Letter: Sun, stone and shadow

Graphic by Lori Deaton

The Vance Monument holds a geographical high point in the city of Asheville: a space which both honors and insults; a crossroads of contention.

But simplified, it is a structure of stone, fixed, yet fluid. Movement and nonmovement. Fluid, because as the sun moves across it, it casts a moving shadow. It marks time in its own way.

If we remove the Vance name and plaque, we will dispose of all positive and negative connotations imposed upon it. We will reduce it to its purest form — an obelisk of stone, sun and shadow. Now the monument is free.

So now, what will you bring to it?

For now, sit in its shadow on a hot day and feel the respite a soldier or farmer would feel as he sat under a tree’s shade for a cool drink of water. Stand with your back to the warm stone on a bright, cold day and identify with the weary traveler as he leaned against a streamside boulder to unpack a simple dinner before moving on down the trail.

Reflect upon shadows and darkness. There was the blackness of the blackbirders’ souls as they transported human cargo across sickening oceans and the darkness of defeat in the souls of those below deck. But feel the blessedness of shadow and night as one who would be escaping enslavement along secret routes, moving toward the light of freedom.

If you identify, say, with a white supremacist view, try for a moment to feel the agony of the young male slave as he is removed — sold — from the auction block. He looks over his shoulder for one last look at his woman and child, still awaiting purchase. Judge not the color of his skin, but empathize with the feeling of desolation that any human would feel at that moment.

Or, perhaps, you lean toward Northern (Union) sympathy. Think upon the young simple Southern homesteader as he gazes over his fields for one last sunset. For, tomorrow, he will march away to defend the homeland he was born to, leaving his woman and child behind at the cabin door. He owns no slaves; this is a rich man’s war that he did not want to fight.

As you stand at the monument, know that it is a place of introspection. Sun and shadow move around stone impartially, unjudging, neutrally. Hours, days, weeks, years pass silently.

Stand in the sun and shadows of stone as you watch the vibrancy of Asheville swirl around you and know that you stand at a crossroads of time and space. Bring empathy and appreciation. Take the higher parts of your experience with you and leave a bit behind for others to find.

(Col. Zebulon Vance has his historical recognition at the Vance Birthplace on Reems Creek Road in Weaverville, which is a beautiful, small repository of his life and those turbulent times.)

— Nancy Odell


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2 thoughts on “Letter: Sun, stone and shadow

  1. michele

    Beautiful & honest way of how we can view monuments without resorting to anger and vengeance. What an interpretation–now the monument is free.

  2. Roger

    Thank you, Michele, for a simple, positive response to Odell’s peaceful musings. We need more peace and less vindictive from “covert racists” who seem to be feigning anger and righteousness in a self-serving attempt to fool the rest of us into thinking that they aren’t racists, but the rest of us are. How pathetic. Peter Robbins (from the current issue, Oct. 25-31) appears to be one of those “progressives” or “liberals” [those whom I view as “neo-progressives” and “neo-liberals”] who proposes “a modest” solution to something that needs to be left to itself. My own view is that no one, no matter how “righteous” he or she may be, has the right to erase any scene for the panorama of history we all share as Americans. And honestly, a good majority of Americans happen to think likewise.

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