Short answer: No. But, having spent years in the military, living in states and countries and some weird places no one’s ever heard of, I have to say that Asheville, North Carolina, aka The Paris of the South, comes pretty damn close.
If your mind’s already made up and you’re locked-in, 1000% happy where you are, then skip this essay…you’ve found Utopia. For the rest of you, I’m gonna share a little secret.
Pamela and I had been visiting Asheville and its surrounding areas: Black Mountain, Weaverville, Hendersonville and Old Fort for over ten years, though we fell for the place in a handful of hours. And yet, two years in a row we spent weeks interviewing people in the Asheville area trying to find just one person who didn’t like the place. Truth is, we never found that person. The closest we came was on the last day of our trip. Went into a little shop in Black Mountain. (Black Mountain is tiny and composed mostly of artists, writers, sculptors and people who are really comfortable in their own shoes.) We asked the gal in the shop if there was anything she didn’t like. She said, “Yep, there is. I’m so pissed with myself for taking this long to move here.”
Driving into Black Mountain is like driving into a John Denver song. It’s Almost Heaven. When you fly in, the terrain is strange. It looks like a gargantuan bakery with 500 square miles of extra-large muffins in rows, only they’re green and fuzzy or orange, red and gold in the fall. I’ve never seen a terrain before that I wanted to take a bite out of. Over 60 huge waterfalls close at hand. Every week (no hyperbole required) it’s a different festival: bluegrass, art, autumn leaves, spring peepers; they even have a festival to celebrate the white squirrels that live down here.
Go into a little breakfast nook you’ve never been in before and it’s like old home week from the second you enter. Go back the next day and they have your names memorized. “Hey, Henry and Pam! You want the same #3 special, crispy bacon?” Coming from up North, I was skeptical that this was one helluva good sales technique. It isn’t. It’s real! The courtesy is real. Drive down an itty-bitty country road and guess what happens. Everybody waves….little kids, old men, women, teenagers. This is partly because the kids are taught (you’re not gonna believe this), not entitlement but MANNERS in school! They’re not joking. Manners are important.
Dollars and Sense: Quick comparison: In Bucks County, PA, a buck is worth 80 cents as of last week. In Asheville, that buck is worth $1.25. Doing the math, there’s a 45 cent differential on one dollar. Really.
House Hunting: The sublime and the ridiculous. We’re getting a lot more serious with our house hunting now. With our particular wish list, we figured we might get one or two things we were dreaming of. Really wanted a trout stream…oh, and a waterfall…and a nice long distance view, and about ten acres…neighbors not too close. They have em and if you’re from the northeast you’ll marvel at the prices.
And the ridiculous… Drove out to check out a house. All it said was “steep roads and driveway.” Driving up fifteen tight switchbacks that felt like we were going straight up, I finally pulled over at the top because all I was seeing was sky in my windshield. We VERY carefully K-turned around, making sure not to fall into a valley, then Pam made a joke to cut the tension. She said, “If you threw a Frisbee out the window, how far do you think it would go?” We figured at least two miles…
A Little Anecdote: We stopped in a little art gallery in Old Fort to ask for directions to the house we were looking for. An hour later, we left, having made a new friend. Looking to join their art group, chew the fat, make sculptures, have some fun, and enjoy The Third Act.
Getting back to the important stuff. By far the biggest plus of this area is the PEOPLE. I think way back when, in the beginning of our lives, when we were kids and young adults, it was that way for most people. But money breeds a sense of entitlement. It says, I am important now…probably more than you. So move over…fast and let me pass. I have a Jag with a V-12 engine. Down there, the thing they value is kids, family and TIME.
Happiness: If you’ve been reading these essays and blogs, you know I’m pushing for you to have some fun, kick-back a bit, spend time with old friends, enjoy throwing a line in the water. Down here, it seems like everyone drank from the same magic Happy flask. I don’t know why or how they do it, but it’s real. It’s palpable. I want a sip!!!
Candidly, when we drove down to search for a house, we were still on “Northern time”. We were talking fast and a bit brusque. It showed in the eyes of the realtors showing us around. We saw it, and I told them it would take us a week or two to……….detox. They started laughing. They liked that we “got it”.
