“Some things will never change. Some things will always be the same.
Lean down your ear upon the earth and listen.”
~ Thomas Wolfe
Wisteria – Biltmore Estate, Asheville, NC
Are they opening, or closing?
My breath caught at the first glimpse of the Appalachians rolling below me. So beautiful. I forgot how pictures don’t do justice. I landed tucked away for a few days in a quiet Asheville neighborhood. My view trees, a tiny bit of sky. I felt grateful it’s still early for the full bush of leaves. I immediately scanned the small woods for flaming azaleas. The next day on a drive to Grove Park Inn Lost to Omni (how some of us think it), I scanned the roadside where I knew wild, thick, brilliant flames of forsythia show. Another day I expected azaleas in full bloom at Biltmore Estate. Tall walls of pink laurel blossoms on the drive to the mansion. But I’m late for the forsythia. Thick green foliage stand instead. The azaleas and laurels bloomed early. Brown nubs of spent flowers all that remain.
I had breakfast at a place I regularly frequented when I lived here. Simple meals of fresh ingredients well prepared. Fine local art on the walls, good music. Quiet, intimate with 30 seats and a short bar for diners. It sold after I moved so I don’t know the owner or staff anymore. Most strange, though, I saw Me of a few years ago in a fellow diner. A woman known by name, her special requests, her stories. Her familiarity clear by the way she praised the food, the place, her tone like an insider. I observed from the outside in, felt like a visitor for the first time in the three years since I left.
Perhaps that sparked my notice how the air feels abuzz with a difference that doesn’t invoke in me the wonder of discovery or thrill of new experience. How hearing seven new hotels approved for city center didn’t stir an outrage of ownership for my old town. I have the comforts of familiarity – knowing to check weather reports every morning, knowing the back roads, best meals, fav galleries. Share the camaraderie of longtime friends through the known and evolution of the known. But this difference feels like a love and I have changed in different ways. Like a lover lost who’s still my good friend. The comfort of not being a visitor gone.
A literary agent once asked after reading my novel if I was naturalist. Such a strong sense of the place, he said. I didn’t tell him as I told you here I don’t hike or get in the dirt. I said I observe. His remark sent me searching the book for descriptive passages, worrying I had too many, might bore my readers. I found words, random sentences, a couple short paragraphs focused on nature, all key to context and character. Writing this, I remember what Natalie Goldberg calls painting a place we can’t see into a work. If she’s painting a house and the Mississippi River is a mile behind her, she must somehow capture that river in her painting of the house. Same as I do when I write. Capture the fullness of a place without all the words. It’s what we do when we go home. Capture the fullness without all the markers, flowers, and time.
Thomas Wolfe wrote we can never go home again, meaning all things change. But I believe we can. That a place can continue to inform who we are in the world, and our relationship with it remains despite the changes. Santa Fe, NM after twenty years and Big Island, Hawaii after ten years are like that for me. I feel local when there. People treat me as local. I’m feeling my way through this sense of losing my home in Asheville, and I don’t know what to think of it. These mountains are in my blood. I’m right where I need to be, feeling good here today. Guess I’ll do what Thomas Wolfe suggests, lean down and listen. Perhaps that’s all any of us can do when the ground shifts. Have you noticed how once it starts, it ripples out?
Another journey in mindfulness. Getting to Wise.
A Writers Life.
A secret: I never thought the Blue Ridge Parkway drive special after the leaves filled in. We’d go to Town Mountain Rd. above the city, view the valley and ridges from there.
A favorite: Rising vapor trails of fireflies across a yard or field.