Views from the vortex: In Part 2, more elders evoke our town

Here, we present the remaining verbal snapshots of Asheville from the package featured last week (see “Views From the Vortex,” Jan. 2 Xpress). As project leader Jim Chatham explained, these writers, most of whom live in Givens Estates and Deerfield retirement communities, “collectively represent an incredible history of worldwide experience: That’s part of why their stories are so interesting. All are relatively mobile; one is nearly blind, another has a severe speech impediment, but none of that stops them.” Each author holds the copyright to his or her contribution.

We invite you to continue exploring this fascinating potpourri of perspectives and insights by assorted Asheville elders. And if you missed the first 11 offerings, you can catch them online at

The sea, the sea…

by Florence Wallin
Our boating lives had given us the mantralike focus that was steering us toward the North Carolina coast in search of seaside property. Tom’s appointment at Greenfield College now provided housing. Meanwhile, we had a nest egg from selling our home, and we were staying with our son in Hickory during a hurried, nonproductive property-hunt weekend.

An early breakfast and departure saw us making good time on the interstate. “At this rate, we’re home free. We’ll have no problem making that trustee dinner.” Head back against the seat, I closed my eyes, still sleepy from our early rising.

After awhile, Tom exclaimed, “Good grief, how gorgeous! This is beautiful country.”

I took a quick look, then sat up and quietly watched the scenery go by. As the elevation increased, the views were extraordinary, with mountain after mountain looming ahead. Side roads curved off into the forests that lined our route: People lived there. Thrilled by these sights, we continued on in silence.

“Maybe we should look for property here,” I murmured.

“You know it’s way too far from the water,” countered Tom.

“But it might be a good investment until then,” I replied. “After all, we love mountains too. Remember in Switzerland? We climbed all over the Alps in those two years. At least we could pick up a brochure or something.”

“We don’t have time now. We’ll be late getting home as it is.”

“Oh, we have at least a half-hour to spare.”

Despite some grumping, we turned and followed directions into Asheville, looking for a realtor.

“This is your act,” said Tom as we finally found Bob Scott’s office on College Street. “Good luck,” he added with a wink.

Bob was on the phone when we entered, one of those never-ending affairs. Finally he turned to us, saying cheerily, “What can I do for you folks?”

I quickly told him that we didn’t have much time but were interested in homes in the area.

“If you’re in a hurry, you should know up front that I’m in commercial real estate. I’ll have to call someone else.”

That was that; we should grab a brochure and go. Tom, though, seemed focused on one photo.

“I see you’re looking at the rondette,” said Bob. “They’re inspired by Buckminster Fuller: a nice idea but overbuilt. I’ll be a real estate witness in the bankruptcy. The hearing will be in month; the cost is already declared.”

He told us the numbers, and Tom’s eyes met mine. It was a fraction of our nest egg.

“Look, Bob,” said Tom. “We do have to go. You’ve been a big help. This Buckminster Fuller brochure, we’ll take it along.”

The city where anything goes

by Elaine Kabat
Seen from above, Asheville sits deep in a “bowl” surrounded by trees and high mountains. But while the region is known for its scenic views and mountain trails, once back on the ground the adventurous explorer can discover an altogether different world, particularly in the more urbanized settings of downtown and West Asheville.

For me, it brings to mind an earlier time. As I stepped out the doors of the Downtown Inn during the summer of 2009 — my initial visit as I considered resettling here — what I saw evoked the “do-your-own-thing/anything-goes” hippie era of my young-adult years.

Within a block of the hotel, I encountered young men in Pritchard Park sporting long hair and ponytails. Turning left on Haywood Street, I spied guitar-strumming musicians entertaining passers-by.

An about-face led me to the Firestorm Café, which I’d discovered during my research before the visit. Perusing the book selection and eavesdropping on some conversations confirmed that this alternative enclave indeed provided a welcoming environment for folks who might not feel comfortable in more conventional settings. The laid-back ambiance made it a perfect place to relax, play board games, chat or just escape the heat outside without being hassled.

