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Crocus Pocus

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Spring has an undeniable magic: a warm breath of wind on what should be a chilly morning; a thread of scent, spicy and sweet–winter honeysuckle, perhaps–that’s gone before you’re sure it was there; buds that swell into being seemingly overnight.

Spring, much like hope, springs eternal

All this magical blooming and bursting and bubbling up of new life has side effects, of course: every swathe of green grass (more violently green in those patches that the dog favored last fall) sprouts a bumper crop of bodies–singles, couples, families–intent on exposing winter-white and waxen limbs to the rays of the young sun while lolling on bright quilts and tartan throws (that icon of spontaneous picnickery plucked from the trunk of the family truckster). These ground covers are regarded as talismans imbued with miraculous powers to protect the lollers from the simultaneous dangers of rampant sunburn, grass allergies, and rising damp that precedes a a sore throat and sniffles by about 24 hours after having engaged in the perilous practice of casting off clothing (a.k.a. “spring-fling”) too early in the season.

(With apologies to poet William Stevenson, “Back and side go bare, go bare, both foot and hand go cold…”)

In a nutshell? Enjoy the magic of spring from the safety of your socks, shoes, and sweaters–at least until the frost melts and the oak leaves are as big as squirrels’ ears, phenologically speaking. Or, in post-modern terms, plant your non-genetically modified heirloom ‘taters when the girls at the schoolbus stop shed their Uggs for flip-flops…

Terminal

Before I continue “North to Alaska,” I thought I’d add this post to the mix:

Terminal is a piece of short fiction I wrote several years ago. It was inspired by a wintertime visit to Mt. Pisgah…and the thought of how quickly things can change from delightful to…terminal.

(Terminal was published in the October 2006 issue of WNC Woman.)

Terminal

That last bottle of water was definitely a mistake…

Cotton batting clouds the color of baby aspirin wallow up and over each other on Pisgah’s folded shoulders; the frosted, foiled top of the mountain is the intricate dream of a celestial glass-blower.  Spangled, stiff-fingered pines—chandeliers of afternoon light—are interrupted where last summer’s sumac thrusts rusty arms up toward the sky.  All that dazzling-silver world, but no sound.  No nothing.

No sound, that is, except the hiss of hot pee punching a hole in cold snow.  I crouch, legs trembling as they sustain the necessary hover-mode to keep me from splattering my boots or jeans.  Hands folded into my armpits for warmth, leaning forward for better balance—again I regret the decision to down that final bottle of water before beginning this hike.  It’s a lot easier to access the bathroom when it’s in the same room with you instead of the edge of a cliff.  Who made up that eight-glasses-every-day rule, anyway?     

 When the leaves are gone and there’s nothing to soften the bones of the mountain, the narrow ridge rising in front of me seems inadequate to buttress Pisgah’s towering bulk.  It makes me think of—

–a waiter I saw once, expertly balancing a tiered wedding cake of sparkles and beaded crystal lace as he negotiated a path to the bridal table.  I’ll never see another wedding cake without the image of this mountain in the back of my mind. 

 Late day sunlight knifes through a gap near the top of the mountain.  Somewhere far off, some kind of bird chee-chee-chees to another; nature’s version of a pager.  It reminds me that there is still a world where time is not money, not product, not anything but time.  I tug at my jeans, fingers clumsy in the cold. 

I haven’t had to pee in the snow in what—years?—but the view from this position is worth the ventilation.   

I remembered, though, to scrunch my mittens out of harm’s way in the pockets of my coat, just like I used to do when I was a kid. 

Tomorrow, it’s back to the blah of public and private porcelain for another year until I earn two more weeks of freedom.  I wish I could take a piece of this back with me.  No, a peace of this.  That’s what I really mean.

My truck is less than a quarter of a mile from here.  I would have driven all the way to the trailhead, but I couldn’t get past the locked gates that separate the state’s narrow access road from the Parkway.  A quarter of a mile is pretty far in weather like this, when the rangers probably don’t even patrol more than once a week, just to check for storm damage and rockslides.  I’m glad it’s all mostly downhill to the place I’m staying, too, in case the truck takes a notion not to start.  

