Coming home to the mountains

Published 2:36 pm Wednesday, July 13, 2022

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I’m back for another fun Tryon summer. This is how we make things work for us while Paul’s job keeps us in Phoenix. I stay in Tryon all summer, and Paul joins me when he can. When we retire, we’ll both get to come home for good, and I look forward to that day.

I consider myself lucky to have a place to which I feel so connected. Not everyone does. I grew up in Asheville, and now I only feel at home in these beautiful mountains. When Paul and I drive across the country every summer, we note the changes in color as we pass through landscapes, from shades of tan in the desert to the pale greens mid-country, and finally to the lush variations of green in Western North Carolina. I feel the stress leaving my body as I near home, and we both relish that first aromatic deep breath that tells us we’re back in our mountains.

When I was a child, my father was the president of the Carolina Mountain Club. We hiked and camped as a family, and it’s those memories that add to my sense of belonging here. A job took my dad to Texas after living in Asheville for eighteen years, but he came back home to Asheville when he retired and served as the president of the Carolina Mountain Club for a second time.

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One of our family traditions was attending the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games. Since 1956, these Scottish games—now the largest in the world—have been a part of what draws people to Western North Carolina for unique adventures.

Paul and I recently attended the 2022 games and shared our experience with several Tryon friends. North Carolina boasts the largest population of people of Scottish ancestry than any other state or country, including Scotland. But you don’t have to be Scottish to enjoy the four days of music, food, dancing, demonstrations, and competitions. You might even be tempted to buy yourself a kilt or one of many quality souvenirs offered at the vendor tents. I ordered myself a kilt on this trip to the games and look forward to wearing it there next year.

In addition to a love for the mountains, my father also gave me a Scottish last name, and so I always look for the MacNab tent at the games to meet my clanspeople. My husband also has a Scottish surname which I proudly chose when I became an author and wanted a pen name. Paul also remembers attending the Highland Games as a child. It’s funny to think we might have been there at the same time when we were children.

I left North Carolina as a young woman to pursue a career in Los Angeles, where I lived for 27 years. I loved my life there. I worked as a model and commercial actor and dated some interesting men. But I married a boy from Asheville.

We reconnected in our forties after knowing each other at Asheville High School decades before. He lived in Atlanta, and I lived in L.A., but we met in Asheville for our first date which included a hike to Craggy Gardens and dinner at the Grove Park Inn.

I have no doubt that our shared love for North Carolina played a role in our decision to marry. He was the only man I’d dated who knew how cold the water was at the bottom of Sliding Rock, who could sing the Asheville High fight song with me, and who recognized and longed for that specific fragrance of the air in the mountains where we were from.

We were married in Asheville, and seven years later, we made the move from L.A. to Tryon to make ourselves a mountain life. I was blissfully happy in Tryon, as I’m sure you’re aware if you’ve ever read my columns in the paper. A job opportunity too perfect to say no to came along for Paul, and we moved to Phoenix after four years in Tryon. We’ve returned as often as we could for visits and made my summers here a regular affair. The plan has always been to retire to this place.

As I sat in the stands of the opening ceremony at the Highland Games this year, the sun had set and lightning lit up the dark clouds above Grandfather Mountain in a spectacle money could never buy. Games officials told stories about the history of the Scottish people who settled here many generations ago because the mountains reminded them of their beloved Scottish Highlands. I thought of all the people in the history of these mountains, including those who were here before any Europeans, and how they must have felt the same power of the view I had.

Our last Highland Games host spoke to a silent crowd as he welcomed us back to Grandfather Mountain. His final words were, “Now you are home.”

I wondered how many of the people around me felt that same pull that tugged at my heart, that same lump in my throat, that feeling that those words were personal.

If you’re fortunate enough to live here, I wish for you the same heartfelt love I have for our beautiful home: for Tryon, for North Carolina, and for the mountains.