I voted today, on a Sunday, in the middle of the afternoon, at my local library. I brought my sample ballot with me, with choices circled. I signed in, we talked about the weather (it is cold today!), and the poll worker handed me a ballot. I carefully marked my choices, making sure I filled in the correct circles for each candidate: Quentin Miller for sheriff, David Wilson Brown for US House of Representatives, and no, no, no, no, no, no on the proposed NC constitutional amendments (among others). I wore my “I Voted Early” sticker proudly and struck up conversations with folks at the grocery and drug store, asking if they had voted or if they needed information about polling places (many were surprised the polls were open on Sunday). I signed up with several organizations to volunteer to drive people to the polls on election day. Wherever you are, please make plans to vote: absentee, early, on election day. Your voice matters!
As I was bringing the garbage bin in from the curb, I noticed bear scat in my front yard, alarmingly near the side of my house. Yes, I knew it was bear scat because I was a Girl Scout at one point and had been fascinated by animal poop. Just to be sure, though, I Googled it when I came inside. Yes, definitely bear scat, and the bear had recently eaten lots of berries. It comforted me slightly to think that my bear visitor might be vegetarian.
I didn’t think much of it, except for the fact that the scat was fresh and very close to the house and a very large pile, which meant it probably came from a very large bear?
Today, a neighbor moved in across the street. I had intended to walk over and introduce myself. I was leaving the house this evening and noticed them sitting on their porch. I thought, “I’ll just check out the bear scat again and then amble over.” I looked at the scat and thought, “That is fresh. I wonder where that bear is.” I looked to my left, and there was the bear.
I hightailed it back onto my porch. My new neighbor was staring, probably wondering why I was running in my own front yard. I screamed, “Thar’s ah bear!” and then ran back into the house.
I stood for a moment, trying to catch my breath. I thought I was safe inside. The doors were deadbolted, right? Bears couldn’t pick locks, could they? Photos. Get photos.
I walked to the back door, and the bear was lumbering around, sniffing the ground, maybe eating acorns? Other food? Planning to pick my locks?
I took some photos and the bear lumbered away. I composed myself and walked across the street, introduced myself to my neighbor, starting with, “I normally don’t run screaming through my yard…”
I watched The Breakfast Club again tonight, the first time in almost 30 years. I remembered loving it as a teen; I remembered emulating Molly Ringwald and her love of vintage clothes; I remembered the funny parts of the movie and its signature song, “Don’t You Forget About Me.” I didn’t, however, remember how dark the movie was. I didn’t remember how they bullied each other; I didn’t remember the sexual harassment in the film. It was hard watching a favorite film through today’s perspective. It was hard being taken back to a time and place. It was startling to see what details of the film I remembered and which I completely blanked out.
After the film Molly Ringwald took questions from the audience. They ranged from the completely mundane to requesting career advice to her thoughts on the movie now (also reflected in this excellent piece in the New Yorker), to her next project (directing). I loved hearing her perspective on the movie, the experience of working with John Hughes, and why there shouldn’t be a remake. Asheville, you continue to delight me.
Disaster preparedness is a funny thing. When we got news that Florence was predicted to hit the NC coast and then storm its way across the state, I went to the grocery store. I wandered up and down the aisles, thinking, “What would I want to eat in a storm?” And then had to amend that with, “…that doesn’t need to be cooked/warmed/refrigerated?” I bought some canned foods, some peanut butter, a few apples, and some snacks. Snacks feel like a treat. I don’t usually keep them in the house (popcorn, potato chips, candy) and I quickly realized why. I work from home. Every so often I’ll wander into the kitchen to make a cup of tea. And then I’ll see snacks in the cupboard and think, “Oh! Snacks!” and then I’m staring at an empty bag of potato chips. So, basically, each day of sunny, gorgeous weather requires another trip to the grocery store to replenish hurricane snacks already eaten.
Having lived in San Francisco for so long, it’s second nature to have flashlights/batteries/candles/waterproof matches within reach. So I feel good there. I bought some bottled water and placed it strategically around the house. I’ve charged all my electronics and unplugged anything that doesn’t need to be plugged in.