As the day fades and the light dwindles down to dull grape and pewter ashes, the slush on top of the pavement will start to ice up again.  Time to head back before it gets any harder to keep my footing on the increasingly uneasy surface beneath my boots.    

With its matte surface like a blacksnake’s hide, the road clings to the mountain, reversing its direction each time it wraps Pisgah in another loop.  This whole section of the Parkway from Cherokee to Shining Rock is still closed for bad weather—they get a lot more snow at this elevation than they do back in town. 

I guess it was maybe not smart to come up here by myself, without telling anybody where I was headed.  You never know.  There were those girls up at the Buck Springs Overlook a couple of years ago—they never caught whoever did that—

A shower of icy fireworks shivers down, disturbed by a movement in the branches arching over my head.  In one smooth sweep of dark wings above pale breast, a hawk launches itself into the empty space below me, banking side to side, held steady by the same wind that whistles through the gap between my jacket and jeans.  The hawk eyes me, a stranger in its kingdom, still standing spraddled above the evidence of my trespass.

My pants are no longer at half-mast, but the zipper defies my fumbling attempt to grip the flat, narrow pull and finish the job.  My fingers slip, shredding the skin over one knuckle.  Try again. 

There—at last it’s up!  Now to work the button closed and get my backside off the backside of this mountain before I start hearing sinister footsteps crunching up behind me—at least I won’t pee in my pants if I hear somebody coming and have to make a run for it.  How much more skittish you get when you’re in danger of being caught with your pants down!

 I must be out of shape, my legs are that stiff, I’m—

Caught on something?  Boot-lace snagged in last year’s matted underbrush?  What the—

The hawk veers away with a single, startled shriek.  Echoes my own, left behind in a frozen balloon drifting through empty air. 

Blink, blink again, try to open my eyes.  There is a sort of sound, after all.  A throbbing beat that I feel in my whole face; it matches what I guess must be my heart, still pumping underneath what is now the snagged, ripped ruin of my jacket.

Can I turn my head, even a little?  Blue blur pressed against my cheek?  So my hat is still with me—that’s good.  I let go of a breath I didn’t known I was holding.  Steam puffs up and a slow flood of something warm crawls over my upper lip, settles into the depressions on each side of my nose. 

“Uck,” I say out loud, disgusted by the mess clinging to my lip.  One numb hand goes up to paw at it—where are my mittens?  Birthday present; don’t want to lose them.  My fingers come away red and shiny, coated with a bloody bungee snot-line that stretches, snaps back cold against my face.  Double uck.  Hot copper taste blooms in my throat, drips backward.

If I turn my head the other way, I can see part of the gouged, wallowed track I left as I tail-over-teakettled down the slope.  The snow was a cushion, maybe, between the rocks and stones and stobs, but my jacket is still bleeding chunks of its lining through snagged rips and peeled-back flaps.      

The hawk swims in rippled rings of sky above my head.  Can it see me here, a footnote at the end of a blank page?  Can anybody see me here, fallen all the way to the bottom of the world?

Get organized, take inventory—that’s important. 

Hat?  Good.  No mittens?  Bad.  Jacket structure compromised?  Also bad.  As in not good.  As in, this is really not good.  Nose?   Like an overripe tomato, trembling, ready to burst its fragile skin in a minute.  More not-good. 

So—not-good currently outranks good.  Where’s the escape key to get back to good?  Problem is, command option is non-functioning.  Hands too cold; don’t want to work. 

I’d reboot… if I could feel my feet.

Surely there’ll be someone soon—a flash of warm plaid in the spaces between the trees or a bit of face showing between beard and balaklava as someone bends over me.  Surely I’ll feel bare hands, still warm from gloves, checking for a pulse against the underneath of my chin.  Not a ranger—I don’t expect that much—but someone that could call a ranger.  Please, someone?  

I’ll never go peeing again.  I promise.  The hawk knows what happened—surely it will tell somebody.  It just circles slow.  Circles slow; a toy bird on a tether, gliding in widening circles. 

Control, ALT, Delete.  System is not responding.  Wait twenty seconds.

Seconds tick by.  Ringing in my ears—no, in my pocket?  Doesn’t matter.  I’m not available; please leave any messages after the tone.   

