After spending time out West and Down Under, I drove back across country just in time to celebrate the 12th anniversary of my arrival in Asheville. Memories flashed through my mind: chugging up a steep mountain highway in my overloaded Nova (luckily at 2 in the morning); sharing a nice apartment with my grown kids, each of us paying a whopping $160 a month; and finding work immediately—a miracle indeed. The air was crisp and clean; the streets were clear, and you could find a place to park.
Spiritual guidance is what first brought me here, and over the years it has repeatedly taken me away, but I always return. And like Madonna, I reinvent myself each time.
Asheville, too, has reinvented itself. Dumpy is the word I would use to describe sections of downtown in 1995. Beanstreets, Malaprop’s, Laughing Seed and Max and Rosie’s were small, not slick. Many holistic-health practitioners and shops struggled to survive.
I remarried in 1999, and my husband had the brainstorm that we should travel and live out of the country for two years. Yet within two months we were back in Asheville, celebrating the new millennium. Then my guidance led us to Alaska, Idaho and Massachusetts.
Divorced in 2003, I came back to Asheville—this time to bumper-to-bumper traffic on Interstate 240 at rush hour. I found new events, restaurants and stores, and familiar ones gone. Houses were higher-priced and a haze hung in the air, prompting the Canary Coalition to fight back. West Asheville sported a food co-op, cute cafés, and colorful boutiques catering to people who wanted to live in an affordable neighborhood.
I could not find a job. To cover my expenses, I rented out both bedrooms to men who’d spotted my flier at Earth Fare; I slept in the living room.
“Move to Hawaii,” my guidance advised, just five months after my return here. Son Paul and I packed up and headed to Hilo. Hawaii offered year-round warm weather, beaches, exotic fruit and flowers, but I felt a longing for Asheville. A year later, we were back.
It’s interesting to see the transformation of the town. Even more upscale, expensive and exciting. Apartments, condos, stores, restaurants—and, hallelujah, wheat-free products—everywhere, even in Digable Pizza! Driving down Merrimon and other streets, I try to remember what used to be in this or that spot but can’t recall. How quickly humans adjust and adapt to change (except for that hideous Staples store—that one will take awhile).
This past year, I lived in Pagosa Springs, Colo.; a quaint town that afforded me the opportunity to use my creative talents. Also a healing center, Pagosa is a small version of Asheville, but without bumper stickers, gays and African-Americans. How odd, living without diversity.
So I’m back again. Friends laugh when I say, “I’m really staying this time,” but I feel the difference. It takes determination and faith to pound out cover letters and apply online, fervently searching for that perfect job. And after seven years, I have a North Carolina driver’s license once again.
I moved back to our old house on Murdock. The house husband Steve and I had rented to housemates years ago. David and Elizabeth became partners, bought the place, and now I rent from them.
I have come full circle.
Womansong is always the first thing I do. How far it has come from that 25-member chorus I first joined in 1995—it’s now more than 60 women strong. The talent is ever evolving and revolving, with lively Debbie Nordeen and Althea Gonzalez at the helm. After rehearsals, I bounce back home, energized and inspired, singing all the way.
True, downtown traffic is ridiculously congested and parking places are hard to come by, but it does give me time to admire the beautiful hanging flower baskets. I squeeze my car down neighboring streets lined on both sides with parked cars. Driving down Flint Street, I pass an older woman carrying a big, red sign that says, “Honk if you want Bush impeached.” I smile to myself—so Asheville.
Sure, this town has drawbacks, but its heart hasn’t changed. How I missed the energy, the lushness and beauty of our surroundings! How could I have forgotten about potlucks, three so far this week alone? Neighbors stand ready to help and support. I appreciate the variety of music, news, art, yoga, dance, trails, rivers, spirituality, health modalities (especially the tuning forks), food, workshops and an aware, politically active community.
Amazing Asheville has had a hold on me these 12 years—and this time, I am not letting go.
[Freelance photojournalist Anne Centers is the former managing editor of the Pagosa Daily Post. A teacher by trade, she’s a traveler, lover of life and learning, and an advocate for the underdog.]