I’ve cleaned – washed all the sheets, towels, clothes. I’m not sure why I thought this was a good idea before a storm, but it’s almost like company’s coming. I’ve made extra pitchers of ice tea. I’ve taken out the trash and vacuumed the floors. “Gotta get ready for Florence! She may be here a couple of days!”
One of the nicest things, though, is how many friends who are not in the area have reached out. It feels funny to be talking about storm prep when it’s 75 degrees out and sunny, but I know the weather can change at any point. And it’s been lovely reconnecting with friends and catching up. So, thanks for that, Florence.
There’s a pottery place here in Asheville that I love, East Fork. Their pieces are elegant, beautiful, solid, graceful, a pleasure both to look at and to use.
And their email newsletters are a joy to read. They highlight a new product, sometimes an employee, and always end with a poem.
JOY | by Carl Sandburg
Let a joy keep you.
Reach out your hands
And take it when it runs by,
As the Apache dancer
Clutches his woman.
I have seen them
Live long and laugh loud,
Sent on singing, singing,
Smashed to the heart
Under the ribs
With a terrible love.
Let joy kill you!
Keep away from the little deaths.
Today marks one year since I signed the papers and moved into my new home in Asheville. Home, not house. From the moment I moved in, this felt like home, like where I was supposed to be. I’m not sure how many hours I’ve spent on the front porch swing, listening to rain storms, watching lightning, reading the mail, chatting with neighbors, or simply being. I’ve explored a few mountain trails and made a few acquaintances who are now friends. I’ve eaten more fried chicken than I probably should have, and enjoyed the vinegary tang of NC barbecue once again. I’ve listened to some great local musicians and marched in protests. I’ve explored farmer’s markets and discovered the store I visit most is the local Ace Hardware, where the woman working the register greets me with puns on my purchases. I’ve hosted friends from CA, from NY, from GA, from FL, from other parts of NC, and have visited the Biltmore House so often that I can almost recite the audio tour verbatim. And I wouldn’t have changed a moment.
We stepped out of the car and I was overwhelmed by how noisy the night was. Armies of crickets, millions of them, participated in a call and response across the mountains, resulting in a continuous cacophony of chirp, chirp, chirp, chirp, deafening in the otherwise quiet night.
We set up chairs and looked upwards. The sky was relatively clear, save for the thousands (millions?) of stars, the Milky Way visible, a cloudy arc above us. We waited, and chatted, and watched, our necks craned backward. We saw an airplane, blinking lights traveling quickly across the sky, but not quick enough to be a shooting star.
I remembered the last time I saw a meteor shower. I was eight years old and it was summer. A hot, humid summer at the beach at Ocean Isle, NC. Our family was on vacation and the kids were laying on top of the wooden pergola over the walkway to the beach. We laid there, staring into the night sky, watching stars zip and zoom and sputter and fizzle and fall to the earth. I remember thinking there would be no more stars in the sky after the night was done. They would all burn out. I was excited and fearful that I was bearing witness to the last night of stars.
I wondered if tonight would be like that. After about a half an hour of staring at the majestic, beautiful sky, full of stars, but void of shooting stars, I was okay with the knowledge that it would not be like that. We saw the Big Dipper. And the North Star, twinkling brightly. And Mars. Which really did hint red. And then,
Across the sky, it burned a thick path, scorching the width of the sky. It was magical. We waited patiently and many minutes later another shooting star followed in its path. We waited patiently, hoping for a storm of shooting stars.
Our hopes were tempered by the fact that we were an hour drive from home, and had to wake up early for work the next day. After many minutes of not seeing any more shooting stars, but still dazed by the beauty of the night sky, we reluctantly packed up and drove the slow and winding road of the Parkway back towards Asheville.
A day later, I close my eyes and see the shooting stars across the sky, mesmerized by their light, their power, and their intensity. The same way that I’m mesmerized by fireflies, with their soft pulsing glow, never quite where you expect them to be. There’s something about seeing a surprising burst of light in the night that brings joy to my soul. And makes me believe that life, indeed, is magical.
The kids said, “Let’s go this way!” as we snuck around the end of the fence through the ground cover, down the hill, to the golf course. We positioned our blanket on the edge of the course so that we wouldn’t be in the path of the night sprinklers that tapped an arc of water this way, then that. We settled in, watching the fireflies light up the golf course. And then, the fireworks began.