Program has performed an illegal operation. 

Terminal error results in system shut-down.  

Falling for Fall

September Saturday post turned into word art!

September Saturday post turned into word art, courtesy of http://www.wordle.net!

 

My office computer was updated this week, and as I poked around in different files, trying to find *something* to delete (I’m a certified text-hoarder who never deletes a word or a thought; just files it away for another time!), I ran across this little description that I wrote for a long-ago newsletter:

 

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In Western North Carolina, Autumn doesn’t arrive in a blaze of glory; it comes quietly, overnight, with an unexpected drop in temperature.  Mornings that were heavy and still with the last hot breath of summer give way to jackets at the school bus stop and rusty red apples peeking through the last of the leaves.

 

The mountains, swathed in the blue-green of long summer days, began to slip into something more comfortable against the chill in the air.  Threads of color—copper, scarlet, rosy gold—weave in and out until the hills are blanketed in a soft glow that reaches all the way up to the sky. 

 

Autumn smells like wood smoke; like the mixed-up county fair flavor of cotton candy and corndogs; like sweaters stored in cedar chests.  It’s time to bid farewell to the beach and the lake and bare feet; to welcome, instead, the comfort of flannel sheets and hot soup and the silvery spangles of a first frost.  The sun is still hot at midday, but already leaning away toward the shorter, colder days to come.

 

The bottom line?  Look for Autumn when you least expect it.  Like every other season in this region, it has tricks up its sleeves and it likes to show off its true colors.  Fortunately, those colors are usually breath-taking, so enjoy every minute of it!

 

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I don’t remember if this actually appeared in the newsletter or not, but I liked it and thought I’d include it here. It’s still true, and it’s coming true right at this moment all around me!

September Saturday

There are few things more enjoyable than a Saturday in September, especially if you live in (or visit) Western North Carolina. Today was all warm sun and wind; almost no humidity; and a sky the color of “the blue-tiled walls near the market stalls”* that we only get in the fall when the faded chambray sky of summer is flooded with a fresh infusion of bright blue.

No one needed anything from me today, so I caught up with an old friend and we gave ourselves over to the enjoyment of a September Saturday. We started with lunch at the Apple Crate Cafe** in Waynesville–a charming little restaurant just off the main road, and brimming over with apples and angels in its decor. My friend and I both opted for a tuna melt and a side of baked potato salad, and were delighted to find RC Cola among the fountain drink choices. When you visit–and I hope you’ll do it soon–be sure to check out the restrooms (“hens” or “roosters,” depending on your equipment); they’re just as nice as the restaurant itself!

 

We ran a couple of errands and one of our stops netted me, unexpectedly, the particular Webkinz one of my nephews has tried to find for months. (His birthday is next week, so now I’m all set!) We went downtown  next, and I remembered how much I always enjoy my visits to Waynesville. It’s just half an hour west of Asheville, but like Hendersonville (see my last post), it’s a world away.

Stopped in at Vin Wine Bar on Church Street; talked to the owner and picked up some info on next Saturday’s excursion to the Rockhouse Winery in Tryon, NC. Vin hosts a ladies’ wine club that meets monthly, I believe, and this is a club-related outing (there are a few spaces left; call 828-452-6000 for more info).

Then it was on to Barber Orchard (2855 Old Balsam Rd. in Waynesville; 828-456-3598), which feels a little like driving into the past. The older part of the building is all field stone rockwork, with a newer shed and packing area built onto the side. A long line of old apple trees screens the view of Highwa 19-23, and the trees were loaded with a bumper crop of purple-red fruit that makes you wonder which old heirloom variety they might be. There are plenty of apples for sale at the moment, including Cortland, Honeycrisp, Gingergold, McIntosh, and Golden Delicious. Other produce included locally grown tomatoes, cantaloupe, field corn, white and red potatoes, squash, muscadines, and plums. Barber Orchard is also known for its fresh-baked apple cakes, apple fritters, cookies, pies, cider, and cider slushies–plus pickled okra, dilly beans, and more kinds of pickles and jams and preserves than you can shake the proverbial stick at. (When a Waynesville-dweller brings a Barber Orchard apple cake to a staff meeting or office potluck, co-workers have been known to fight over even the crumbs left on the plate!)

