Monday, March 30, 2015

Mountain Life

Ask me why I live in the expensive, out of the way, flat, humid, hot Florida Keys. Ask my dog and she'll tell you I'm nuts. I should live here:

I'm a fair weather kind of woodsman. Bring me back in summer when the grass is long and thick, when the trees are full of green leaves, when sunshine dapples the forest floor. When it's warm enough you barely need a sweater after the sun goes down, then maybe I can live in the mountain valleys. Frost is outside my comfort zone.

I like the scenery of the mountains, the vigor of the wind pushing the massive clouds rolling over the peaks, the sudden rush of noise as the wind ruffles the branches. I like the winding rolling countryside.

The roads: give me a break. Who couldn't love a road like this? The speed limits around here are so high I can't drive them half the time. I'm not one to drive the limit because it seems to me speed limits are decided with liability in mind, zombie drivers texting etc... Around here 55mph on a state highway like this is not that easy to exceed. Locals manage nicely and I spend a lot of time pulling over to let them by. Florida drivers! Locals despise us.

I vacation for variety, so helping my brother-in-law garden is something I do here that I wouldn't do at home. Cheyenne is just fine watching me taking orders.

Bob likes the idea of self sufficiency which essentially requires constant physical labor, so I suppose it's a nice change for the former university professor. Heating his home is an act of joyous liberation for him.

For me it's hard labor wheeling logs through the woods.

Lots more trees where these logs come from.

Ely likes the mountains. She used to live in Taos where she raised her kids. That was after she met my wife in college where they became friends and still hang out together. Now Ely lives near Asheville and hangs out with my wife's sister, monitoring her grown sons from her North Carolina hideout.

Ely is a sweet woman who grew up in a privileged world devoid of work or deadlines, but her self awareness makes her a wry companion with an eye for the absurd and no doubt about her place in the world. Ely's vagueness and lack of worldly wisdom is the source of endless amusement among those who care for her. Once asked what the time was, Ely looked up bright eyed and asked with perfect seriousness: "You mean right now?"

But Ely has managed her inheritance with shrewdness and wisdom, her kids love her and she has a circle of friends anyone would envy. Sometimes she drives me crazy but she never takes offense, nor gives it. I hope that if there is life after death she will be in my circle of hell and we can giggle eternity away together.

Nancy has lived in Asheville raising her son, an avid motorcyclist (good lad), and she isn't really as severe as my portrait would suggest. She is a potter by trade, an artist circling in and out of my wife's family for four decades. Nancy doesn't live in the Keys, land of heat and mosquitoes and flat views.

My nephew Jacob was born on a kitchen table in a country home in the hills outside Asheville, and has wanted nothing more than to live and work in this community. He's married, has two kids, manages a bicycle parts manufacturing factory and races mountain bikes in pursuit of the sport of his youth. Soon to be 40 his life is exactly where he wanted it to be, in a carbon-neutral dollar home he designed and had built mortgage-free in extra hip West Asheville.

These are some seriously together people. They are my family, oddly enough. I have lived on the periphery of other people's lives, and now I live on the periphery of the continent. Connor thought my trick of tying the ends if his sleeves in knots was brilliant. It kept his hands off my beer and his father Jacob looked at his wrists in puzzlement..."What have you done this time..?"

His older brother Aidan got deeply annoyed with me as I kept distracting him and stealing his fries. "You are a thief!" He said it like I should be ashamed of my low moral character. Mmh I said, taking another one. Are you done with that grilled cheese? My dog would like it. No, he howled, thief! I mollified him by returning the stolen fries when my order arrived. Kids are like cats, they are attracted to people who are allergic to them.

Even the kids are nice in Asheville though it took all my self control not to ask about the high visibility tooth straighteners. Everything is high viz suddenly, and in hip Asheville people walk in high viz, drink beer in high viz and for all I know cook dinner and wash the dishes in high visibility colored clothing.

Asheville is a terminally fashionable youth oriented town. Young men don't wear tutus here, they sport spade shaped beards, plaid shirts and horrid tattoos with pierced flesh reminiscent of medieval torture but actually symbols of Modern Fashion. Asheville breeds bookstores and poets in defiance of pixels, young women look like distressed fashion models, torn clothes on spindly frames, bicycles combat the incredibly steep hills between consignment shops, everyone drives a Subaru.

There's so much to like about Asheville. Bevin, Jacob's wife has a good job as a code nurse in the hospital, and she's a woman whose company I enjoy. She has a brilliant laugh and a wry sense of the absurd of the family she has married into. We are outsiders together and we see the good and the funny about our marriages. I could hang out with Bevin in her kitchen on a rainy afternoon - even if her kids were there. They are her offspring and enjoy many of her adult qualities. Jacob's family is actually good company.

Then I come home to this, open water views, my skin stops itching from contact with the dry mountain air, my boat tugs at its mooring lines, my motorcycle is ready to ride year round. Millions come here, sighing, on vacation.

Funny isn't it, where you choose to live and why.