Dead fountain

Kenilworth residents know they live in the city: It’s just five minutes to downtown, and a convenient bus route runs right down Kenilworth Road. On holidays, you can hear the fireworks at McCormick Field. On a sadder note, I once saw a discarded crack pipe among the leaves at Kenilworth Park.

An urban neighborhood with some beautiful old houses and trees, it’s also blessed with a mountain and a lake—both of which now show the negative effects of urban growth. The trees are being decimated, and when it rains, the slopes of Beaucatcher Mountain run red.

Kenilworth Lake knows oil slicks, road runoff and a strange green sludge that appeared out of nowhere one fine summer day. According to a flier I received, the level of pollution is alarmingly high. The water contains something called blue-green algae, along with seven times the amount of human and animal waste that’s deemed safe.

Last summer I saw a young couple, the man bronzed and trim in swim trunks, the slender woman wearing a bikini. As I watched from my deck, they took a paddleboat into the middle of the lake and jumped into the water. Definitely not locals: Anyone familiar with the lake’s shore, particularly on a day without wind, wouldn’t put one toe in that water.

My friend Alex gave me a postcard of a painting by Corot titled “The Boatman of Mortefontaine.” “Mortefontaine,” Alex wrote on the back, “means Dead Fountain, not unlike your pretty-but-deadly lake.” I sigh. How has it come to this? Is Kenilworth Lake really a dying fountain? Is Beaucatcher a dying mountain?

In my three years of living by the lake at the foot of this little mountain, I have seen with my own eyes how this land is still wild and very much alive—though it’s in grave danger of overdevelopment. Construction. Destruction. Are they opposites or, in fact, the very same thing? Patches of the wild persist here and there, in the iridescent beauty of the mating dragonflies, the purple stems of pokeberries, the jewelweed and the big, old trees. A hawk swirls upward in our little cove, gaining altitude, then flies away. A water snake wavers in a strange, serpentine dance. A gray fox pauses by the little bridge, ears pricked, feet swift. It brings me great joy to observe this little piece of the wild, so close to the city. The weeds and the grasses thicken, and the land finds its way. Life continues.

Last fall there was rumor of a bear in the neighborhood that rifled through a friend’s trash over on Buckingham Court. I tell my landlord. “Oh, yes,” she says. “There’s a bear every year. They come down the mountain to drink from the lake.”

I try to imagine a black bear ambling through the yard and plopping down on the banks to take a long drink of greenish bilge water as a Coke bottle floats nearby. There was truth in this story as little as five years ago, but now I’m beginning to think it’s just a legend.

I think of the song, “Oh, the Bear went over the mountain to see what he could see.” But what would he see in Kenilworth? Trees dying; red, upturned earth; a fancy sign, “Beaucatcher Heights,” for a community that doesn’t even exist yet; a mountain ravaged; a lake filled with water that’s unfit to drink. “This isn’t a mountain,” the bear would say. “This is a suburb,” and promptly turn to Dumpster diving.

And if the land continues to be molested, the flora, fauna and fungi that still choose to reveal themselves in unexpected ways will soon be lost. Everywhere I look there’s a new house being built, a new lot lined off, a tree down, a sign proclaiming, “Danger Hard Hat Area.”

This little, wild patch of our city—the magnificent old tulip poplar with its sprawling, handsome crown; the tiger lilies in the summer; the papery moths; the jewellike hummingbirds; the solitary heron; the cardinals, chickadees and velvety voles—is going, going, gone.

On my daily walks with my dog and my baby, I try to memorize the trees. “Trees,” I tell my daughter. “Trees, leaves, branches. Hear the wind rustle through them, the crinkle of the leaves beneath us; breathe them in, remember them, love them like I do.”

On a silent, gray Sunday, I stoically hike Beaucatcher Mountain, looking down on the brand-new Ingles, the old Innsbruck Mall, the Blockbuster and the long line of neon-lit chain restaurants. Continuing up to the peak of the hill on Windswept Drive, I admire the view of downtown Asheville in the distance. It’s all there: the old, blue, sloping mountains, even that godforsaken Staples. The wind chimes on the porches up here don’t move; I crest the hill and start down, past the Volvo digger, the hacked torsos of the trees.

In Trees of the South, Charlotte Hilton Green writes: “It is a long story, this listing of the gifts of the trees. Since [man’s] first appearance on earth they have been his friend and protector … and let us hope it will be so until his end. Will we, in return, ever learn to cease sacrificing them needlessly?”

Surely the bear and the lake, the mountain and the heron, would all agree. Meanwhile the phrase “dead mountain, dead mountain,” echoes in my mind. I can’t see the lake from this vantage point, but I think about its toxicity, its stagnancy. I won’t let my dog drink from it. It is indeed a dead fountain.

[Former Kenilworth resident Kristin Macleod recently relocated to east Asheville.]

