A Gypsy Named Emmanuel & the House of My Dreams (part one)

The door opened slowly to reveal a frowning man, perhaps in his early 40s. He wore a dark t-shirt and jeans. His build was slender, but muscular. He had dark hair, a neatly trimmed mustache and short beard. Tattoos covered his arms. The word “Gypsy” was inked in large flowing script across his throat.

Ahh, so many moments had led me to this one.

I’d seen photos online.

The images occupied my thoughts, teasing my imagination.

At night I dreamed about it.

I became a stalker. Every drive into town was detoured to take me past this place I hadn’t even realized existed only a week earlier.

And now I was standing on the front porch of the house of my dreams. And I wanted it.

But the brokers of house dreams had told me I couldn’t buy this one until my own little house on the hillside was sold. Unfortunately, my house wasn’t on the market. It wasn’t even ready to be on the market.

I knew I couldn’t wait that long. I did not want someone else to get the house I felt so irrationally drawn to. Not knowing what to do, I began stalking the house to see if anyone else was hanging around it, possibly interested….  I thought of little else.

And then one morning at the yoga studio, while I was lying on my mat in semi-delirious savasana after ninety minutes of hot poses, a simple thought penetrated the haze in my mind: Why not just knock on the door and tell the owner I want to buy his house?

Under the circumstances, it seemed an entirely reasonable thought.

Still in a post-yogic trance, I drove directly to the house from the studio without stopping to change out of my sweaty yoga clothes or tidy my appearance. I must have looked a mess.

Moments later, there I was, standing on the magical porch of the house of my dreams. I raised my hand and knocked on the black front door.

There was the sound of footsteps and then the door opened. The frowning and tattooed “Gypsy” stood before me.

Yes?  he said.

I thought I heard a slight accent, but couldn’t identify it.

“Hello,” I said. “I’d like to buy your house.”

His dark eyes regarded me without expression for a very long moment.

And then, “Would you like to come in?” he asked, opening the door a bit wider.

“Thank you, I would,” I replied, and stepped inside, leaving the sunshine behind me.

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It’s Always Necessary

I know I’ve said this many times already, but there’s an incredibly lovely and supportive energy in these Appalachian mountains that seems to magically stitch together the seemingly unrelated and disparate parts of my peripatetic life into a quilt of emotions and experiences that somehow makes sense and feels, after all these years, so right.

And, in true Appalachian form, it always seems to happen when and where I least expect it.

Last weekend, Tom and I headed down to the riverside to check in at dawn as vendors at the Asheville “Flea For Y’All” – a new experience for both of us.

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In the Asheville way, it turned out we knew several of our neighbor vendors — a friend of a friend, that very nice woman who works at the animal hospital, a friend from (Tom’s) rugby days….

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After a few shouted greetings, there was the great rush and nervous excitement of setting up and staging the treasures in time for the gates to open to the public, with lots of chatter from tent to tent to tent.

Sixteen years after her death, I was finally able to part with some of my sister’s things. And I knew I would have had her blessing to do this.

“Time for someone else to have a turn with them,” she used to say with a smile.

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Tom unloaded while I set about arranging the space ~ my treasures mingling with my sister’s.

When we were finished, Tom went off to explore the other booths and I sat back to enjoy (and, of course, photograph)

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the constant parade of characters, DSC04619 DSC04637

every bit as interesting 

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as the uniquities for sale all around us.

***

It was late in the afternoon when a young girl, perhaps in her twenties, wandered by our tent.

She asked me about something I was selling.

I asked her about the words inked into the skin on her arm.

Oh that, she said.

It’s a quote from the book Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer.

What does it mean? I asked, having not yet read the book.

“It was late and we were tired,” she began, and told me the story of the words she wore.

It was about loving a sister.

After I got home, I looked up the rest of the quote:

“It was late, and we were tired.
We assumed there would be other nights.
Anna’s breathing started to slow, but I still wanted to talk.
She rolled onto her side.
I said, I want to tell you something.
She said, You can tell me tomorrow.
I had never told her how much I loved her.
She was my sister.
We slept in the same bed.
There was never a right time to say it.
It was always unnecessary.
The books in my father’s shed were sighing.
The sheets were rising and falling around me with Anna’s breathing.
I thought about waking her.
But it was unnecessary.
There would be other nights.
And how can you say I love you to someone you love?
I rolled on my side and fell asleep next to her.
Here is the point of everything I have been trying to tell you ~
It’s always necessary.”

