to think fast, I introduced myself, then asked if he knew where I might be able to find any mistletoe.

“Charlie might have some up the road,” he said at last.  His house was near the mailboxes and the intersection of several rural roads.  I had no idea where he was suggesting I go, much less who Charlie was.

“Up Bear Creek Road,” he added helpfully.

I was still in the dark, but somehow we got to talking.  We talked about life.  We talked about raising kids.  He told me about his grown son and daughter.  I told him I lived in the old Giezentanner house, hoping it would help him to see me as someone interested in local people and history.  In turn, I heard stories from the old days in Asheville (stories about his life that I can’t even repeat here.)  After an hour or so, I got up to leave.

“About that mistletoe,” he said, remembering.  “Take a left up Bear Creek and look for the end of the fence.  See if there’s any up around there.”

I found Bear Creek Road and I found many fences.  I didn’t, however, find any mistletoe.

That night, I told Tom about my adventures “out in the counties,” as they sometimes say around here,

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miles and miles away from home.  And I mentioned the name of the gentleman whose stories I had listened to for an hour.

Tom looked at me.

“Old brick house on the right?” he asked after a moment.

“Yes!” I said, incredulously.  “How did you know?”

He laughed, then told me, “I used to date his daughter!”

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“Many years ago,” he added, thoughtfully.

I tried to calculate the odds of Tom knowing the one person I had randomly encountered that day, let alone having dated that person’s daughter.

 One out of the 16,000 possible residents I could have run into.

A man living in the only house I stopped at in the 66.8 square miles area once known as Turkey Creek (that is, until a frontiersman by the name of Leicester Chapman renamed it in 1859 for the Earl of Leicester, for whom he himself was named.)

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Unbelievably unlikely.

I decided to give up on the math, the search for mistletoe, and the opportunity to see Tom “harvest” it.

Who needs a excuse to kiss, anyway?

The day after Christmas, we decided to work off our holiday excesses

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by hiking ten miles through a national forest with a group of friends.

About an hour into our climb, Tom turned around and said to me,

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“Look up!”

And there, high up in the trees, was a lovely lacing of green leaves.

Mistletoe.

These Appalachian mountains have a lot of personality and sometimes it seems as if they are messing with us just for the sheer fun of it.

We couldn’t find mistletoe in time for Christmas, but its location was revealed – on mountain time – the day after.  

I could almost hear the mountains laughing at us….

127 Hours before Christmas

‘Twas the week before Christmas, and all through the movie house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

That’s because my son and I, along with dozens of other movie-goers, were sitting in stunned silence watching “127 Hours.”

This took place back in 2010, but Christmas still brings back memories of Danny Boyle’s film for me.

And why is that, you might ask?

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Given that we live in the mountains, and often go hiking, I thought I’d use “127 Hours” to drive home a lesson to my twenty-year-old son –

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Never hike alone!

Or, if you do, to at least take the time to file a flight plan with someone – anyone – regarding your anticipated whereabouts.

“127 Hours” is a grueling film, and not for the faint of heart.

Based on canyoneer Aron Ralston’s memoir, “Between a Rock and a Hard Place,” it’s a biographical, survival drama about five days in the life of a young man whose arm has been pinned between boulders after a fall. James Franco portrays Ralston, making video logs of his ordeal and wrestling with the excruciating decision either to die alone, or cut off his own arm in order to free himself.

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I was fairly certain it might teach both of us an important lesson.

Leif loved how the film portrayed Ralston’s interior mental and emotional journey.  On the way home, he appeared to be lost in thought, as I yattered away about safety issues.

I slept peacefully that night, happy my point had been made.  Another item off the list of the potential perils of living in the Appalachia mountains, I thought.

A few days later, Leif asked me to hang up my Christmas stocking.

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What for?  I asked, unable to remember the last time anything had been put into it.

Just do it, he advised.

