Sunday, August 15, 1999

A postcard from that place where I find peace

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        SOMEWHERE NEAR ASHEVILLE, N.C. — You didn't think I was going to tell you exactly where I was, did you? That would be impossible. I'd have to kill you. Then Herb, my host, would have to kill me. He'd feel bad about it. But I'd still be dead.

        Herb's a great guy. Been coming here 60 years, which puts him about 25 years ahead of me. Ten years ago, he decided to stay.

        Herb used to live in Louisiana, but he got tired of the commute. He runs a bed and breakfast here now. Nobody who comes here leaves saying he'll never come back.

        The only thing keeping me from being Herb's janitor-for-life is responsibility: Family, career, Blue Ash YMCA workouts. Take away that, I'd be mopping Herb's floors from now until forever.

        Everybody needs a place.

        You don't know it until you find it, then it hits you in the soul like the sun on your face. It doesn't have to be a place of solitude and peace, the way this place is for me. It's just where you feel you belong, in a special way.

        I live in fear that this place will be discovered. Travel and Leisure will send a writer to write smugly about its “quaintness” and before you know it, timeshares and Quik-Stops and oh my god.

        I used to believe word of mouth would destroy it here. But that was a long time ago. This place hasn't changed since the Pleistocene Age, when the locals were heard to comment on the length of the winter.

        What is this place?

        It's a place I visit every summer for a few days, to claim my peace of mind from the lost and found.

        A place that fills my soul and leaves it light, all at once.

        A place where nobody wants me to buy replacement windows.

        My family thinks I am strange.

        “Mom, Dad's going to somewhere near Asheville again.”

        “Oh. Is everything all right, hon?”

        I am a monk here, both anonymous and embraced. Everyone here says hello. Always have.

        It's a place where, in June, the catawba rhododendrons blow up the mile-high heath “balds” like a five-alarm fire. A place with a better view of heaven.

        A place where I can lose my life and never miss it.

        It's the closest place to peace in this lifetime, which is the only lifetime I can vouch for. The Rev. Billy Graham has a house here, for (literally) God's sake, and that's the last clue I'm giving you.

        Forget collards and fatback. This is soul food.

        It's timeless and beautiful, like a cathedral. It's not somewhere I want to go; it's somewhere I need to go, to keep stitched the fabric of my days.

        This is my place:

        A three-story stone lodge, nearly a century old. A second-floor porch, presiding over a lake. Metal rocking chairs, where I read and wait for the sun to slide with grace beneath the mountains, and the moon to rise and throw its pale white reflection across the lake like a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

        I walk. If I'm really ambitious, I hike. I drive the Blue Ridge Parkway, across the humped and rippled spine of the mountains of years.

        Van Morrison once sang, “Pure joy sometimes comes with patience.” Finding a place takes patience. So does finding peace. Peace is patience.

        I come here when life stops rhyming. I hope you can find someplace like it. But not it, exactly.

        Paul Daugherty, an Enquirer sports columnist, writes a lifestyle column on Sunday. He welcomes your comments at 768-8454.