“It was late, and we were tired. We assumed there would be other nights. Anna’s breathing started to slow, but I still wanted to talk. She rolled onto her side. I said, I want to tell you something. She said, You can tell me tomorrow. I had never told her how much I loved her. She was my sister. We slept in the same bed. There was never a right time to say it. It was always unnecessary. The books in my father’s shed were sighing. The sheets were rising and falling around me with Anna’s breathing. I thought about waking her. But it was unnecessary. There would be other nights. And how can you said I love you to someone you love? I rolled on my side and fell asleep next to her. Here is the point of everything I have been trying to tell you, Oskar. It’s always necessary.” ― Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

***

for Karen

An Encounter with Hostile Natives

If you move here, expect to upset some of the natives.

Six months after my arrival in Appalachia, I was having a mobile office morning at my local coffeehouse –

DSC05409which at the time went by the name of Port City Java (even though the Ashevillage is at least five hours away from an actual port city.)

Despite the “do not disturb” aura I was hoping to project, a stocky, middle-aged bald man with dark circles under his eyes approached my table. He was dressed in blue jeans, black loafers and a blue sweatshirt.

“Excuse me,” he said, politely.

Reluctantly, I looked up.

He gestured toward his companion – a heavyset brunette at a nearby table wearing a lime green sweater with matching socks, and brown pants. By her side was a handbag that looked like it was made from fabric rescued from a vintage 1960s sofa, the kind you often see around here abandoned on a sidewalk or stuck out on a front porch when it no longer matters if it gets rained upon.

“My friend and I are taking a survey,” the stocky man said, by way of an introduction. “How long have you lived in the Ashevillage?”

“Since June 30th,” I responded politely. He shook his head and turned away.

Surprised, I called after him, “Why do you ask?”

“My friend doubts there’s nobody in this coffee shop who’s lived in the Ashevillage more than five years,” he replied over his shoulder.

Less than six months! I heard him whisper to his lady friend in a tsk-tsk tone as he lowered himself back into his chair with a small grunt. I took note that, for some reason, out of the two dozen or so around us, the ‘survey’ had so far only included me.

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Hardly a scientific method.

Piqued, and determined to correct the record, I called out –

“The first person I met in this coffee shop moved here in 1966!” deftly asserting the fact that I was actually friends with a bona fide local, my friend Moni.

“Well,” his brown-and-lime-green clad companion said with a withering, smug look, “we were both born here.”

Irritated, and unable to let it go, I racked my brains for something to establish my localism, hoping to stave off any further hostile vibes from the natives.

“I live in a 50-year-old house!” I offered up.

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It was, I realize, a pathetic and transparently ingratiating attempt to demonstrate that I was not to be categorized with the clear-the-trees-from-the-mountainsides-so-we-can build-a-starter-mansion transplants the locals (with good reason) so love to loathe.

“Well,” sofa-handbag woman sniffed, “that helps a little.”

But it was too late.

Too riled to continue working, I packed up my laptop moments later and crept back up to my 50-year-old sanctuary on the mountainside.

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It was not the first time I’d encountered this attitude – and, of course, it wouldn’t be the last.

The first book I’d purchased after moving here was a guide book to finding your way in the Ashevillage, written by a local worm farmer who would soon become a city councilman.  (True story – Because Asheville)

It’s a meandering, heartfelt and quirky read, extolling all the whimsical virtues of the Ashevilleage.

And it’s possibly the only guide book that begins and ends with the words,

“Please, please don’t move here.”

What Lies Beneath…

One morning, a few months after we moved into the Ashevillage (back when we lived in the house we lived in before moving into Casa Mia), I was standing at the kitchen sink, washing dishes and staring out the window…

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when I saw a car pull into the top of my long driveway.

That wasn’t unusual and so I waited to see if it would drive on down to the house or just turn around – as cars pulling into my driveway often did.

But neither happened.

Instead, I watched as the car door opened and someone got out.  Then whoever that person was walked around to the trunk of the car and pulled out a shovel.

That’s a bit odd, I thought, continuing to soap the dishes and stare out the window.

The stranger closed the trunk and then, shovel in hand, walked down the road along the top of my garden.

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About half way down the the property line, there looms a rather large metal power pole.  It’s not very attractive, but the forsythia has always been so voracious on the hillside

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I figured at some point it would win the battle for control of the landscape and cover up the tower.