On later visits, I found myself striking up conversations with strangers in Malaprop’s, minus the inhibitions and hang-ups so common in the Northeast. One such encounter resulted in my having a lady companion for the duration of my stay. West Asheville features similar offbeat enclaves where one can encounter local culture while sipping coffee or enjoying a sandwich.

Yes, Asheville is like a time machine transporting me back to the the offbeat, hippie generation. But the current crowd of long-haired youth are what I call “Johnny-come-lately hippies,” since they hadn’t even been conceived yet back when being a hippie was fashionable.

Asheville dancing

by Kimberly Childs
My speech is problematic, so I express myself nonverbally through dance. Let’s tour the ways Asheville says “I love you” through movement.

Contra dance happens every Thursday at the Old Farmer’s Ball at Warren Wilson College. Hear the fiddles, banjos, drums and a caller driving hundreds of students and other residents in long lines through a series of intricate maneuvers. Each couple progresses down the line, gaining confidence and speed as they step backward and forward, twirl, do-si-do, faster and faster till they wait out a set at the head of the line for a few heart-pattering minutes. You’re still and everyone else is moving: This is what an atom feels like delighting in the dance of life.

Dances of Universal Peace is a moving meditation. People link hands in a big circle and sing songs from diverse spiritual traditions. You turn and look deeply into your partner’s eyes, which can be unnerving at first, but as you sing “May the blessings of God rest upon you,” you swoop your hands around their face and they’re no longer a stranger but the Beloved. Each of you places your hand over your own and then the other person’s heart, wishing each other peace now and forevermore. You’re lifted into a sublime plane. The words are repeated as you progress to the next partner, and everyone in front of you is the Divine.

Asheville Movement Collective’s 5 Rhythms (based on the work of Gabrielle Roth) holds gatherings several days a week. A volunteer provides a music mix that starts slowly, working its way to a chaotic crescendo and then back down to stillness. No partner is required; the excitement comes from the possibility of nonverbally encountering other dancers. You find yourself doing a pseudo-Spanish fandango with Maggie — sweeping your imaginary ruffled skirts, stamping your heels and clicking fingers. The music segues into a gorilla stomp, and you lumber alone through a primeval jungle. Then a Mozart aria of heart-lifting sweetness interjects, your arms become wings, and you weave among the moving bodies, beaming with joy.

The most current movement form is called contact dance. No music drives it: You simply tune in to the flow of your body against another body. You’re like puppies rolling around on the floor, relaxed, massaging and being massaged by another’s hips, back, buttocks, stomach and knees. Althea hums a little tune as your hands weave together, separate, flutter and glide, then shoulders roll across until you’re back to back. She lowers her weight, lifts you off the floor and you’re flying, a childlike grin wreathing your face.

I haven’t even mentioned square dance, English country dance or ballroom. Asheville’s commodious heart, it seems, has a dance to suit every last one of us.

Downtown Asheville

by John Swan

Downtown Asheville is New Orleans’ French Quarter on a hill, with street music, shops with character and colorful people — but lacking a good supply of bars with nude women or men for your viewing pleasure. Away from center city, however, Asheville’s unique essence evaporates with the morning fog, becoming Anywhereville, USA.


Natural Asheville

by Ann Bury
Mountaintop vistas, whitewater rafting, sparkling streams, abundant trails — these are some of Asheville’s natural wonders. Canoeing and rafting on our clear, fast-flowing rivers and streams has been exhilarating, if sometimes marred by mishaps. Paddling safely, I’ve learned, takes skill and experience. And seeing the birds and trees that thrive along our waterways brings me as much joy as successfully navigating rocky rivers.

Asheville is surrounded by forested mountains where trails maintained by dedicated volunteers lead to streams tumbling over giant boulders, stupendous waterfalls, meadows rich with colorful summer flowers, or glorious views of distant mountains. Many trails require stamina and strong legs; thankfully, this wasn’t a problem when we moved here in 1986.

But viewing trees, flowers and animals doesn’t have to be strenuous: The North Carolina Arboretum, the Botanical Gardens and the Nature Center all offer less challenging ways to experience nature. So put on your walking shoes and come join me for a walk or a hike or a visit to our marvelous arboretum.