Two apple turnovers, a bottle of cider, a half-peck of Honeycrisps, a jar of pickled okra, and a sample of fresh cider later, my friend and I parted company and I headed home with the top down, the radio up, and a downright satisfied smile on my face at the September-ness of it all.

* I’ve been on an Al Stewart kick lately, and I have his 1976 classic “Year of the Cat” to thank for that description of the color blue.  Thanks, Al (and happy “Time Passages” for your birthday yesterday)! watch?v=QM7LR46zrQU

** For more reviews on the Apple Crate Cafe: http://local.yahoo.com/info-13357050-apple-crate-cafe-waynesville

Bele Chere 2008

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Asheville's City Building wears a Bele Chere banner

The City Building, all decked out for Bele Chere.

It’s that time again–Asheville’s biggest party of the year, and one of the biggest outdoor festivals in the Southeast: Bele Chere. Asheville’s been throwing this shindig for 30 years, believe it or not, and folks are still packing the place to wander the streets, eat strange foods, and gawk at others.

I remember the first Bele Chere three decades ago, and if memory serves, it took place a little later in the year–maybe September? Haywood Street was closed to traffic and there were a few booths near Pack Memorial Library (it had recently moved from its original location on Pack Square), and one stage featuring a bluegrass band. We wandered around for a few minutes, but there was nothing much to see or do. What I really remember? On the way downtown, we stopped at Wendy’s (there was only one then, on Patton Ave.) and tried their new chili for the first time.

Fast forward 30 years, and Bele Chere has become a massive free-for-all of street vendors, artists, crafters, hucksters, informational pitchers, meat-on-sticks, deep-fried-candy-bars, sponsors, fight-to-legalize-hempsters, mendhi painters, locals, tourists, sunburns, late-summer-downpours, brewers, local restaurants, funnel cakes, sunburns, panting dogs, crying children, men-in-dresses, aging hippies, blaring music, armadas of port-a-johns, kiddy rides, semi-naked teen girls, dancing, drumming, grooving, tattoos, piercings, pay-to-park, blocked streets, sell-your-mama-for-a-seat-in-the-shade kind of festival. And those are just the highlights!

For some, it’s a wide-open-anything-goes kind of weekend in late July. For others, it’s a huge hassle that renders downtown Asheville impassable for three days. The city always declares each Bele Chere more successful than the previous one, and supposedly it attracts about 350,000 people to town each summer. There are a lot of local businesses that shut down for the duration, preferring to lose potential cash flow rather than face the hoardes and their endless search for bathrooms because 1) they’re too desperate to wait  or 2) they’re not desperate enough to use the portable facilities that have been festering in the sun all day.

Bele Chere signpost at College St. & Lexington Ave.

I work downtown, right in the heart of Bele Chere, and though I still enjoy parts of it, it’s definitely lost some of its luster for me after all these years. Getting to work on the opening Friday is an exercise in futility. For example: yesterday, I had to back halfway down a city street and take a weird route through an alley and a parking lot, then rely on a (surly) volunteer to hold up a yellow caution tape barrier and direct me through a crowd of vendors and on-lookers to access my building. Leaving required the same process in reverse, but at least I could drive the normal direction and not worry as much about backing over anyone (or their handwoven hemp-and-crystal dog collar booth).

Patton Avenue view

Oh, well. If you’re an Ashevillain, you know you’re here to stay. And whether you love it or hate, it looks like Bele Chere is here to stay, too.

What is a locavore?

Good place to start. I believe the word is credited to a San Fran group and basically means someone that buys/eats local food (farmers’ market, local produce, etc.). I’m pushing it a little farther to mean an interest in all things local–after all, I “consume” lots of local things: culture, food, music, art, air–I’m sure you get the point. So I plan to talk local, but I’m sure that will lead to other places/tangents/rabbit trails; we’ll see. Never having blogged before (I’ve responded to many posts, but never taken responsibility for one), I don’t know what to expect, even from myself.

Feel free to comment (unless you’re just being mean; in that case, think before you blast me, please!)