The person (I still couldn’t tell if it was a male or female) stopped at the large metal power pole, looked around, and then started digging around the base of it.  In my garden.

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Eyes still glued to the scene unfolding on the hillside, I dried my hands.

My rational self quickly tried to take control of the situation – perhaps it was someone from the city utilities department?  But the not-so-rational voice inside my head didn’t for one moment believe it.  Weird stuff was going on up there, for sure.

The stranger continued digging away feverishly around the base of the power tower.  The dirt flew for a few more moments and then stopped.

The stranger knelt down, pulled something from the pocket of his or her coat, and put it in the ground.

What the heck?!  I wondered.

(Actually, my thought cloud contained a different word, but for the sake of the general readership, I won’t use it here.)

A moment later, the shovel was back at work, covering up the evidence.

Fascinated, I continued to watch.

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A few moments later,  the stranger got up, swept off the dirt from his or her coat, and walked back to the car at the top of my driveway and got in.  The car reversed out of the driveway and drove away.

In case you’re wondering why didn’t I just go out there and ask what was going on –

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well, this is Appalachia and many people in these mountains have guns and I’d heard that on occasion they do actually use them.

And a homeowner interfering with the burying of evidence in her garden just might be such an occasion, I thought….

So in the end, I did nothing until after the stranger had vanished.

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Then I climbed up the hill to check out the area around the base of the tower, but apart from some disturbed dirt, nothing else seemed amiss.

Several days later, the phone rang.

It was Laurel, the lovely woman from whom I’d bought the house.  She had purchased it to renovate and re-sell, but had not actually lived in it herself.

We chatted for awhile and then I mentioned the stranger with the shovel.

Oh, that was me!  she laughed.

That was you?  I asked, incredulous.  What on earth were you doing?

Burying crystals, she explained.  It was something I meant to do before you moved in to the house, to protect you.

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Concerned about potential negative energies emanating from the large metal power pole, Laurel had handcrafted pieces of orgonite – a mixture of catalyzed fiberglass resin with metal shavings, particles and powders – and buried them around the base.

After a little research, I had a better understanding of her gift.  Orgonite is believed to have positive energy and helps create an electromagnetic-free zone.  Crystals buried pointing away from your own home are thought to help deflect negative energy or transform it into positive energy.

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What an incredibly wonderful introduction to life in the Ashevillage.

Ten years later, I am sure it is still there, buried somewhere under all that forsythia and sending out good vibes to the new inhabitants of the house on the hillside.

How an Absurdist Gypsy Folk Funk Punk band and a dog named Cupcake saved the day

As the door opened, I heard a woman’s voice say, “No!  Don’t let the dogs out!”

I was out for a stroll in my little neighborhood with my own dogs. Curious, I turned my head just in time to see two snarling beasts hurling themselves at us from over a stone wall.  And then they were upon us, growling, gnashing, biting.

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My Golden Doodle tried to hide all 95 pounds of her frantic self between my legs, but my little guy – a Schnoodle named Bandit – was at jaw level and took the brunt of this unexpected attack. Someone later told me he could hear Bandit’s scream a block away.

A few minutes-that-seemed-like-hours later, the owner was able to get her vicious beasts under control. Shaken, but mostly okay (or so I thought), we straggled back home to assess the damages.

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Klejne, the Golden Doodle, seemed to have escaped damage, but there was  a bloody gash in the grey fur on Bandit’s backside – scary, but not enough to warrant the expense of a weekend vet visit, I hoped.

Once home, Bandit crept into a dark corner and refused to come out the rest of the day.

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Not even for meals.

Yes, even in the magical Ashevillage, bad things do happen.

The interesting thing, however, is paying attention to what happens in the wake of bad experiences.

Unexpectedly, the first stitch toward mending the upsetting rent in the fabric of our lives came in the form of another dog –

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a 180 lb Mastiff named Cupcake, who, when I happened to pass her by later that afternoon on my way to the market, was snoozing peacefully in the sun.

Tiny blue ribbons adorned her ears.

Surprised by the ribbons, I leaned over the fence to ask Cupcake’s owner, Meg – a neighbor I barely knew, for permission to take a few photographs.

Cupcake just got back from the groomer, Meg said, by way of explanation for the ribbons.

And so began an entirely pleasant conversation that ended with an invitation from my new friend to stop back by that evening for a house party.

A popular local band – the amazing Sirius.B – musicians who describe themselves as Absurdist Gypsy Folk Funk Punk –

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would be playing, in her house – walking distance from my own!