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17 thoughts on “Dead fountain

  1. travelah

    Kristen,
    Consider this observation. You moved there three years ago along with a lot of other people. Were you not part of the problem as well? The development you object to (and rightfully so) is being fueled by the desires of people much like yourself. A lot of people want in on living where you live and pretty much for the same reasons as yourself. Somebody gave impetus to the development and that includes you and I (since I too have returned to the area after leaving several years ago).

    I’ll offer this solution but I doubt it will fly. Institute a region-wide moratorium on condominium development and allow only single family homes or rental apartments along with strict slope development restrictions … it’s late but ….

  2. Eli Cohen

    Travelah, are you suggesting we need government intervention to solve a problem?

  3. Rob Close

    i bet T is suggesting that.

    what’s your suggestion, Eli? give up?

  4. Eli Cohen

    I think we need government intervention…it’s the only way to stop the greedsters from ruining everything. What the “T” is suggesting sounds like a good start.

  5. While I agree that we need to put some rules into place as to how we grow – if you put total moratorium on development a lot of folks are gonna suffer. A decent percentage of the working class here in Asheville is able to survive off of construction, landscape, and work on new homes and developments. They are some of the few jobs in Asheville that pay living wages {though still not enough for any of the workers to even dream of owning of the homes they are working on}.

  6. J-Bo,

    So perpetuating low-wage service jobs is more important than addressing our over-development issues?

  7. Certainly not – that wasn’t what I was alluding to at all. But if you take away the few fair jobs we have, you will have a lot of angry, hungry, possibly homeless people on your hands.

    Every issue is an equation. One must try to understand all of the consequences of every action.

  8. RW

    Our “government intervention” has been to advertise Asheville, NC all over the country as the place to be. Now because of the success of that continual advertising campaign–and of course, word of mouth and internet– the people have come. Property values have gone sky high. So we now have the right to dictate what our neighbors can do with their property so that we can maintain the quiet, small town feel that we came here for? I think that in this “land of the free” if we want to keep it the way it is, we’d better buy it and own it. That means maintaining and being responsible for it, not just whining because someone else wants to profit from their investments. Of course it also means sacrificing, fund raising, and participating. There are numerous organizations around the country that do buy land and put it in trust so that it will not be polluted and spoiled. Even some of the new developments here in the mountains are setting aside chunks of land in perpetual conservation easements for the enjoyment of the folks who buy into those developments. Part of what they buy, own, and control is that perpetual opportunity for peace and quiet. If you want it to stay as it is, organize and work toward owning it.

  9. travelah

    Jbo … perhaps the jobs would continue if apartments were being built instead of condominiums. Thats like killing two birds with one stone (sorry vegans and anti-hunters) … construction employment continues and the rental market need is appropriately met.

  10. Trav-

    That is definitely a potential solution. As urbanization continues and density in downtown housing becomes a key factor, affordable housing with apartment units versus high-priced condos is certainly a viable and worthwhile option to consider seriously.

    However, what I’d really like to see is a new industry to keep our blue-collar work force employed. Perhaps a technology, innovative ecological or “green” energy firms, higher-education, or more medical complexes are something the city should to examine as potential industries to seek out and endorse for our area.

    There are a lot of good people flocking to this area… a vast majority of them have their hearts in the right place. I’m just not sure how to keep them all viably sustaining themselves here. We have to keep the sprawl minimal in the process – our landscape is sacred and needs to be preserved and protected.

  11. Jimmy

    What has happened to wild Asheville? We have allowed outsiders to make decisions about growth and the way Asheville will look in the future. People from NYC, Boston and Florida are raping our dear town. If they want to move here they should sit quietly while the local people run our town like it has always been run. The reason Asheville was so attractive to these outsiders is because we know how to run the town. Yet they are trying to turn Asheville into the place they came from. Well either accept our ways or go back home.

  12. travelah

    Jimmy …. no .. now what are you going to do about it? HA! I am just kidding with you but seriously, why should so many people who live here and pay taxes sit still and allow the natives to rule? Asheville was a dump until “outsiders began taking notice of the possibilities. Compare the downtown area and close neighborhoods now with what was here around 1993 or so.

  13. bent

    Travelah, I usually enjoy your reasoned posts here. But you are way off base here. I agree with Jimmy. You transplanted yankees only screw things up when you try to get involved socially here. I have lived in Asheville all my life, 59 years. The reason we are so attractive to you transplants is because of our culture, which is conservative democrat. Y’all have screwed up Boston, NYC and most points NE of here. You are the last ones we want telling us what to do with our town. Now, travelah, get back to what you do best which is laying the law down to these non-thinking neo-socialist democrats here. Stop talking about what you know nothing about, which is the South and our beloved Asheville.

  14. dave

    hey bent…

    You forgot about Florida in your anit-NE tirade. Or do you think that is north of here, as well? jk

  15. Johnney Walkingstick

    I’m afraid it has been way too late for many many many generations. Mother Earth will eventually unleash a virus and nature will return. As for pointing fingers, my people, they say came here via the Bering land bridge and we consider ourselves guests.

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