Connection bolsters wellness in Yancey County despite coronavirus

Sign in Burnsville, North Carolina. Photo from Getty Images

Observing the flow of a waterfall or dipping a toe into the Toe or Cane rivers in Yancey County can lift spirits and restore emotional balance during these challenging times — an antidote to the coronavirus, if not a cure.

“Be out in nature; remember connection to beauty and the natural world,” advised Ruth Jacobson, counselor and certified yoga instructor.

A stroll by the river creates an opportunity for peaceful contemplation. A companion animal can soothe social isolation as well, Jacobson said, and many new four-legged friends are available at area humane societies. The Blue Ridge Parkway has remained open (except for its southernmost 14 miles), and a drive along the parkway shows the mountains in the first blush of spring, a reminder of timeless beauty unaffected by viruses or cancellations.

“Social distancing calls us to drop deeper inside, to the wellspring of nourishment within our own hearts and minds when we enter stillness,” Jacobson said. “It is a call to listen deeply to our hearts, to live from our deepest values.”

Offering sustenance to others can be a way of living those deep values, and giving nurtures the giver as well as the recipient. Jay and Shelby Seibert, owners of J Bread, bake bread to sell at farmers markets in the Asheville area and at the Ten Thousand Things Food Co-op in Burnsville. One recent weekend at the co-op, they gave away their bread, their family’s livelihood, saying, “Bread for the people! Pay what you have, take what you need.”

Social media can also become a source of strength, rather than stress, if used to bring people together. Jacobson is working on offering yoga classes through Zoom video conferencing so that the group that met regularly at her studio can continue to meet online.

In another corner of Yancey County, one writer chose to share the stillness with 33 others, gathered to write in unity. Determined to defeat the social isolation that can come from social distancing, they found a way to find each other. They met online, in a free Zoom meeting organized by Katey Schultz, whose latest book is Still Come Home. She has planned for this Quiet the Chaos group to meet every day for a week, for an hour each day.

Yancey County boasts a population of nearly 18,000, and the community finds comfort in church socials, potluck parties with live music and monthly contra dances. Cancellations abound now, and the many opportunities for connection — quilting, book groups, Poets Under the Maples, classes, church, meditation circles, music jams, Eve’s Night Out, concerts, plays, petanque — have evaporated, leaving a void. Britt Kaufmann has decided to counter the cancellations by collecting poems written during this time of trouble to distribute to the women who participate in a monthly open mic poetry night.

Many of the over 100 churches in the county now have meetings via Facebook. The Joy Ministry group at South Estatoe Baptist Church is one of dozens that have reached out to single people, as well as the elderly and ill, to offer fellowship through email and phone calls.

In ordinary times, OOAK Gallery, on Highway 80 in Micaville, has live music every Thursday and features handmade creations from local artisans. That gallery and social hub temporarily stepped back this spring, at what ought to be the start of the busy season. When the crisis has been averted, the galleries in town will be able to open again, but not yet. David Wiseman had planned a release party at OOAK Gallery for the release of his fourth CD, “I Ain’t Stayin.” Now, he plans a Facebook party instead.

Concentrating on the connections that give a lift to life can strengthen mental wellness in this tremulous time. It can also generate introspection and creative energy.

“Meditate or pray for the well-being of all, which is a deep way of connecting,” Jacobson said. “We have plenty of time to ask for help and to listen for the response of divine guidance and move from that.”

Find more of the writing of Kiesa Kay on her website.


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