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Curious to know what Absurdist Gypsy Folk Funk Punk sounded like, I returned later, along with a number of other neighbors.

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The day had already improved immeasurably, but concerns over little Bandit still hovered in my mind.

I still wasn’t sure whether or not his wound needed a professional attention. And so, between songs, I sought out advice from other dog-owning neighbors.

Meanwhile, the strains of Absurdist Gypsy Folk Funk Punk – like musical incense – were floating out beyond Meg’s house, up the block, and over to another street, reaching into the ears of a young nurse sitting on her front porch six or seven houses away – a nurse who just happened to be a big fan of the band.

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Hearing what she knew right away was the music of Sirius.B, she wandered over to join the little throng enjoying the music inside and outside the house of Cupcake.

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When I discovered she was an emergency room nurse, I told her about Bandit’s misfortune. Should I take him to the weekend vet clinic? I asked. By then it was late in the evening.

“Let me take a look at him first,” she offered.

Two other neighbors, having heard the story, tagged along on our short walk back to my place, stopping along the way to pick up some emergency medical supplies.

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And that is how, a short while later, the four of us came to be performing spontaneous Schnoodle triage on my sofa by the spotlight of a handheld iPhone.

This compassionate care by three people who only hours earlier had been complete strangers to me, resulted in a happy and mended little Bandit.

After they left, I watched him snoozing peacefully, thinking of the day’s unexpected kindnesses – the invitation to a house party with great music, meeting new friends and neighbors, the midnight nursing to fix him up –

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none of which would have happened but for the luck of encountering a giant Cupcake with little blue ribbons on her ears.

It Takes An (Appalachian) Village

Most days, late in the afternoon, my dogs and I take a several mile ramble through the neighborhoods of Asheville.

Sometimes we walk with friends and sometimes we’re on our own,

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 but we almost always run into dogs and people we know.

We walk past bungalows and castles,

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and up and down the mountainsides.

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And if something is ever bothering my brain, or if I just have the blues, a mountain walk with the pups seems to take care of it –

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thanks to the fresh air and the conversations along the way.

Last summer, my aging (but spritely) mother moved in with me,

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and I found myself taking these walks a little more often.

She moved in at my invitation, and I had the best of intentions when I suggested it, eager as I was for her to experience the wonders and delights of life in the southern highlands of Appalachia.

And so…

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I took her to my favorite coffee shops, wine bars,

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restaurants and book stores – all of which quickly became

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her favorite coffee shops, wine bars, and restaurants.

We went out to hear live music whenever we could.

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She liked one band so much, she grabbed their tip jar and worked the room –

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much to their delight.

On weekends, we drove out through the mountains to nearby small towns.

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She marveled at,

and enjoyed,

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everything.

In order to accommodate this new world order, however,

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Casa Mia had to go through some necessary repairs and renovations.

Likewise, my lifestyle had to take a major shift.

Every day was now “take your mother to work day” and I sometimes found myself with a less than perfect attitude about it all.

Ideas for positive solutions were all around me, however, and although it took awhile for me to notice it –

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Zach, a chef down the street, listened patiently in his garden one day as I stressed about the goings-on at Casa Mia.

When I paused to take a breath, he looked at me and smiled gently.

“This too,” he said.

“Shall pass?” I asked hopefully, finishing the sentence for him.

“Nope.  Just ‘this too,'” he said.  “Everything that is already going on in your life, and now – this, too.”

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“It’s a Buddhist mantra,” he explained with a benevolent smile.

I thanked him politely and moved on, feeling less than consoled.

But his words stayed with me (dammit) – taunting me to accept them.

A few days later, I ran into another neighbor and once again,

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 my concerns came tumbling out.

She listened, then said kindly, “You don’t have to do this,” giving me the idea that change might even be possible.

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More walks and more ideas.  Help was springing up everywhere.

  A former geriatric nurse volunteered to come sit with my mother whenever I needed a break.  Others shared their loving (and often humorous) experiences taking care of their elderly parents.

Retired missionaries living across the street and the women from the shelter next door (the ones remaking their own lives!) all kept an eye out for her.

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One reason I had taken the elderly (but spritely) mother in was to show my kids this is how we take care of one another.

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But it quickly became apparent – as I watched my kids fence and parry her quirky ways and limitations with their gentle teasing and humor – that they were the teachers, not me.

Over time, walk by walk, piece by piece, words, advice and suggestions began to come together, forming a framework of support and ideas.  The answers were all around me, the village was responding.

