Fall in Western North Carolina

It’s fall here on Coon Ridge and in the rest of the Appalachians, for that matter. There’s nothing like that twinge of cool in the air and the way it lets me breathe fully, drop my shoulders, and settle rightly in my own body. Fall air here in Western North Carolina is the closest I can come to my native Pacific Northwest (humid-free) air of Portland, Oregon. But rather than make me miss that original home, fall in the Appalachians makes me delight in the mazes of hollers and mixed hardwood forests more than ever before. My view of the Black Mountains changes daily now, here a speckle of bright red, there a hold-out of deep greens, still higher a stand of evergreens. I snapped this photo on my way to waitressing this afternoon (excuse the power lines, I didn’t have time to jump out of the car and get a better angle) and it shows the very early signs of that rainbow blanket starting to roll across these steep peaks. I live 2 miles up the mountains from this spot, tucked away in the Airstream just above Shuford Creek and a stone’s throw from Pisgah National Forest lands.

Shuford Creek isn’t a nonsense name. Like most places around here there’s a story to it and so far what I know is that it’s called such because the Shuford family used to homestead up this holler many years ago. Several of the Shuford brothers live and work just upriver from me and my dad tells me one day he visited their worksite and they said their Grandfather and other kin used to call the little outcropping on our 5 acres “Coon Ridge.” One of the brothers was quick to add, “And that’s not the bad meaning of ‘coon.’ We meant it short for raccoon.” The Airstream sits up here at 3,000 feet elevation with the ridgeline of the Black Mountains so close and steep you have to crane your neck to see it. But see it you can, and when you look up what you see most immediately is Gibbs Mountain and Horse Rock Knob. A few miles down the Crest Trail (but not visible) is Mt. Mitchell–the highest peak this side of South Dakota at 6,684 feet.

I may not have the glitz and glam and adventure of travel on my side since I took The Writing Life off the road (for now), but I do have the benefit of looking repeatedly at the same string of mountains for as long as I want. I get to dig my feet in and invest without the fear of having to leave, without the pressure of running out of time, and without the fever of goodbyes. The beginning of fall is also the beginning of me sticking around. The season is changing and I’m actually here to see it…and I’ll be here to see the next season, too. I’ve been off the road for six weeks and sometimes (well, several times a day, to be honest) I still get zapped with fear about staying put. But lately I’m just as quick to remind myself of the struggles I encountered staying on-the-go for so long. I don’t want to be a “grass is always greener on the other side” kind of person. I want the grass to be green everywhere I go…and then I want it to die and then I want it to come back again each spring, and to burst forth in summer, and on and on. And I want to find fulfillment watching that happen.

Only one way to find out…

Shot of driveway near the Airstream

  • jim parlier

    welcome home. The Pensacola side of the Black Mountain range is showing fall colors, too! The valley becomes a bowl of vegetable soup hues. Changing seasons seems like travel. surely a change of scene is refreshing. Jim

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