Sarah E. Kucharski photo
One afternoon in late August Amanda and I took off from work and headed up past Lake Logan on N.C. 215 to Sunburst. The cooler was packed with a picnic lunch courtesy of Amanda’s mom, Kathy, a woman who never turned down an opportunity to cook. There was pasta salad, pimento cheese, and pound cake all carefully proportioned in Tupperware containers. We ate from pink, plastic plates while sitting at a mossy, concrete picnic table, cool in the shade of the Forest Service campground.
Properly sustained, Amanda and I made for the river. Granted they say that one should wait a half hour after eating before going swimming, but given that the day brought the first real sunshine in weeks of grey and rain, we were racing the clock against an approaching autumn. Indeed, crimson maple leaves already had begun to fall.
Mountain rivers always run cold. The Pigeon’s headwaters are at Sam Knob on Black Mountain, elevation 6,130 feet. We waded into the water in increments, gasping, flapping our hands, and laughing. We had the entire swimming hole to ourselves, save for about a dozen Pipevine and Eastern Swallowtail butterflies hanging out on the smooth river rocks.
The butterflies had the right idea. Refreshed and somewhat numb, Amanda and I each found a rock in the middle of the river on which to perch and soak up some sun. It wasn’t bad—for a Thursday.
Such are the advantages of living in the Southern Appalachian mountains, Western North Carolina in particular, and my town in specific. What we lack may also be seen as an advantage. There’s no mass, public transportation nor 24-hour retail shopping; there’s not a Starbucks on every corner nor chain restaurants huddled around our highway exit. Instead, on most warm days lawn mower engines hum, and local mill workers sound the steam whistle to celebrate our high school’s sports teams’ wins. I give directions to my house using a giant oak tree as a landmark, and my husband and I don’t even have to order drinks at the Mexican restaurant down the street—the waiters all just know what we want and bring it to the table. I can be in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Pisgah National Forest, or on the Blue Ridge Parkway each in less than 30 minutes.
It’s a trade off. We give up certain conveniences to gain what’s important to our quality of life. Of course, we don’t all measure quality of life by the same yardstick. Some would rather have department stores than dirt in which to dig. I just happen to choose dirt.
This edition of Smoky Mountain Living is dedicated to the theme of trade, which includes these such trade offs, skilled trades, and trading with one another. It’s an edition that has several emotional touch points and forces readers to ask, “Am I doing something at which I’m good, and am I doing what love?” I hope the answer is “yes,” but if not, I hope this issue provides the inspiration to make a change.