Friday 12 September didn't dawn bright and clear in Boone. That nasty fog still socked us in. Around 8:00 a.m., when I was ready to leave, Marcia got in her car and drove out ahead of me, like a pilot ship. We still couldn’t see more than a few feet ahead of the hoods of our cars. By then, I was entertaining some less-than-intrepid thoughts about my drive to Burnsville and the Carolina Mountains Literary Festival on wet, winding, mountain roads that wove beneath the bearded scowl of Grandfather Mountain.
Although my Honda had more than a half tank of gas, intuition prodded me to top off the tank before I left the area. I grumbled over the cheapest gas in town, $3.67/gallon, ten cents more per gallon than in Raleigh the previous day. Still, I've learned to listen to my intuition. After I tanked up, I headed out on Route 105, white-knuckling the steering wheel like the flatlander I am. Again in the "slow lane," my Honda protested another climb into even more opaque fog. Holy cow, was I ever going to see the sky on this trip? That particular climb was to over 4000 feet, and by then, I'd said to heck with fourth gear and accustomed myself to using second and third gears. Remember, en las montañas, what goes down must go up, and up, and UP.
Sunshine started puncturing the clouds about halfway to Burnsville. Tempted as I was to stop and take pictures, I kept driving because I knew no two-dimensional image could capture the eerie layers of sun, fog, and mountain that I witnessed, almost like looking at a parfait through the side of a clear glass. About fifteen minutes east of Burnsville, the clouds peeled back and presented a pristine, azure sky wrapped around ripples of mountains. Huzzah!
Inside Burnsville's city limits, every gas station was packed with cars, some of them lined up into the street, drivers waiting to tank up. Odd. Reminded me of the days when Jimmy Carter was president, and we had a supposed gas shortage. Glad I'd filled up in Boone. I found the Town Center area, venue for most of the festival's events, and wheeled a box of books into the main lobby, where the indie bookstore Malaprops was already open for business. My publisher had called me two days earlier with news that Malaprops hadn't received the box of books they'd ordered, so I brought all my stock. No way did I expect to sell out of books. I was a rookie at the CMLF, mere Grasshopper to other authors at the festival, Southern literary luminaries like John Ehle and Pamela Duncan. Still, what an honor to read and present at the festival. Plus the weekend provided my first opportunity to reach out to the readership in western North Carolina. And how exciting to meet all the authors!
Almost first-thing, I met Lucy Doll, the venue coordinator for the festival, and the gracious lady with whom I'd be staying for two nights. She introduced me to another festival volunteer, Kathleen Sioui, a geologist who rescues dogs and works hard to find them good adoptive homes.
Christine Swager found me in the bookstore area. She'd been an author guest at the festival in 2007 and had given me two thumbs up as a reference when the festival selection committee was considering me as a guest author early this year. Chris and I have been on several panels together at Revolutionary War historical sites. She introduced me to authors Charles F. Price and Jack (John) Buchanan.
In the auditorium, I heard the second half of the panel "Healing Historical Trauma: The Cherokee Removal." Panelist Myrtle Driver, a Cherokee tribal cultural traditionalist who translated Charles Frazier's Thirteen Moons into the Cherokee language, hadn't yet arrived. Rumors were that she was delayed in Cherokee, NC trying to purchase gas for her car. I still didn't comprehend what was going on or connect her dilemma with the lines I'd witnessed at gas stations in Burnsville. The panel was moderated by Charles Price. Other panelists were Jack Buchanan, whose latest release is Jackson's Way (about Andrew Jackson's role in the Trail of Tears); Dr. Barbara Duncan, education director of the Museum of the Cherokee in Cherokee; and Troy Wayne Poteete, a justice of the Supreme Court for the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma.