Oh, this gets nauseatingly better, but remember, if we can do this, anyone else can, too. I haven’t fly-fished in close to forever. Big rainbows down there (soon to be…here), plus muskies, bass, pickerel, perch. Pam’s getting her own fly rod to keep me company. Really looking forward to writing down here and sculpting. I’m already 150 pages into the new manuscript set in Black Mountain. Good people in the book, too.
Panning For Gold??? And, last but not least, you can pan for gold in these little creeks and streams. With one house we were looking at, Bold Creek, is still virginal in that it hasn’t been panned-out. The Catawba River, just past the base of the property, may have gold in addition to the big rainbows. Pam’s dream is to pan for gold and search for Indian arrowheads, of which there are metric tons down here (0f artifacts, not gold). Imagine walking in the kitchen door and holding up a yellow rock the size of a marble, and saying, “Guess what I found!”
Life is short. Have some fun while that “little kid” is still alive inside you.
Life is good.
Sounds like the little place where I grew up. Paducah, Kentucky, manners, friendly ,trusting. I think it is a big part of the south, and I am proud to have lived there, it gave me my foundation. Wishing you both all kinds of luck and happiness there, you may even get a southern accent!! Phyllis
Didn’t know you were a Kentucky Woman! But it makes sense. For reasons unknown, wherever we’ve traveled, people always referred to Pamela as “Miss Pam”. Looks like she may be growing into that name even more so. Not sure how either of us would sound with a southern accent. I’ll have to practice.
Hello dear Henry
I am very glad, that heard you find a wonderful place that is like heaven.
A real Utopia, and it inspire my internal kids, off course remotely.
You know Henry I think that both of you (YOU AND gorgeous Pamla ) deserve more than that, because you are very active in different fields, and educated very highly, and in addition you are kind,brave,lovely , and the most important point is that you believe in golden rule. I enjoy that part of the essay says in new place people are very friendly and a buck worth $1.25.
As usual I enjoy all of your writing and I am proud of you.
Best wishes for you.
Sincerely your old friend Mo.
Wow… What a beautiful and handsome family you have! For a fraction of a second, my eye went to your son on the right, and I thought it was you. I thought, wow, Mo hasn’t changed…at all! Your wife is beautiful and you look like you should be presiding over a UN conference. Congratulations, Mo. You should be very very very proud.
And yes, the Golden Rule… It’s so simple and it works for virtually every situation. Conversely, when you have stacks of rules and laws that fill entire rooms, there will always be thousands of loopholes, places for people to twist the rules. That photograph you sent is a wonderful testament to your life.
What’s the difference between Utopia and Paradise? Short answer…none…but you know it when you see it.
We have been going to Long Beach Island for 48 years. We own our little house called “Sunny Side Up” for 42 years. It is 100′ from the beach, third house back. I’ve included some photos of what the world can look like 100′ away. My wife, Pat, and I have walked the beach 1000’s of times and each time we say ‘this is the first time’. We pick up “stuff” on nearly every walk….tumbled glass, broken conch shells, drift wood, kids lost toys reworked by the sea, and some strange undefinable objects. We have filled up a lot of large brandy glasses with our findings. Nearly everyone we come across on our walks greets us with some pleasantry. Fisherman will smile and tell they are just drowning bait but it is good to be here. We said,”A bad day at LBI is better than anything else!” No body ever argued with that. This is paradise….in the eyes of the beholder.
We’ve never been to Asheville but it is on the list. In my 37 years working for the Navy, I’ve been to 100’s of bases and cities in this country and a few around the world. Many were breathtaking but it always comes down to where your heart is happiest, that is where you find paradise or Utopia. Do I understand your blog? You betcha! Fun to read. When you move, keep us informed. Thanks.
Yup, no argument about the magic and beauty of the ocean. Having lived close to the ocean at times over the years, the only thing that bites me is the H-word. When a hurricane is coming your way, it’s scary as hell. And you’re right, we all have our own private Utopias as well as our own private hells.