The final piece in the puzzle turned out to have actually been the very first piece – I just hadn’t realized it at the time.

Several months before my aging (but spritely) mother had arrived at Casa Mia, the almost always patient Tom had taken a detour one day (a not unusual occurrence) so that he could show me the retirement home his grandfather had lived in for many years.  It was already dark out and I humored him, but didn’t pay much attention at the time.

By magical coincidence, it turned out this same village within a village was also the home of another mother –

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belonging to one of the craftsmen currently working on the transformation of Casa Mia.

And so, my aging (but spritely) mother and I went to see this home for similarly aging and spritely elders and discovered

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 it was the perfect solution!

On the morning of New Year’s Eve, the aging (but spritely) mother moved back out, and into her very own garden apartment on a neighboring mountain.

Last weekend, I took her out for the afternoon and after a tasty tavern lunch, we strolled around her new little town, looking at the shops.

Eventually, we wandered into a local art gallery and there, in the back room, leaning up against the wall, was a small framed painting by Ashevillage plein air artist Colleen Webster

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the exact scene from the wine bar where my aging (but spritely) mother had, just months earlier, passed the tips bowl for the musicians.

It was the perfect souvenir of our months living together 🙂

Gorilla in the Mist ~ Kayaking Appalachia

You can hear the Gorilla long before you see it. It has a mighty roar, as if waiting to claim its next victim.

For hikers, there’s only one way to reach the Gorilla –

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a not-for-the-faint-of-heart scramble down 1600 feet of steep mountainside, clinging to exposed roots and frayed ropes –

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in order to reach the “Garden of the Gods” and the Green River Narrows, through which Gorilla flows.

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And that is how I spent this past Saturday, scrambling down a steep mountainside in the company of good friends.

But hikers like us have it easy compared with what awaits kayakers.

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Just 35 miles south of Asheville, the Green River Narrows was first successfully navigated in 1988. One of the most extreme kayaking runs in the Eastern US, it is now a rite of passage for serious paddlers.

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Because for kayakers, the opportunity to “huck” themselves off the Gorilla – a Class V rapids with five segments (Pencil Sharpener, The Notch, The Flume, Scream Machine, and Nies’ Pieces) –

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is just irresistible.

So irresistible, it made National Geographic’s Ultimate Adventure Bucket List in 2014.

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The source of the Green River Narrows’ ferociousness is the Tuxedo Power station, which lies upstream. The Tuxedo periodically releases water at a rate of up to 216 cubic feet per second over this canyon of ancient Appalachian bedrock, creating a fierce playground for paddlers.

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Gorilla, one of the “Big Three” rapids on the river, is perhaps the most visually impressive.

It starts with a narrow 4-foot slot that is immediately followed by two waterfalls –

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“The Flume” and the “Scream Machine” – for a total drop of 28 feet.

A famous training ground for extreme kayaking, the Green River is legendary and the pinnacle of many kayakers’ careers.

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Each November, many of the world’s best paddlers descend on the Green to participate in the annual Green Race, considered by many to be the most competitive and coveted whitewater race on the planet. Kayaker Grady Kellog describes the experience:

“The Green is a river where anyone can have a bad day –

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(but) it’s a magnificent run that will have you high on adrenaline for days.”

For hikers, the adrenaline rush is also there –

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and can be safely appreciated (and photographed) from solid ground.

Curious to know more?  Check out the following videos and websites ~

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QsHMeGDpxQk

http://alltrails.com/trail/us/south-carolina/green-river-narrows

In memory of Boyce Greer of LiquidLogic ~ friend & kayak enthusiast.

© dating appalachia dot com & kristin fellows photography

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,

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are still visible in the glass of the window panes.

Or this overgrown lot around the corner –

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where you can still see the ruins of an historic home that crack-addicted squatters accidentally burned down nearly twenty years ago,

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back when this neighborhood was the working turf of prostitutes and drug dealers.

And, until just recently,

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there was this old farmhouse dating back to 1910.

These photographs, taken just a year and a half ago,

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seem to illustrate the bewildering and poignant displacement of old Appalachia.

(It’s actually just 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 should be noted, not to 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.

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Even my house, it turns out, has its own ghosts, one of which belongs to a little five-year-old girl, whose gravestone I discovered unexpectedly

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while gardening in my back yard one day.

It’s a sad story, I came to find out, and one that can wait for another day.