Friday, June 25, 2010

Walking Celo

Another morning and everyone is wide awake in the McGahey household and making noise. Time to go.'Bye Daddy Jacob, 'bye Aidan, I've got dogs to walk in peace and quiet in the woods.
Mason used to belong to Jacob but when he and Bevin had children the faithful family pet got sidelined so the grandparents decided to keep him. My idea of taking him home with us was frowned upon. Too far they said. So I do my best to entertain him and make him feel valued while I'm here. He loves walks in the woods just as much as Cheyenne and I do. Check it out.Celo Community is outside Burnsville and was founded decades ago by a group of idealists, and my sister and brother-in-law joined 35 years ago. It was a time when this was rural Appalachia and my sister-in-law had her medical school bills paid by the government for working in a "medically under served" community. They liked the back woods of Yancey county so much they have based themselves here ever since as part of what is called an Intentional Community along Quaker lines though not everyone here is a Quaker, not by any means.
Some 75 people live on the land in Celo, they occupy or build homes with low interest loans from the community which owns the land in trust. When someone leaves they get their investment back, exactly as much as they paid and the land remains in trust. And what land it is, a fairy tale forest of streams and rhododendrons groves, twisting paths and trails in which it is all too easy to lose oneself.
I have spent hours each day of this vacation walking the dogs and these pictures are a tiny sample of what I have seen, the streams we have forded and the rickety old bridges we have crossed. Indeed earlier this week we got so deeply lost in the woods it took two hours and a passing neighbor's directions to find our way out. We walked all the way to the boundary of the community stopped only by a small marker announcing we were entering National Forest lands that border the community. It is a wild and fantastic place.
Just this year the voters of Burnsville voted to make the city wet, a hard fought vote that has brought wines and beers within easy reach (20 minutes by car) from the community. Previously this was rural Appalachia, a place where people have lived an farmed since before the Revolution. And praised God in their various ways. Bob, a Methodist/Quaker/Buddhist/Whatever says wryly that ecumenism in Yancey County means the various Baptist Churches have actually started to talk to each other. Imagine how a bunch of idealist young peaceniks were viewed 35 years ago, clearing the forest and building huts...
I was in a convenience store and saw a little display by the check out till. "Gifts for Every Occasion" went the blurb...small homemade crosses with a prayer attached. They hardly raised my atheist eyebrows. This is God's Own Country, as they say and you can see why. I see bumper stickers of the cross Christians who say "We Still Pray" as though one can't pray privately in these woods, no bumper stickers needed. In a world gone mad with consumerism and return on investment the idea of essentially paying to build a house on land you can only rent seemed a bit daft at the end of the 20th century and Celo Community started to fade and shrink, much to Bob's concern. He remembers a local man Ben Geouch joining the Community and helping the young hippies by hauling away their logs with his horse team. Now, with the economy in tatters the community is thriving and in another essay I hope to show pictures of how a group of dedicated people can turn this land into a productive thriving farm able to support it's people with their own food.It is inspiring.Along the trail one frequently finds oneself walking past private homes and it is a bit disconcerting to one such as myself who is used to seeing "Private" "No Trespassing" signs that litter the yards of the fearful in the Florida Keys. Here it is not unexpected to walk past someone's home and indeed a chance encounter on the gravel roads of the Community is simply a chance to say hello and catch up. Megan and Todd work at the Arthur Morgan School, the Community's education center for the youngsters being raised here, though I had no clue who they were when I met them.
"I'm visiting Bob and Geeta" is how I explain myself to people I meet, and being related to two of the elder members is a pass to respectability around here. It is a pleasant place to walk as anyone you meet is like minded and not threatening. It's hard to explain to someone used to the gritty city streets in the world outside, but it works.
In North Carolina these dead end valleys in between the mountains are called "coves"a weird maritime term. This home appeared empty but who knows. Rules require Community members to spend six months of each year in their homes. There are lots of rules and monthly meetings and everything is done by consensus. That the community works, never mind thrives, seems like a miracle to me, the determined loner. Understandably people have to work but it amazes me these paths aren't packed with walkers. Almost the entire time I never met a soul.And so finally home with two pooped pups.And the demands of the laptop. Luckily they have wireless now so i can download pictures as I go. So many pictures.

I can't wait to get back out there, in the woods.