To arrive in a city when its thermometer is touching nine degrees Fahrenheit, its ground rock solid, its sky matte gray, its trees barren and its denizens off to Florida, would strike most as inauspicious. On a superficial level, our move to Asheville in December would seem so.
Asheville has been on my radar since 2001, when I graduated college, but I decided not to plant a flag because there were no jobs here, a problem that still affects the region. Asheville was a place I’d visit to see a concert or cast a line in a trout stream. When my partner and I were researching places to move, Asheville always surfaced to the top, buoyed by its close proximity to our families. We were also drown to the surrounding beauty, the quirky town, and its front porch culture, which our new neighborhood —— Montford —— hosts in spades. Our house may not have a porch, but most of our neighbors do, and they sit on them and wave at people walking by. Everyone waves. We love that.
While running errands one day, a woman nearly cut me off; instead she caught herself, smiled and waved at me to go ahead. That hospitality never occurred in Los Angeles or New York, our former homes. Errands are less stressful here. In LA, I would pack provisions and something to read. When I returned from my first run of errands, my partner turned and said, somewhat confused, “you’re back so soon?” We love the quirkiness of this city, how slow it moves, even though it has taken us a while to match its pace.
Before coming here, I conducted informal interviews with local folks in the mental health space, a way to build a community and learn more about a decision I’d already made on a subconscious level. One such interviewee told me, “Asheville has a way of chewing people up and spitting them out,” adding, “you should bring the city an offering.” That got me. I’m as weary of that which is woo as the next big-city type, but I’m also a sucker for it. I love the notion that a city has a soul, and that its personality could use ritualistic acknowledgement. We all need some acknowledgement, a little validation that we matter. Acquiescing is only folly if done with the expectation that the ritual bear some sort of fruit.
Therefore, comportment should align with the upmost sincere silliness. I brought with me a Valencia orange from Sierra Madre, California, which braved the eastward journey. I placed this fruit on the brick column of what remained the S.B. Penick CO factory, a relic protruding along the Reedy Creek, a path at the end of our block. Again, my taking part in this ritual was not to assure a successful move to our new home. The expectation of smooth sailing strikes me as soulless because, as Yvon Chouinard said, adventure only begins when things go wrong. Rituals are only signifiers of the constant of change, which we are part of.
No amounts of smudging or offerings could’ve obviated the negligence of the previous tenants, who failed to report the presence of a family of raccoons who were living in the attic, and who’d been up there long enough to amass three hundred pounds of droppings, as assessed by Arlyn, the region’s stalwart critter control expert. Arlyn also discovered several birds nests, the complete decimation of the insulation (resulting in an astronomical energy bill for us), and a rather large opossum. When asked what he did with the trapped animals, Arlyn said, “you don’t want to know.” Amused, I said, “You sleep with them?”
The orange offering also didn’t forestall the remarkable cold snap that meant we had to leave our faucets running to prevent the pipes from rupturing, or the previous tenant’s blunders of plumbing that led to a leak that bled through our kitchen ceiling. It didn’t prevent all of the technology issues I’ve encountered at work. Of course, you may be thinking that a single orange couldn’t have done the trick, or that maybe Asheville and citrus aren’t simpatico. But that would be beside the point. The point is how one responds to such things.
This simple stance prompted one of my colleagues to comment on my adaptation to my new city and role, by saying, “you’ve taken to us like a duck to water.” She was responding to how I sit quietly and observe and not fret too much. Of course, it’s easy to fit in when the crowd is accepting and likeminded, and my new coworkers fit that bill. But my fretting occurs out of view. It impacts my plumbing. Because while I am completely at home in the adventure, I also struggle alongside it and change.
Raccoons are noisy creatures. How the previous tenant missed them is questionable. I meditate in our spare bedroom at dusk and dawn, and that’s when they’d rustle. There’s something about hearing the rustle, knowing it’s there, but not being able to see it, that’s symbolic of how our worries and fears stir in us. They’re distractions. They don’t go away. One can meditate and acknowledge them as part of the mental milieu, but doing so is just an acknowledgment. Maybe it leads to acceptance. But a greater acceptance would be to acknowledge that none of it means anything beyond that which we rationalize to ease our journey, which is fine. It just is; it is to be experienced and felt. In the face of such madness, offering an orange is prudent.