This was a week of dreamy interludes and reveries, watery fun, and the unceasing pleasure of good company. It was also a week of unknown destinations: places only conjured in the mind because you haven’t yet experienced them, and thus that remain open to the great whims of the imagination until–surprise–they were nothing like you thought.
Since steep terrain, heavy forest canopy, and winding roads constantly limit your view in these here hills, many destinations seem to come as an unveiling, a peeling back of both the imagination and of the thick Appalachian carpet. This week’s unveiling was especially sweet: a swimming hole, perhaps the best one this side of the Mississippi River.
Though not a particularly hot day, H, Z, and I had worked up an honest sweat planting, weeding, and tending to the various priorities of a typical day here. Our collective decision-making style tends to be very open ended and laissez-faire, and so we less decided to go frolic in a swimming hole than altogether manifested the mindset of “ooooh…swimming hole.”
Sort of like:
Then we were off. The hole is on the Toe River, just down a short dirt two-track road on a lovely farm tucked along the river’s floodplain. The river bends at this particular spot, and someone’s fine folk engineering with river rocks deepened it to around eight feet deep. On the other side of the river lay a giant flat boulder that hugs the hillside, and a rope swing that dangles in front of it. Perfect.
Even Gypsy, our what-we-once-thought-of-as-not-so-intrepid Australian Shepherd thought it was the bees knees. She used to grouse and grumble and resist putting paws to water. So it was much to our surprise to find her dog paddling right along with us across the river, scrambling up rocks, and falling back off into the river, and really enjoying herself. She would paddle over to me and sort of hang there, letting me carry her 55 pounds with the utmost trust. It was pure dog-nature-as-expressed-in-water. H brought their little Chihuahua/Yorkie mix, Chi, and swam him across to the river, where we lay and took it all in on a hot rock. Of course I couldn’t resist the swing, so I crawled up the rock, grabbed the rope, and did some cannonballs into the water.
Then we had a lovely weekend with our friend Jenny, whom we’ve know for some while from the Atlanta years. We sat out in the pasture over a beer or two and strummed our guitars and rang out some harmonies. She played me lovely songs about the desert and I played her longing songs about the desert. The cows, an ever curious and sometimes querulous lot (about new things in their environment) stood at the fence behind us wondering what all the fuss was about. The weather has been cooler and rather clear for western NC, and the mountains looked so damn pretty it hurt. Then we sang for H, M, and some of their friends who were visiting. Fun times.
On our second evening with Jenny, we attended a wonderful Fourth of July celebration (the evening of the 3rd) replete with the good company of H and M, their friends, and a host of good-natured folk at the Penland School of Crafts. A tortuous country road well-hemmed by forest for several miles opened up into a beautiful pasture of five acres that occupied a basin and hillside. Penland School is perched on the other side of the pasture, cut by a road, looking more like The Shire than a school campus.
There were hundreds of people there, but it felt uncrowded and civic and warm…and I completely loved it. I think we all did. Z, J, and I nosed into the Penland studios and examined the evolving stages of student craft projects, some, like unfinished clay sculptures with bodily forms but no head, frozen in time. It was as if the place had been mysteriously abandoned, the site of some former civilization driven out by unseen intruders Laptops, water bottles, cellphones, halved clay blocks, metalwork, papers–all set just so, but no people. We didn’t see a soul.
Then we returned to the throngs of people, the undulating crowd of children and parents and art students and community members communally pot-lucking. I found myself wandering around, just talking to people. I had the passing impression that I had stepped off into a Rockwell painting. Blushy-cheeked children threw ice at each other while parents drank wine and guffawed loudly at funny jokes. Lovers leaned against a stone retaining wall. A line hundreds of yards long sinuously twisted toward free ice cream. I must have met ten people within the first ten minutes of sitting down. M would scream my name and I’d drop my plate of food and she’d introduce me to another wonderful, good-natured person (some of whom she had mentioned previously as people we should connect with).
We stuffed ourselves on potato salad and hot dogs, and various side dishes as the Penland parade started, a procession of Penland craft students who produced some really sophisticated floats, props, and costumes. A giant wind-up mouse chasing mobile cheese. A fire and smoke-breathing dragon. Then there seemed to be a collective post-meal wallowing session where we, the entire crowd, laid down on our backs and stared off at the sky for a while. Maybe it didn’t happen quite that way.
Soon a bonfire was lit in the pasture/basin, and we looked out over a darkening sky at a fireworks display. I kept flashing back to being a child myself, listening to my own parents drink wine and guffaw, while we engaged in the hectic doings of children. Then you laid down, dog tired, and watched the movie, or fireworks, or whatever you came to do or see and fell asleep. Good ‘ol nostalgia.
The next day, the three of us lazily floated the Toe River on inner tubes. The river was low, though we did find some good deep spots for swimming. Jenny left to head back for Asheville, and we joined H & M again for a “true” Fourth of July celebration at the farm of swimming hole fame previously mentioned. We ate more wonderful potluck food, talked with other farm interns we’ve met over the last couple of months, watched a pig roast, and participated with H, M, and one of their friends in a “farm olympics” with hoeing, bale jumping, wheelbarrow race, beam walk, and pitchfork toss. I swear we were the fastest team–really!–but somehow we didn’t even place.
Then came a DJ, and freestyle dancing, and a farm fireworks display that scared the horse, who madly fled into the hills. We finally got to dance with H, who has mentioned his love of dance, and who has been independently lauded for his dancing skills by people in the community. We all shook it for a while and then made our way home, full of good vibes.
It was one of the best entire weeks in memory, and definitely the best Fourth of July I can remember. It was also a strong sales pitch for staying around this area of western NC. So now, Z and I turn our heads forward toward what will come next, which of course, we do not yet know.
But tinged with nervous expectation, I feel deep faith that our course, like these other unveilings, will soon reveal itself.
See also Z’s post “A Night to Remember” which shares her different perspective on the same events.