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We open our presents, in the Danish tradition, by candlelight on Christmas Eve.

Start with your stocking!  Leif said to me as soon as we gathered in the living room.

I took it down from the mantle and was surprised to feel several small packages inside.

Leif watched as, one by one, I opened them up.

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First, the ever-useful bear bell – a bright and cheery jingle to warn of your approach in the woods, hopefully scaring off any nearby bears before you actually see them.

Next, an emergency poncho, followed by a thermal blanket.

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The forth little package turned out to be a magnesium fire-starter.

I was super impressed by his thoughtfulness, and started to tell him so.

“Wait,” he said. “Open the last one!”

I undid the wrapping.

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Inside was a small commando saw, capable, I noticed, of cutting through bone.

“In case you’re ever stuck between rocks,” Leif said cheerfully.  “You’ll be able to saw your arm off!”

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Curiouser and Curiouser…

So let’s just say you’re out walking your dogs in the neighborhood one day when you happen upon a lean, older fellow with a weathered face and broken jeans, lounging on the curb in the afternoon sun.

He’s smoking a cigarette, go-cup in hand.

Based on that description, one might be tempted to make the assumption that you have nothing much in common, and pass on by.

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But if you happen to be feeling somewhat curious that day, you might slow down, smile and say hello…

Which might lead to a conversation and the discovery that this gentleman has lived in your neighborhood probably longer than anyone else around here.

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You might learn that his parents found him in a foster home just down the street when he was only a handful of months old, and here he has lived and here he has stayed for close to seven decades now.

You might be surprised to hear that the street corner you’re standing on was where, back in the day, he and his friends used to build bonfires on the nights when it snowed,

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before sledding down the hilly streets of your mountainside neighborhood –

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back when the poh-leece turned a blind eye to both the bonfire and the street sledding.

If you can spare just a few more moments to listen to his stories, the ghosts of the former denizens of your neighborhood will begin to be revealed to you — people his pale blue eyes squinting in the sunlight tell me he still can see in the streets and houses around us.

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And you may also discover (much to your great surprise) that the house you’re living in is the house his ex-wife grew up in.

And if you’re having an especially magical Appalachian day, his ex-wife, who hasn’t lived in the neighborhood for decades, may just happen to drive by while the two of you are talking, and slow down to say hello.

And then she might just take a moment, on this busy day before she flies to London and Paris with her new husband, to tell you the story of what happened to the little girl

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who’s buried in your backyard.

But it’s a sad tale and one that can wait for another day….

A Little Ghost in the Garden

And so, I moved into “the city.”

Even by Asheville’s idiosyncratic standards, my new neighborhood has a lot of personality.

Perched on a mountainside overlooking the north end of town, it is laid out in a maze of rather narrow and hilly streets – perfect for long, rambling walks with dogs.

It is home to musicians, artists and artisans.  Dancers and dreamers.  Builders, renovators and carpenters.   Massagers and missionaries.  Realtors and retirees.  Genealogists and historians.  Fishermen, restaurateurs, and coffee shop owners.   Mountain folk, half-backs, snowbirds, and urban-flighters.

It even has a ballet conservatory and an electronic music factory.

Yes, this is Appalachia.

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Some folks have been here most (if not all) of their lives.

And some, like me, have only just recently found their way into the neighborhood.

Some have built their dream retirement home here,

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while others are just trying to get through the mountain winters without central heat.

In addition to the home for retired Methodist missionaries, our street has a random assortment of Arts & Crafts bungalows, Victorian and Queen Anne-style homes, a little church,

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and one Dutch barn – my own Casa Mia.

 And, co-existing in a rather bizarre juxtaposition,

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 there is also a women’s shelter next to two lovely and historic B&B’s.

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A crazy eclectic mix – and that’s Asheville.

Each house in the little ‘hood holds a unique cache of stories of the generations of people and families that have lived and died there.

