Saturday, March 28, 2015

A Monochrome Walk In The Woods

Cheyenne ran ahead, behind, to the side. She is a sidebar to these pictures, but trust me she had a blast. I enjoyed myself taking pictures with my iPhone. Count me among the heathen who like pixels. My sister-in-law thinks real books don't live in my Kindle. She's wrong. I love being able to read anywhere anytime with my library carried around in my pocket. Similarly that same library is also my camera- black and white on the iPhone camera, color on the Camera+ app. Lovely. I think I like my iPhone.


Celo lends itself to contemplative photography, this picture below I took at ten o'clock at night, cold crisp air, Cheyenne snuffling in the leaves, me figuring the flash.

This I took leaning out io the car at 12 miles per hour, on Hannah Branch Road, the main road through the Intentional Community of Celo, the road the state of North Carolina wants to pave but that a dozen hold outs in the community don't want paved to prevent people from speeding.


Because the community operates by consensus, one "no" vote is enough to stymie anything. No road pavement then. Damn their eyes. My car gets muddy...I am not a candidate for membership at Celo. They'd drive me mad! Or I them.






A few pictures, a short walk, a happy elderly dog. A good start to the day. I hope it is for you too.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Good Eats In Burnsville

My wife wanted to eat trout. Yes, I know, we're in Western North Carolina for a week, out of tourist season and the crazy Florida woman can't go a week without a dead fish on her plate. So we went to Bubba's in Burnsville.

Geeta has eased off her vegan trajectory a bit, thanks perhaps to the wisdom and tolerance of age, or the recognition that woman does not live by lentils alone or maybe she simply missed the flavor of eggs and fish. She likes to cook and she and her husband are the most extraordinary left-over hoarders you have ever met, so eating out is a special event.

These family consultations are not for me. I spend most of my time at Celo with my brain switched off so when a plan is hatched I am not terribly aware. Put a glass of wine in front of me and I drink it. Decide to eat out and I go. Otherwise I read my Kindle on my phone, take pictures and let the neighborhood tales of increasing age, ill health and social dissolution flow round me like a buffalo stampede around a rock in the prairie.

These days the Ingles grocery store ("American Owned") in Burnsville is a foodie Mecca, with shelves groaning under the weight of products designed to appeal to visitors (Carrs Water Biscuits) and more prosaic local tastes (Little Debbie's). When Geeta and Bob moved here in 1974 my wife used to bring suit cases filled with avocados, artichokes, tortillas and salsas from the sophisticated land of eternal youth in California. This is no longer the case; we now go sauce and mustard shopping in Burnsville to see what we cannot buy in Key West.

The other reason not to eat out is the drive. I find it a pleasant twenty minute wander through the woods from Celo to Burnsville. They see it as a waste of a valuable natural resource - petroleum - and a contribution to the scourge of climate change. Yes well, true enough but sometimes a man needs meat, which also contributes ...blah...blah...blah.

Burnsville is a pretty little mountain town of 1700 souls previously photographed on this page. But it is still pretty and worth wandering through:

Not much changes here, which is reassuring. The thrift shop...'s bin with the intriguing sign...

...and a peak inside:

The doctor with the funny name, if smoking can be a jocular matter these days:

Heavy padlocks on the front door of the abandoned picturesque building, with an open window frame on the other side. Who are they kidding?

The yellow brick road mural is still in place... is the 19th century courthouse depicted on the painting:

These days dogs no longer appear to be banned from the park. How civilized! I have ambitions to one day stay at the Inn in the background. Not easy to do when you have a family living close by.

Bob drove us to dinner. His wife always drives like a maniac possessed by a desire for self immolation at impossibly high speeds on these narrow winding roads. Bob just grips the wheel looking like he's gone mad with an unaccountable lust for speed. He actually drives at normal speeds, not his wife's hair-on-fire style of motoring.

Oddly enough my in laws had never been to Bubba's.
They were like aliens on another planet wandering around looking at the school sports paraphernalia as though it were evidence of aberrant voting behavior. "This is a den of Republicans," Bob pronounced in the gravest possible way as though he had discovered listeria in the kitchen. I figured it was just middle America in Appalachia as you might expect and I figured the burgers would be delicious. Bob makes me look middle of the road sometimes. A bit of a relief really as being the household radical all the time gets a bit tiresome.
Gwinnie took our order after establishing her genealogy and local bona fides with our hosts at dinner. That took a while as she explained who her father was and where she grew up etc etc...then she asked me where I was from and I just said Italy to cut the long story of my tangled genealogy very short. Not at all put out she told me her impressions of Venice and Verona before taking our order. "I just love Europe," she said thoughtfully giving the worldly world travelers at our table pause. Modern hicks are hard to stereotype.

The young trim woman shocked Bob again when she listed the schools her four children attended locally, but she made me very happy by keeping my coffee cup filled. The perfect waitress. I very much enjoy coffee and hamburger. Why that combination? I dunno I just do, and I don't like strong battery acid coffee: hot weak and not bitter is perfect for me. My BBQ-bacon-cheeseburger was the ideal meal alongside my bottomless cup of coffee. And the real potato fries were excellent.

