I’m probably supposed to say something enlightening–or at least useful–in this column, but what with the start of a new year and the fact that this is the first edition of the High Cove newsletter, what keeps tugging at my sleeve are origin stories. You know, those stories that help us understand where we come from, where we’re going, and who’s on this journey with us.
As the “founder” of the founders of High Cove, I might be tempted to say my origin story is the most comprehensive and profound. More likely it is just the longest! It might go something like this: Once upon a time, seven friends from Florida embarked on a journey to create a new village in the mountains of western North Carolina. Each was drawn to this place, and to the idea of making a settlement here that was different: not isolated vacation cabins strewn around the landscape, nor even a collection of proudly self-sufficient pioneer homesteads. Instead, a community that fostered connection with one another, and with the people who were here before us.
We had started our land search near Bat Cave, where John and I owned a cabin. It was a sweet cabin in a nice patch of woods–every Floridian’s dream. Our neighbors didn’t shoot guns for fun or keep a fleet of motor vehicles up on cinder blocks, but other than that we didn’t have much in common. Mostly all we shared was the effort of maintaining the dirt road.
They say that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and our group of intrepid Floridiots found that all those steps were uphill. Both ways. Truly. I remember going to check out some land that sounded great: bordering the national forest with lots of wildflife and beautiful views. Halfway up the dirt track my partner Anne Merrill turned back, saying she’d meet us back at the car. Not so much because it was steep and the weather chilly (although both were true) but because with each step she was doing the math in her head about the difficulty and cost of getting a road to that remote site.
We hadn’t really thought of ourselves as “Floridiots,” but there it was, plain as spray paint on a bridge can be: “No Floridiots past this point!!” Since we were, in fact, lost, there was no option but to go into the little store beyond the bridge and ask for directions. We later told this story to our realtor and friend, Phil Byrd, who knew just where this was, and reassured us by saying, “Oh, Junior, he’s just a good old boy. He doesn’t mean anything by it.” Both of which were pretty much true. We were from Florida, and because we had never started a new community before, we would take some wrong turns in the process of building High Cove. And though we’d sometimes hear that local people had uncomplimentary things to say about people like us, the people we actually met welcomed us with genuine warmth. (This even though we had no ancestral kin buried on our land, and the land had not come to us via a land grant from the king of England, as Phil’s family’s had.)
Our land search took years and took us all around (and even into) Asheville. Exploring so many mountains, hollers, hamlets, and towns honed our sensibilities. By the time we got to Mitchell County we knew we were in a special place: beautiful land, welcoming people, a thriving arts community around the Penland School, and only one golf course (with adjacent “golf course community”). When we drove up Rebels Creek Road for the first time, we could see that the Rebels Creek valley was lovingly tended.
We soon met the families that had settled Rebels Creek, and live there still: the Boones, the Jarretts, the Howells, the Wilsons. These names echo through the cemetery on the hill next to us. They are remembered every day, I’m sure, but especially on “Decoration Day,” when the community gathers to tend the gravesites, to sing, to tell stories, to remember. My partners tease me about this, but in my plan for High Cove there has always been a cemetery. A cemetery feels like a place to anchor memory. This may be especially important to me because my family are immigrants to this country, and our ancestral cemeteries are lost to me because of time and distance, wars and revolutions.
Last summer, just before Decoration Day, a stranger came to visit. He said his name was Max Howell, and he had grown up here when it was his grandparent’s homestead. He told us many stories, including the requisite tales of magic–things like planting a circle of pine trees, and shooting red rocks in his slingshot–which he later learned were garnets.
That’s one version of the origin story. Another might go something like this: Once upon a time, seven friends from Florida embarked on a journey. They packed some things: skills, tools, hopes. They encountered some joys and some adversities, both of which strengthened their bonds and their resolve. Years passed and things happened, as things tend to do. Our friend Richard found his life calling him back to Florida. Our friend Dan finds his feet yearning for both places. Our friend Tom has passed through this life, unexpectedly early. His wife and young children scattered his ashes at High Cove. We love and miss them. They, along with Anne, David Brain, John and me, are the spirits represented by the seven Chestnut leaves in the High Cove logo.
Years passed and things grew, as things tend to do. Jane and Ron built a beautiful house and filled it with art, music, food, and laughter. This Spring, Iris and Dan will move into their new home, and Victoria and Tracy will break ground on theirs. We welcome Carol and Marc as new leaves on the Chestnut branch. We cherish our neighbors Byrne and Liz, who have so graciously welcomed us into their community. We are enriched every time Mark and Rhonda visit, and Jet and Sarah, and Terry and Pearl. We wish we saw more of Oleg, and Sarah, Paul, Tishka and Arman. We welcome Matt and hope that he, along with Bryan and Rafa, and David and Naomi, will be among the next wave to build here. We miss Molly, Ted and Sam, and Meridith and Ken, and thank them for reminding us that journeys are not always predictable. We are enriched by friends and neighbors in the broader community. We are grateful to the many friends, old and new, who have visited High Cove and contributed their energies, stories, and good wishes. A special pleasure this year was the music festival David and Carmela brought to High Cove.
I don’t know who will join us on this journey next. But I do know my life will be richer for the steps, the stories, and the meals we share. We can’t know the colors, sounds, tastes or textures of the journey until the moment they are lived. But we do know where the journey ends for each of us. Let’s do everything we can to fill each day with love and compassion, food and laughter, discovery and joy.
— Olga Ronay