Regarding the Trail of Tears, Dr. Duncan, a folklorist, discussed the current psychology that when a culture is abused, displaced, or enslaved, the culture passes the trauma to subsequent generations. Folktales, she said, are the distilled wisdom of a culture. Folktales of the Cherokee usually begin, "This is what the old people told me," and end with something good coming to the people, the wisdom of how to cooperate and help others in a group. In contrast, folktales of the Europeans who removed the Cherokee in the Trail of Tears focus on the individual getting ahead. The Cherokee today strive to release their anger over their removal from lands they inhabited for so long. A provocative panel and discussion.
When I came out of the auditorium, I noticed that several copies of my books had already been sold. Usually that doesn’t happen until after I've given a presentation. I was distracted off that peculiarity by news that gas had become scarce in the southeast, due to Hurricane Ike's passage through the Gulf of Mexico. Refineries in the Gulf were being shut down. And gas prices had climbed well over the $4/gallon mark as consumers panicked over perceived scarcity. Did I mention that I was glad I'd listened to my instincts and filled up in Boone that morning? That meant I could return to Raleigh without having to tank up again.
Over lunch, people discussed the fate of Galveston, Texas, where the hurricane was predicted to make landfall. I wished I had access to a TV or radio. In Burnsville, my hostess, Lucy, had a dialup Internet connection, and I couldn't get a signal with my cell phone. I felt blind, queerly isolated from the catastrophe hammering Texas and the gas supply quirks.
In the authors' lounge, I met Vicki Lane, moderator for a Saturday panel with Sallie Bissell and Rose Senehi. Peggy Poe Stern, a native Appalachian author who'd been at my presentation for the High Country Writers the previous day, was also there with her husband.
My books continued to sell in advance of my Saturday reading and presentation, the stacks of both dwindling, so I fetched the last of them from my car and consigned them to Malaprops. Then I returned to the auditorium to hear Tony Grooms, keynote speaker, on "The Beloved Community." He spoke on the responsibility artists have of pointing the way to the greater social good, and the role of faith in creating art and social change. That's why spiritual and religious leaders are so often at the heart of social and political change. Another fascinating presentation.
After that, I listened to Jack Buchanan read a selection of short stories at Main Street Books. (How annoying that I'd left my copy of his Revolutionary War book, The Road to Guilford Courthouse, in Raleigh.) Main Street Books is a quaint shop in an older, true "brick-and-mortar" building not far from Town Center. The store's primary business is sales of gently used hardbacks. They also offer a small selection of new hardbacks and paperbacks.
At the main building, I ran into Lucy and Kathleen again. I hitched a ride with Lucy to her house to meet her sweet beagle, Annie; her beagle mix, Mr. Carmichael; and two doggies she was fostering, Lucy and Susie. I came alarmingly close to adopting the adorable beagle-terrier mix, Lucy. (I'm such a sucker for beagles. Thank goodness Kathleen found her a family Saturday.) Kathleen joined us, and we hopped in her Jeepster for a tour of Burnsville. We headed back to the festival in time to partake of Happy Hour, which actually lasted from 3:30 to 6:30 and was clandestinely undertaken at a nearby building and adjoining patio because Yancey County is "dry." Then all the authors and volunteers enjoyed Carolina BBQ.
Kathleen and Lucy planned to attend the party of a Burnsville resident named Dotty, who lived up the mountain. Sounded like great fun to me, so I went with them. Turned out that many of Dotty's guests were retired ex-Floridians. I decided that there couldn't be many retirees left in Florida because they'd all moved to Burnsville. Dotty and her friends had spacious homes in the mountains, no Florida heat or humidity, no hurricanes, and no traffic. What's not to like? Lucy kept introducing me as her author and making me feel as if I'd won a Pulitzer Prize. The sun set, a waning gibbous moon rose, and Lucy, Kathleen, and I, full from our BBQ dinner, admirably resisted the lure of the desserts and hors d'oeuvres. I never made it to the "Java Jam" back at the Town Center that night. Too tuckered out.
Many thanks to Lucy Doll, Kathleen Sioui, Dotty, Malaprops, Chris Swager, Charles F.Price, Jack Buchanan, and Dr. Barbara Duncan.