What I like about Asheville

by Norma Halmagyi Hanson
When my three children attended UNCA in the ’80s, Asheville was a dead town; that’s the only way to describe it. It was hard to find a restaurant downtown; I remember walking past closed store after closed store before we finally encountered Stone Soup. When my second daughter got married 25 years ago, we stayed at a hotel behind the River Ridge Shopping Center with a 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains. Stunned by their beauty, I fell in love with the area.

When my husband, Stephen, was about to retire in 1995, he asked me where I’d like to go, and I immediately said, “Asheville.” He’d never been here, but my idea was reinforced when his childhood friend from Sparta, Wis., brought pictures of Givens Estates to their 50th high-school reunion. He had a place reserved there, and since he lived close by, in Brevard, we came to visit and made Givens a destination.

We signed for a house that would be completed in June 2005, but as luck would have it, we needed to come sooner. Stephen’s spine surgery went wrong, leaving him partially paralyzed. Not knowing anyone who lived at Givens or even in Asheville, we moved into a small house on an eight-house street. But the moving van had scarcely left when smiling Walter Trapp came to welcome us, ask us to eat with him in the dining room, and invite us to sing in the choir he directed.

The next day, Dorothy Crisologo arrived, kind and welcoming, with three pink roses in a vase. We talked about her life as an nurse anesthetist in a remote jungle village in the Philippines that even the jeep couldn’t get to. There she met a surgeon, Lorie, and they got married even though they were from opposite ends of the globe.

And then we met Stark Ginn, who’d been in the horse cavalry before they changed to tanks; Stephen was a paratrooping doctor. Crippled by his surgery, he was so glad to have another veteran to talk to.

I still love the mountains, but more often I’m attracted to the people who mean so much to me, people who’ve given so much of their lives in the service of others. There are at least 43 restaurants downtown now, and lots of theaters, concerts and churches. It’s the people, though, who make Asheville so special to me: interesting, varied and beautiful, like the city itself.

Pisgah Forest cycles

by Susanna Euston
Asheville’s sparkling lights fade in the distance as

Early morning light reveals the magic of its forest surround.

Multi-hues of Spring green blanket the scene below.

From a bird’s-eye view I spot splashes of white and pink jewels in its midst.

Cloud mists dance, curl.

Early morning light refracts into a magical glow.

I sense nature’s spirit flowing throughout this ethereal landscape.

In awe, I stop, take a deep breath, smile, compose, snap.

Brown ribbon weaves ahead and behind me, over hill, through dale.

Textured gray and brown vertical streamers ascend from earth to sky.

From them, leaves appear like green confetti, suspended in midair.

Baubles of white, pink and blaze orange sprinkle the scene.

A hawk swoops down, lifts rapidly aloft, prey secure in its claws as it disappears into the light.

I stop, take a deep breath, smile, compose, snap.

As the river of time flows on, the greens deepen to a darker, more uniform shade.

Other colors, closer to the ground, delicately emerge in this magical place.

Yellows, pinks, whites and lavenders of solitary flowers dot the forest floor.

Wispy fronds of green find quiet comfort under the awning of the canopy.

Gatherings of veiled color gently sway and dance in sunlit spots; a butterfly alights nearby.

As I walk the brown ribbon I immerse myself in the scents of the forest.

As the continuum advances, I notice Nature’s ever changing features.

The crisp air of Autumn now works its magic on the landscape.

Warm days, cool nights tease the flora of late Summer, letting it know it’s time is ending.

Red, orange, and gold confetti leaves flutter through the air.

From above, the once green blanket seems a brilliant, multihued quilt.

The brown ribbon peeks through the colorful covering, still guiding me on my way.

Nature completes its cycle to finally take a well-earned rest.

The confetti, now faded in color, covers the forest floor, rests, breaks down, goes back to earth.

The vertical streamers of gray and brown reveal more complex structures, etched against the sky.

I laughingly think that the mountains appear to have crew cuts.

Soon, a blanket of white spans below and above me; brown ribbon invisible.

Mists from lingering clouds dance, curl.

Glittering crystals appear suspended in the air. Light refracts into a magical glow.

As always, I stop, take a deep breath, smile, compose, snap.