It was spectacular to actually see the fireworks. For years, I’ve walked down to the Bay, or to a friend’s rooftop, or boarded a boat, to see the fireworks in San Francisco. Each year I had high hopes that *this* would be the year that it was clear. And each year the fog never failed to roll in, making the spectacular fireworks show more of a muted colored cloud cover. Still lovely. But not the display I was hoping for.
This year was different. We watched as fireworks shot into the air, whizzing then bursting, sparkles fluttering down to earth. The boom echoed against the mountains, a cacophony of timpani filling the valley. And it was hot. The humid hot of the south in the summer. The hot that makes you sweat just enough so that when a gentle breeze blows you think, “Ahhhh, that feels divine.”
We oohed and aahed and commented on the beautiful designs. We clapped and woo-hooed when they were done. We sat quietly, secretly hoping for one more round. The fireflies appeared again, twinkling in the night, offering their own encore.
Today I turn fifty. I’m not really sure what I expected fifty to feel like, but I don’t feel much different than before. In no way was I dreading this birthday; I’ve loved birthdays that end in “0”s in the same way that I’ve loved birthdays with the same double digits (11, 22, 33, 44, etc). They feel more special than the others. I love that my birthday is the same day as Loving Day (and off by just one year from the actual pronouncement). I like to think that I was born of a generation that recognized equality for all (I know that we haven’t, though). I’m saddened that two years ago my birthday was the day of the Pulse nightclub shootings in Orlando, Florida. For the past three years, it’s made me reflect on how much work we still have to do with regards to gun control, tolerance, and acceptance. These feelings mix with each other in a fabric that can only be described as human.
The overwhelming feeling that I’m feeling this year, however, is grateful. So incredibly grateful.
I moved back to North Carolina in September last year. I looked forward to moving to a smaller city after living in San Francisco for twenty-five years. I looked forward to quiet, to calm, to a slower pace of life, and to being closer to mountain trails. And I’ve found all of those. And more. I’ve found community, and kindness, and friendliness. As I planned to move, though, I did think to myself, “I’m kind of sad I won’t be in San Francisco to celebrate my 50th birthday.” San Francisco is where my friends are – the ones who I’ve known for twenty plus years. When I was moving, I envisioned having dinner at a nice restaurant in Asheville by myself on my birthday. A lovely birthday, but perhaps a lonely one.
Yet that’s not what happened.
Earlier in the year, a few friends said that they wanted to fly to Asheville to celebrate with me. I was taken aback. Flying to Asheville isn’t the easiest thing to do. It’s a tiny, charming, regional airport with very few direct flights to anywhere. So I planned a few events – a lunch at a favorite local restaurant, Rhubarb, an evening at Biltmore to see Chihuly’s work, a bbq at my house. And the weekend so far exceeded any expectations I could have imagined.
Friends from college met friends from San Francisco met friends from Atlanta met friends from New York met friends from Asheville met friends from water aerobics class met family. Everyone loved getting to know each other. There was amazing food (hello, bbq!) and engaging conversation. There were bouquets among bouquets of flowers (my absolute favorite gift in the world). And there was love. So much love in the air.
A local friend told me, “Just enjoy the present moment. You never know what will come next. But you can love, and appreciate, what you have right now.” Great advice not just for birthdays, but for every day.
It has rained. And rained. And rained. And for the most part*, I love it.
- the humidity
- the plinking sounds of raindrops on my roof
- the boom of thunder
- the occasional bright flash of lightning
- the solid wind that warmly blows
- the impending darkness in the early afternoon
- the greenery, sprouting up everywhere
- the coziness of being inside, watching weather
- the brazenness of sitting outside, watching weather
Tonight, we were eating at Hemingway’s, on the roof, under a cover.
When we were seated, the skies were clear.
When we ordered a cocktail, dark clouds appeared on the horizon.
When we ordered ceviche as an appetizer, it began to sprinkle and the temperature dropped by a few degrees.
When our mains of crispy cerdo and arroz con pollo arrived, the skies darkened.
When we talked, the skies boomed.
When we sipped our wine, the heavens opened and massive torrents of rain fell all around us.
We sat and silently watched in reverence.
* I don’t love the flooding. Or the water in the basement. But that’s a small price to pay for the majesty of nature, no?