Like this one down the street, where wedding initials and dates, etched with a diamond ring decades ago, are still visible in the glass of the window panes.

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Or this overgrown lot around the corner, where you can still see the ruins of an historic home that crack-addicted squatters accidentally burned down nearly twenty years ago,back when this neighborhood was the working turf of prostitutes and drug dealers.

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And, until recently, there was this old farmhouse dating back to 1910.

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These photographs, taken just a year and a half ago, seem to illustrate the bewildering and poignant displacement of old Appalachia.

But it’s actually just a photograph of my former neighbor, Donna Sue, getting irritated with me for taking “so durn long” to grab the shot, while she was busy trying to pack up and move out. (But not too busy, it bears noting, that she couldn’t indulge in a lengthy discussion on flowers and the best place in Tennessee to get moonshine.)

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A few months later, after Donna Sue and her family left and only the stubborn old cat remained, the farmhouse was torn down to make way for something new.

Even my house, it turns out, has its own ghosts – one of which belongs to a little five-year-old girl,

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whose gravestone we discovered unexpectedly while clearing away some underbrush in my back garden one day.

Because Asheville

There’s an expression friends around here have been using recently – “Because Asheville.”

I like it. In only two words, it explains what is completely unexplainable about life in our town.

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 Like the unexpected magical randomness of walking down an alley and finding a scattering of yellow flower petals next to a door that says “Imagine Inventing Yellow.”

Or, discovering a mini galaxy hovering over a collection of antique bottles in the window of an old building in a dark alley late one night.

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There are many happenings and serendipitous occurrences I could give you to illuminate the meaning of “because Asheville.”

Here’s one a bit closer to my heart.

It’s likely I would not have met Tom had I not purchased the house I am currently living in, the house I affectionately call “Casa Mia.”

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I called it Casa Mia just because it’s mine, even though I am living in Appalachia and there is nothing even remotely Italian about the house (or me, for that matter.) I just like the cosy way it sounds.

I would not have met Tom because I would not have met Jo, the German rugby-playing- architect-turned-landscape-gardener-for-missionaries across the street from Casa Mia.

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And I would not even have bought Casa Mia – had it not been for yoga.

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Ten years earlier, the kids and I picked our first home in Asheville for its views –

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a little ranch house, perched on an acre of hillside

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overlooking a lake, a bird sanctuary, and the mountains.

Much as I loved it, after the kids had graduated and loved on, I decided I wanted to move closer into town.

I soon found – and lost my heart to – an old Dutch barn style house in a funky little neighborhood, just blocks from downtown.

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The realtors told me I couldn’t buy it because a contingent contract was not permitted. But I was in love and already living there, at least in my head.

I began stalking the house.

I detoured all of my trips into town so I could drive past it and gaze at it longingly. It was so charming, I fretted, surely it would sell before I could unload my current house in an uncertain real estate market.

A few days after I first saw the house, I walked into my local yoga studio. Ninety minutes later, lying on my mat in a post-Ashtanga state of savasana, a thought made its way into my somewhat blissed out head.

The heck with the realtors, I thought happily –

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why not just knock on the door and ask the owners if I could buy their house? At the time, it seemed like an entirely rational idea.

Within moments, I was on their front door-step, disheveled, sweaty and still wearing yoga clothes. I told them I was passionately in love with their house and felt inexplicably drawn to live there. And then I offered them their asking price.

The owners – a heavily tattooed Frenchman and his American wife – said okay.

As simply as that.

But, of course, it wasn’t that simple.

I arranged to pay them monthly not to sell it to anyone else while my realtor and I energetically worked to sell my house up by the lake. Seventy-two showings and seven months later, there we were, sitting at the settlement table.

And then, an hour later, the little Dutch barn house was mine.

The next spring, while working in the front yard, I met Jo –the German rugby-playing- architect-turned-landscape-gardener-for-missionaries across the street.

Jo introduced me to Tom in a blind date.

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Because Asheville.