Everyone else had trout, the biggest slabs of grilled fish you ever did see. Bully for them.

Then, just as the blackberry cobbler arrived so did a visitor, a middle aged man once attended by my sister-in-law when he was sixteen. That visit engendered another genealogical recitation of local who's who, rather in the manner of a prolonged Biblical generational listing of who begat whom, but I couldn't the wait. The vanilla ice cream was melting and the gooey pudding resulting was too much temptation. While the others were distracted with the history of prominent Burnsville residents past and present I got on with the grave responsibility of demolishing the pudding.

Geeta started waxing nostalgic about her years as a small town general practitioner and how perhaps she should have stuck at it. Which sounded doubtful to me as she has traveled the world practicing medicine in the Himalayas for years and more recently in Kenya and last winter she went on a Quaker mission to Mexico. Which leaves little time to fulfill the romantic notion of small town medicine in one small place.

We returned to downtown Burnsville to walk off the dinner and while Cheyenne tried to demolish a small hedge hunting for escaped slices of day old pizza an oblivious Bob told me the story of the Kenyan Quaker pastor (I had no idea such a thing existed) who took his first look through a telescope in the Burnsville town square. It seems he was less impressed by Mars than he was by the sight of the mountains of the Moon.

And so home and to bed. Cheyenne loves her Celo bed so much we will get her one such for her Cudjoe Key home. Apparently this lumpy thing is more Labrador friendly than her closed foam mattress in Florida.

What Cheyenne wants, she gets. I got a great burger and cobbler and coffee and I love Bubba's. I will be back no matter what Bob divine's of their politics. They are demon cooks and that's what matters.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Intimate Celo

Spring Break is a week away from the Keys, and where one sister likes the ocean and tropical heat the other one lives in a cabin in the mountains an hour out of Asheville. Cheyenne prefers the mountains and she sat up with us the night we arrived, appropriating sister-in- law Geeta's yoga cushion to sit on:

They say it has been an unusually harsh winter in the mountains, and take it from me Spring has been no picnic either, as we arrived in a 40 degree rainstorm. Wine and burning wood cured that.

Brother-in-law Bob is cultivating the theory of self-sufficiency which apparently involves preparing onions for planting by spreading them on the living room floor. They come from somewhere out west, Texas or California I forget and "candy" is their type not what they taste like. Or so I'm told.

There is an eccentric quality to life in Celo that reminds me of the English situation comedy The Good Life which was a huge hit in the England of my youth about a suburban couple that tries to live off the land turning their backyard into a farm to the discomfort of their upper crust conventional neighbors. Celo community is a place apart in the life of Yancey County which surrounds it. Back to the land environmentalists were once seen as hippie weirdos and now while certainly different they are a known quantity and part of the community they infiltrated decades ago. Poverty, pick up trucks and hunting goes on as ever outside the community because this is Appalachia. Inside the community they govern by consensus and the community owns the land, and people live there with the support and agreement of their neighbors. Hunting is banned, paved roads are frowned upon and solar panels and green houses dot the landscape.

Bob and Geeta have an aerial shot of my wife and I leaving San Diego in our sailboat in October 1998. Geeta came along for the first part of the trip and we only discovered her inability to tell her left from her right as we closed the Mexican coast for the first time anxious to get the anchor down after a four hundred mile passage. We posted Geeta as forward lookout with a cliff to our right?...and a semi-submerged reef to our right, or was it on our left? Oh and it was dark at the time too. We made it, not without straining the bonds that tie families together.

The morning view from the guest bedroom. Makes you want to pull up the covers and wait for summer.

Celo is a great place to wander. And if you have a new iPhone camera to check out, so much the better.


Rugged winter living. Bob chops the wood, stacks the wood and hauls the wood, generating heat all the way, as the saying goes. This year they finally installed a wall air conditioner that also reverse cycles heat. We prefer not to visit in winter, staying with their eldest son in Asheville is a much more modern option.

Mount Mitchell, the highest point in the eastern US is 6,000 feet up among the clouds over there.

Bob asked for some help to remove the tarps covering his gravel garden, designed in the style of a Japanese sand garden. The sun came out and it was pleasant work, trimming the hedge and raking leaves.

Geeta did laundry. Brueghel painted the scene. Or he would have, had he not been dead (on another continent) for a few centuries.

The house that Bob built while his new bride the doctor ran the local health clinic, the local desperately needed resource in a hollow isolated from the rest of 1975.


Bob worked in academia lecturing until both sons got through college debt-free, moving to Minnesota to get a position. Then they came back to Celo to live off the land, to travel, to retire.

Cheyenne made herself invisible while I hunted for volunteers to help rake leaves.

A hollow (pro: "hallah") in these mountains is a dead end valley, a cul-de-sac between ridges. It's where people lived and cultivated in isolation and extreme poverty. Great beauty of course, but you can't eat beauty as any peasant will tell you.

The temperature gauge on the table was supposed to reassure the visiting Florida pantywaists that death by hypothermia was extremely unlikely. I remained wary and kept heavy duty woolens nearby at all times.

No signs of snow - yet.

There are a few more days to go.