Best places

by Don Kern
I became acquainted with Asheville when I accepted a position as controller at Beacon Manufacturing Co. in Swannanoa, the biggest manufacturer of blankets in the world. Dick Malone and I carpooled from our homes in Lakeview Park, in north Asheville, to the plant, enjoying the mountain views en route. Summer days cooled off in the evening: barbecuing time. Asheville’s climate was ideal; we enjoyed all four seasons, none severe.

There were nice residential areas, and thanks to the city’s financial woes during the Depression, I couldn’t believe the bargain we got in 1964. The beautiful Williamsburg-style brick home on the side of Reynolds Mountain came with two-and-two-thirds fully landscaped acres, a tennis court and a greenhouse. Our backdoor neighbors, J.C. and Margo McGee, became lifelong friends. We were members of Central United Methodist Church downtown and developed good connections with many in our Sunday school class. We made more friends playing bridge in a dinner group that moved among the members’ homes.

We later lived in Danville, Va., and Greenville, S.C., taking turns with another couple driving from Greenville to Asheville and vice versa to play bridge. We moved back to Asheville when I retired in 1995, buying a home in Biltmore Forest from Jack Cecil.

We now live in Deerfield with 650 other retirees from all over the country. With a lovely campus and caring employees, the well-managed facility has won awards as the best retirement community in the country. I’m in an independent-living apartment; Shirley lives in a skilled-nursing unit. And having paid a larger entrance fee for life care, our monthly payment didn’t increase when Shirley moved there. Our son, a veterinarian, lives in Waynesville, about 30 miles away, and the scenery is enthralling when we drive there.

Phil Stull decided to move the American Enka Co.’s headquarters to the best place to live in America. The choice came down to San Francisco and Asheville: He moved his company to Asheville.

First-year impressions

by Vivian Frederick
Awesome mountain scenery

Southern charm

Heavenly fall foliage

Excellent museums, educational facilities and medical infrastructure

Village-size downtown with big-city attitude

Intellectuals, artists, musicians, poets, actors and writers are everywhere

Little ducks following their mama across my lawn

Lots of great restaurants

Ever-present Biltmore: House, Square, Avenue, Forest, Park, etc., etc., etc.

And I’m loving every bit of it!!!!!

Heartbeat of the city

by Jim Chatham
The percussion beat rides the evening air. The close-in spaces have been taken, but we easily find street parking two blocks out. Others join us on the sidewalks, all headed toward Pritchard Park. There, 30 to 40 drummers are holding forth — large drums on stands, over-the-shoulder drums, lap drums — plus marimbas, finger cymbals, rattles and a cowbell. Small children, young girls and couples dance across the bricks, each in their chosen style.

A lady in a yellow dress appears to direct the assembly, which doesn’t need directing, but they value her presence anyway. A bunny-hop line weaves through the crowd, picking up and dropping off people big and small. Hacky Sackers perform incredible feats around the perimeter; all told, maybe 400 people of every description fill the park. White people, black people, brown people; the obviously affluent, the far less affluent. Bar-hoppers, restaurant patrons, hotel guests. Young people out for the evening, street drifters, elders, middlers, up-and-comers.

A woman performs circling maneuvers using two, three, sometimes four Hula-Hoops. It looks easy: Try it! Across the street, the “tin woman” strikes her statuesque pose, beating her drum to thank anyone who places a dollar in her hat. Farther up Haywood, a magician entertains passers-by with sleight of hand and misdirection. A juggler keeps plastic rings rotating high above. An 8-year-old violinist, accompanied by his mother, plays part of a Beethoven sonata. A young man hands out literature urging the city to keep chain stores out of downtown. The LaZoom bus trundles down Haywood, filled with riders sporting party hats, while the unicycling nun leads the way. Several stores are still open, cafés spill onto the sidewalks, and bars tout their evening entertainment. The whole place hums with foot traffic.

What other downtown is like this? Many cities’ central business districts simply shut down in the evening, feared and shunned as places harboring a lurking menace.

But Asheville is different. Downtown at night is life itself, community, rhythm, a random sampling of diverse populations, serendipity, delight, the city’s very heartbeat: not to be missed.


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About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

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