Mountain Me!

By Li Bai

You ask me why I dwell in the green moun­tain;
I smile and make no reply for my heart is free of care.
As the peach-blossom flows down stream and is gone into the unknown,
I have a world apart that is not among men.

Summer vacation arrived just in time.  We white knuckled our way into the final stretch, panting and gasping for air.  But we made it.  Barely.  I say barely because I arrived without several things that I "needed" on vacation.  I am a notorious overpacker.  Luckily we survived the week without my cookware from home.

Our journey began in Asheville with some dear friends that have recently moved from Louisville.  We stayed a couple of nights there and our mornings involved strolling their gorgeous yard with coffee in hand, dogs at our heels, watching the birds.

12 Bones BBQ

We ate our way through Asheville (is there another way to do Asheville?  Holy smokes the food!) and toured some fabulous architecture at All Soul's Church and the surrounding neighborhood where we ate breakfast one day.

We were planning on being in the Asheville area to see a Retrospective show of one of the boy's mentors, Tom Turner, at The Bascom in Highlands, NC.  Wayyyyyyyyy up in the mountains, we made the 2 hour drive with the windows down, singing loud and breathing deep of the air that has helped in wiping away the past few months.

"We are now in the mountains and they are in us, kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell of us.” 

~ John Muir

We stopped along the way at a great restaurant that was hanging on the side of the mountain, The Gamekeeper's Tavern, for a cocktail and to sit awhile in the cool mountain summer air.

Being from Kentucky, when you say "Way up in the mountains" to me, I immediately think of hollows (pronounced "holler") and poverty.  The mountains are always beautiful, but never well-to-do where I am from.  That is not the case in NC apparently.  Gated community after gated community, golf course after golf course, country club after country club, the winding curves up the mountain were filled with the "other half".  It made for some great restaurants and shops along the way.  

The Bascom is located just outside Highlands, NC and is an artist retreat center.  Beautiful scenery and one of the finest ceramic shows we have ever seen topped our evening and left us feeling buzzed from the good time, being together and "away" from our norm.

Tom Turner 
The next day sent us on our way to Gatlinburg to spend a few days with some college friends in the mountains.  I knew that I didn't want to interrupt the good vacation juju by sitting in traffic on the interstates, so we chose to make the drive through the mountains and the national park.  Best. Decision. Ever.  The drive was stunning and we stopped along the way at a fruit stand for Grape Nehi and Boiled Peanuts and to snap some shots of the amazing scenery.

“The mountain has left me feeling renewed, more content and positive than I’ve been for weeks, as if something has been given back after a long absence, as if my eyes have opened once again. For this time at least, I’ve let myself be rooted in the unshakable sanity of the senses, spared my mind the burden of too much thinking, turned myself outward to experience the world and inward to savor the pleasures it has given me.” 

~Richard Nelson 

The time with friends was priceless and involved lots of foodies cooking for each other and all of the glory that is Dollywood, and babies running around happy to be out of a car, and cocktails, and hot tubs.  A resounding success.

Olive tapenade and prosciutto bruschetta

Champagne Americana glasses waiting

French Broad Chocolates dipped shortbread that was left out on the deck too long after coffee
Breakfast Bellinis
We also may have decided to partake in an in-cabin massage and it was wonderful.  We labeled the week our "Caftan Vacation".  So relaxed.  Stay in your PJ's or Caftan all day if you like, play some cards, read awhile and then we will decide what to cook next.  Our kind of vacation.

“The greatest gift of life on the mountain is time. Time to think or not think, read or not read, scribble or not scribble -- to sleep and cook and walk in the woods, to sit and stare at the shapes of the hills... By being utterly useless in the calculations of the culture at large I become useful, at last, to myself.” 

~Philip Connors 

Our week ended with a trip to Blackberry Farms for a special birthday/anniversary dinner.  Located about 35 miles outside of Gatlinburg and in the foothills of the Smokies, it is an Eden, nirvana and a place of Zen all rolled into one.  It was everything I hoped it would be and we can't wait to go back.  A bucket list dining choice for us, we couldn't wait to put ourselves in Chef's hands.  We were not disappointed.  Mind blowing food.

The Barn dining hall on the farm 

We returned to reality with full hearts and spirits from being with good friends.  It was a fantastic week of just what we needed and we can't wait to do it all again.

I am reminded again that my soul frequently needs perspective and a reset.  To be in the mountains, breathing the air, feeling the history seep into my bones and infuse my spirit has whispered into the quiet places of my heart and blown a cool breath across a fevered time, slowing my pace and forcing my eyes up to see a bigger picture.  It is a gift that travel frequently gives to me; perspective.  One for which I am grateful and always humbled.

 "Again I resume the long
lesson: how small a thing
can be pleasing, how little
in this hard world it takes
to satisfy the mind
and bring it to its rest."

~Wendell Berry

We returned from vacation to a gorgeous bounty in the garden.  The coming weeks bring us more events and some friends from out of town stopping in for a quick visit.  We are especially excited about the upcoming whiskey tasting dinner we are hosting in a few weeks.  I will post menus when they are ready.  Until then, let me know what is growing in your garden, if you are going to have tomatoes ripe by the 4th of July and what your summer cocktails look like.  And see if you can get away for a weekend.  I promise it will be good for your soul.

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