Wednesday, December 31, 2008


The big controversy in Burnsville, county seat of Yancey County just outside Asheville is whether or not the state is doing a good thing widening US Highway 19 that runs from Interstate 26 to Spruce Pine and points east. The idea would be for Burnsville commuters to be able to drive all the way to Asheville at their speed, leaving tourists and slow pokes to dawdle in the slow lane. Personally I sometimes wouldn't mind such forward thinking on Highway One through the Keys, even though the Bonneville makes tourist passing an enjoyable pastime for me most days... My brother in law (retired) is incensed about the road widening and has been fulminating about it for years, and now it's happening so the sight of the earth moving equipment just makes him morose, a bad loser. The dude who sold us some craft pottery in downtown Burnsville was quietly delighted. He commutes an hour to Asheville airport to his day job and the road widening from his crafts store/home will be a lot easier.

Burnsville benefited hugely from the boom years of the 1990s, and the by-pass Highway 19 East collected the fast food joints and light industrial sheds and the car repair shops, while downtown Burnsville became a tourist mecca of cute stores and restored old buildings, with a core residential area spreading up the hill behind the main square:

Burnsville promotes itself as "home," the place where everyone wants to be, small town America, where you know your neighbors and you go shopping on foot from little store to little store and say 'howdy' as you go. It does a creditable job of recreating Mayberry:

This is the town everyone can love, warm (short) summers of leafy green trees, and miles of hiking trails with gated communities popping up like toadstools all through the woods, this is retirement and tourist country. Burnsville boomed in the 1990s when lots of people came to live in a quiet backwater and, not yet retired, earned their living by running a small store in the town while their other halves commuted forty minutes to Asheville. Burnsville these days has an abundance of small stores struggling to cope with a failing tourist economy. I was reminded, as I always am when we leave Key West how deprived we are in our choices. There were more stores with greater variety in this little mountain town than in our "major city" at the end of the Keys.

And the weather is what a lot of people enjoy,people who are not as heat obsessed as am I...

Nephew #2 was trying to convince me to buy a parka like his against the chill winter weather. I just snorted. My proposal is that next year we celebrate Christmas at our house in the Lower Keys, because I don't propose to ever need such a jacket in my life:

He grew up just outside Burnsville and remembers coming to the Yancey theater with his family. Unhappily the theater was closed "due to icy conditions" a sign proclaimed in it's window. However the film was Bedtime Stories with Adam Sandler so I probably wouldn't have needed to go, had the family let me off the Christmas leash.

As it was we strolled and shopped and heard tales of woe from shopkeepers lamenting lack of trade in the high tourist summer months and a dead Christmas season so I am predicting a very much less vibrant Burnsville to come...We stopped for tea in the tea shop that lives off foreign orders for fancy paper invitations...weird but true. They make paper and ship it round the world, a profitable endeavor that allows them to operate a low key and delicious tea room upstairs:

Yet even the tea shop owners lamented the fact their suppliers of fancy paper are drying up, preferring to make more money selling their paper abroad in their countries of origin, rather than bothering to ship it overseas to Burnsville. The tea shop is a labor of love supported by the profitable paper sales... We walked past the tractor shop, a healthy reminder that some people still do cultivate luscious lawns in the appropriate time of year:

Burnsville, unlike the in-laws' remote mountain home, is served by cellular telephones, and I got to photograph at least one coward huddling out of the freezing wind making a call:

We paid homage to Otway Burns after whom the city was named. The city was founded around 1833 and Otway apparently made a name for himself and his state in the war of 1812, so he got the town named for him:

And there he stands hovering over his city which will in some form, weather the tough times ahead as best it can. Appalachia is no stranger to economic downturns and doubtless they will grow the food we townies in the Keys will only dream about as we fish for grunt and serve them with bland grits.Even though Appalachia and the Keys are as different as possible they do have something in common. I have seen this same plaque on the corner of Peacon Lane and Caroline Street in Key West:

Pretty soon I shall be back in Key West and be able to touch, with ungloved hand, that same message and not get frostbite. What joy.