Road Trip

I recently took a week and a few days to go back to Virginia and North Carolina to visit friends and collect some art I’d stored in one friend’s house. I enjoyed the reconnections with people, and the brief exposure to snow and cold and to architecture that was neither adobe nor trailer. T or C, with a population of a little over 6,000—it’s been shrinking—seems tiny next to Harrisonburg, Virginia (pop. 52,000), though it’s also considered a “small town” by some people. To me, Harrisonburg felt downright urban. So many ethnic restaurants with healthy choices, so many building over two stories tall, and so many traffic lights. (T or C has one.)

I dropped in on former colleagues, and due to snow, I was grateful that retired faculty have access to the college fitness facility. Running on an indoor track takes mental endurance, and if there hadn’t been so many students playing basketball to keep me amused, I wonder if I could have managed my usual distance. I taught a couple of yoga classes at the studio where I used to work in Harrisonburg, and it was a special and meaningful opportunity.

Part two of my road trip took me to Asheville, NC, where I found myself wondering what a trip to the mountains of North Carolina would be like for Mae Martin, my series’ protagonist.  (I was visiting the friend who inspired  the character.) Mae grew up in that area and she has connections in Asheville. What it would feel like for her to go back, after living in New Mexico? Asheville is a lot like Santa Fe and T or C in some ways, with its artists and yoga teachers and massage therapists, but in many ways it’s entirely different. The mountains are old and green. And the smaller towns beyond the city, such as the place where Mae’s grandparents lived, are another world, culturally and spiritually as well as physically, from the funky, eccentric town where she’s made a new home. (I moved her to T or C years before I made the permanent move myself.)

And what about a road trip itself as part of a story? Travel is inherently challenging. I drove through rain in the Blue Ridge on my way in, and on my way back through wind that started to peel the rubber rain-channel seal off my windshield, wind that made it hard to open the car door when I stopped for gas, wind that made big truckers struggle to open and close the doors of the truck stop. There were two wildfires on the outskirts of Amarillo and the flames and smoke mingled weirdly with the sunset. Any events in a story that I could set in weather like that would be doubly difficult for my characters, and it’s my job as a writer to make their lives difficult.

The outcome of all this? I’m glad to be home in this peculiar town with its colorful people and murals, its hot springs, and its art and music scenes. I was glad to see my T or C yoga students, to run in the desert again with the lizards and jackrabbits and roadrunners, and to go out dancing at the T or C Brewery. The art I brought back is either consigned for sale or on my walls, and I feel even more at home now with the pieces I chose to keep all around me. More complete, focused and inspired to create, with new ideas for the work in progress.

Crystals and Waterfalls

I just returned from a visit with friends in Asheville North Carolina, the spiritual twin of Santa Fe, the wet green version of the City Different. Like Santa Fe, Asheville is set in mountains, and has more eccentrics and creative people per square foot than other cities its size. I loved it.

 

As well as the company of the warm, loving people who welcomed me into their home, I had the pleasure of hiking in mountains full of waterfalls. I had no idea there could be so many in one place. Some are roaring, towering torrents, while another flows across a slope of rock in such a way that water forms patterns like shells made of lace. The sound of each fall is unique, a song as hypnotic as the ocean.

 

My friends’ five-month-old baby seemed to go into a bliss state in the woods. Indoors, he can fuss like a champion, like any baby, but on the trails he was in nirvana for mile after mile. Even when it rained, he either slept, or licked raindrops off his carrier. His parents take him hiking a lot. I like to think this is giving him a nature-mind, an affinity for the shapes of trees, the sound of waterfalls and the smell of earth.

 

We visited one of the local “gemstone mines.” I know there are real mines with emeralds and other precious and semi-precious stones in the North Carolina mountains, but this was more of a game, where you can sift a bucket of dirt tray by tray and see what shows up. Strangely, it was more fun than seeing crystals on shelves and shopping. I like mystery and suspense. When I got home, of course I looked up the healing properties of my new acquisitions.

 

I just finished writing my short story prequel for the Mae Martin series, set during her childhood in her native North Carolina mountains. It was good to visit my protagonist’s roots and be reminded of all its details, from waterfalls to emeralds to hot boiled peanuts, and to be around people who talk like her. I’ll have to take her back there in one of the later books. It’s an extraordinary place.

 

Rainbow Falls: http://www.romanticasheville.com/rainbow_falls.htm