Thursday, June 24, 2010

Spruce Pine

It is that time of year in western North Carolina when mountain folk take to their ride along mowers to keep the grassy expanses under control. I never thought to see so many people out mowing their lawns. I could create an essay about just variations on that theme had I taken the time to photograph them all. This here has to be a representative sample of them all.We had an appointment to eat with the family in Spruce Pine, a lovely little town it turns out, fifteen miles north of Burnsville along Highway 19. There was intermittent cell phone service and we kept getting messages from the sister-in-law driving up from Asheville, an hour away, informing us they were going to be late, then later, then latest. So we stopped for a walk. In the woods. Gorgeous stuff.North Carolina puddles are delicious, I'm led to believe. The temperatures have been unseasonably warm here, hovering around 90 degrees (32C) and the shade of the trees is welcome relief. they are huge, cathedral-like deciduous trees I would be hard put to name, beeches perhaps. I am really not a botanist, but I know they were green and leafy and very pleasant to stroll under.The views of the mountains are exceptional also. They filmed Last of the Mohicans with Daniel Day Lewis around here and it is just like the movie, wouldn't you know it!
The car was where we'd left it, which was nice and a reluctant Cheyenne was poured into the back seat to resume our journey to dinner and a performance of chamber music in Spruce Pine.We were not,it turned out, the only dog owners looking for shady parking on Locust Street. This place is a pretty spot in the mountains along some railroad tracks. Spruce Pine has a population around 2,000 people and was founded in 1907 as a blip on the railroad from Tennessee. There are several mines around the town (silica is apparently a big product) which calls itself the Mineral City. You wouldn't know there is all this industrial activity judging by the strip downtown.
I liked this sign. sailors know of a Caribbean based Don Street, owner of the engine less red yawl Iolaire, famous for his opinions, his squeaky voice and his excellent cruising guides. This one must be someone completely different.Luckily for me the dust catcher shops were closed at that hour.
The railroad was dormant too, though the old passenger station, now shuttered, was evocative of an era.We were still waiting for Bob and Geeta and Jacob to show up so we kept walking.Cell phone service seems to be quite efficient in urban pockets but among the mountains themselves service is very spotty.
Spruce Pine put me in mind of West Virginia's mining villages along the railroad tracks.
The mountains of Western North Carolina are a summer motorcycling destination. Not for me of course as I am a family man. Sigh.
I miss railroads in the Keys.
Though seeing Cheyenne this close to a wheel on a rail creeped me out.
My wife figured this was an outdoor location for a farmer's market. The lone door puzzled me.
Time for dinner at Fork and Spoon. Geeta and her son Jacob had pasta with squash, Bob at the head of the table had something else while the wife and i shared a delicious steak. It was astonishing how many people stopped by to say hello, including one woman who now lives on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques and just happened to be back that week. The staff cooed over her little child in a manner i found disturbing. I chose my wife based on the fact (in part) that she never goggled at small children.Eliza gets a free pass. She was bubbly girl personified which was surprising as waiting tables was one of three of her jobs- masseuse and student also filling her time. Pudding was outstanding in this place. This was a fruit tiramisu and delicious with strong vanilla flavor.The bread pudding and caramel sauce was also first rate. We cleaned both plates between all of us. And the aesthete Geeta took time off from seeking enlightenment to dig in as well.Then it was time for a short walk and a little culture at the local chapter of the Toe River Arts Council. Rivers, like towns have odd names in these parts. Some of the music played by this chamber ensemble was challenging and atonal and lacking in melody which was a pity as I wanted music not studies of music by skilled musicians. However that comes with the territory as they encourage modern composers, a good thing. It's a pity modern composers have a tendency to write as though all the good tunes have already been taken.It was an excellent end, nevertheless to a great evening out in the mountains.We strolled back arm-in-arm to the dog in the car stuffed full of food and music.Long, slow dusks are one of the benefits of summer here, but eventually it gets pitch black dark on these winding mountain roads.I must confess I have the greatest of difficulty driving the speed limit around here, even in broad day light. And the locals are total maniacs in their beat up old cars and trucks driving at a pace that would put Juan Fangio to shame. They tailgate too and it's the devil's own job to find a turn out and let them by. They pass on bends and humps given half a chance and a flatland Florida poke like me just wants to get home in one piece. I'm not a slow driver by nature either.
We got to Celo Community's dirt back roads and wound our way through the unlighted rhododendrons safely. Bob had one more surprise up his sleeve. Locally distilled sipping stuff that would stand a taste test against a decent brandy or sipping rum. It is powerful stuff too. We were all instantly hilarious and then an instant later we were drooping.

Bob knows people who know people in these mountains. The drink came in a mason jar. Nuff sed?