Early November is an appropriate time to let one’s physical and philosophical flags fly. There’s the candy-colored Day of the Dead, which in its most solemn incarnation is about appeasing one’s ancestors. Then comes the edgy, much-anticipated mid-term elections, whose results should be known the day this article runs. The capper is Veteran’s Day, a patriotic holiday that lacks fireworks, backyard barbecues and a central motif, and thus is generally treated with apathy — unless a personal connection sparks deeper ceremony.
Many Veteran’s Day celebrants equate honoring vets with honoring freedom. If that holds, then the flutterings of personal expression that ornament various West Asheville homes are certainly something to recognize. I live on the steepest street in the area, although I won’t reveal its name (that way, no one can challenge me). Zig-zagging from houses top to bottom on my street you’ll find little ghost flags, only slightly wilted from Halloween; a pair of flown-all-year American flags belonging to facing houses owned by father and daughter; and a corner home displaying Tibetan prayer flags (more about those later).
At the bottom of the blind, 90-degree hill — the spot where my pickup and all the delivery trucks get stuck — a trio of houses shimmers in an unintentional polestar of diversity. The house that daily displays the “We Support Our Troops” sign is an ark-shaped structure where bulky additions have been built skyward. Next door is a barely inhabited little house with an elongated eyebrow-style dormer window — spooky and unexpected.
Directly opposite, completing the trinity of odd architecture, sits a mustard-colored cottage with double mansard tin roofs. A red sign marks the cottage’s back outside wall, painted with these Hindu words: “Maha Shakti Bhavan” (“abode of the great goddess”). The exotic wooden banner, scalloped like a lotus, fits the cloistered feel of the place.
“I run a small yogic spiritual temple in the house,” says the cottage’s proprietor, Kalidas, a well-known local instructor in the tantric mode. Suitable to his calling, he remained calm and friendly during our brief interview, although he’d been interrupted in the midst of celebrating the major Hindu autumnal festival Navratri, and was, in the parlance of hosts and hostesses spanning ideologies the globe over, getting ready to “have people over.”
A few streets away, nearer the Haywood Road corridor, a seductive odor led me to the front porch of Kimberly Masters, the divinely gifted artisan behind Essential Journeys, maker of boutique soaps, lotions and candles. Masters flies a double string of tattered Tibetan prayer flags on her classic West Asheville bungalow. Tiny white lights and pieces of hand-forged-looking porch art make an appealing, well-rounded statement.
These primary-hued string flags are a common sight in a town where so many get juiced up about Eastern spirituality. Block-printed with text and imagery, the delicate panels are meant to propel their blessings to the winds (i.e., heaven). They’re easily acquired online or at most import stores — but Masters picked hers up at the source. “I got my flags when I was trekking in Nepal,” reveals the mountain-sports enthusiast, who also leads local biking tours. “Every time I go out the door, the flags set an intention, a thoughtfulness.” Twelve years on, they are weathered almost to transparency — creating a desirable visual effect, rather like vintage Levi’s versus the stiff department-store kind with their whiff of factory sweat and oligarchy.
Nevertheless, one needn’t learn esoteric symbolism to rock the caravan chic that results from garlanding one’s abode. Panel flags today are styled all kinds of ways. Batik indigo butterflies and clans of those ubiquitous, social-climbing pressed fairies are whimsical, if not exactly original, images.
One of the nicest strings I’ve seen also happens to grace a west-side bungalow. Barbara Crosby’s flags, which she bought at a local New Age gift shop, are desert-neutral panels printed with Native American creation imagery, including the turtle, the bear and the always enjoyable, saucy flute player Kokopelli.
“I don’t know the whole story behind each image,” admits Crosby, a psychotherapist. “I suppose I should.” Not necessarily — not when the spirited figures manage to convey so much on their own.
— Melanie McGee Bianchi is a contributing editor at Carolina Home + Garden. She has work forthcoming in Our State magazine and in Asheville Poetry Review.