Visiting the North Carolina Arboretum was sort of an afterthought. We had spent the day exploring the Blue Ridge Parkway and were looking for something interesting to do before dinner. This was on my list of interesting places and it was open till 9 p.m. so we set out for a much needed walk after a day spent largely in the car.
This 400+ acre arboretum has beautiful flower gardens and trails, offering something for everyone. There are lots of water features as well as nooks and crannies that feel like secret gardens and spaces to get lost.
Plus there are so many amazing sounds of birds, frogs and crickets that create a soundtrack like no other.
They do have an education center that was closed for a special event. There’s also a restaurant and bonsai garden that were already closed for the day. That was fine by me because we had a terrific time out exploring the pretty flowers and woodland trails.
Parking is $16 per car. You can get lots more information by visiting their website. I took so many pictures, you’ll likely see more here in the future.
If you are in Asheville, I highly recommend this place. It’s great for all ages and, if you take kids, look for the treasure hunt maps to help them stay engaged and on the lookout for interesting things!
Twelve years ago, my parents noticed that many of the older graves in our family cemetery no longer receive flowers for Memorial Day or at any other time of year. Even the ones that traditionally had been decorated every year no longer received visitors. I imagine that those who traditionally cared for them were people like my grandparents who have passed.
My dad commented on how lonely some of the graves seemed. Forgotten, he said. These aren’t just stone slabs in the ground. He pointed out that each grave represents someone’s parent, sibling, child, friend. Each grave represents someone who walked this earth, breathed air, lived and died. To someone at some time, every person buried in that cemetery was the most important person in the world.
My folks had this conversation the day before Memorial Day 2010. The two sprang into action — my dad heading to the garage and my mom to the dollar store. Dad constructed simple wooden crosses using lumber he had on hand. My mom purchased inexpensive silk flowers to attach to each cross. And by the following day, they had enough wooden crosses adorned with flowers to place at every grave in Garrett Cemetery where some of my immediate family is buried.
By the following year, they had painted all those crosses white, echoing the simplicity of the famous white crosses in Arlington.
Sadly, we lost another one of our own this year. My aunt Maryann left this world in August, joining her parents, husband and child in the little cemetery down the road from my home. My dad went back to the garage to assemble another white cross.
Thirty-five souls rest in that cemetery and thirty-five white crosses have been lovingly placed by my parents again this year.
They are modest people and don’t do it for the attention. It is a simple act but one with great impact. It is a moving sight, these white crosses. My mother insists that if every person who takes flowers to a grave would take an extra bouquet for someone who doesn’t receive visitors, the world would be a better place. I think she is right.
I wish I knew more of the stories behind the headstones but I do know some. My grandma’s brother died of influenza, just a toddler in 1922. My aunt and uncle — two of my favorite humans ever — each died young, leaving behind a hole in our family like none other.
My great-great-uncle Hobart Garrett was a farmer who died an old bachelor. There is an empty space next to him that I presume was for a wife who he never met living out here in the country. Hobart’s sister was a school teacher who had no kids of her own and who seemed to not really like kids. I have a small hand bell she used at the school as well as a handful of postcards, textbooks and even a purse that belonged to her.
All 35 were people just like you and me. All of them had a story to tell. Even if we don’t remember their stories, it’s nice to honor their memories.
My parents seem to think that no one else notices their crosses but I notice and I’m glad they do it.
If you’re out and about decorating graves this Memorial Day, perhaps consider taking extra flowers for a neglected grave or at least take a moment to brush the grass clippings off some headstones. Small gestures such as these may not change the world but you never know who is watching and besides, you’ll know that you did something nice for someone who can offer nothing in return.
Yesterday I showed you pictures of this pretty little church in Pineola, North Carolina. What I didn’t tell you is that it was raining sideways when we arrived and that we had to wait it out to snap a few pictures.
While we were sitting in the car, I glanced over at a shelter house on the church property and could see what appeared to be an angel praying.
I sat there for a while before asking my friend if she could see it too. Haha. I sort of didn’t trust my own eyes!
Turns out, it is a larger than life angel carved from wood. The artist took great care in the details including the texture of her hair and wings.
I was fascinated by her and overcome with wonder at why she is here. She is simply sitting at the edge of this shelter house surrounded by picnic tables and a grill. It’s like someone put her there temporarily and forgot to come back for her.
It made me both sad that she’s seemingly being neglected in this spot and spectacularly happy that she exists in the first place.
These small discoveries are the reason why I keep exploring. You never know what you might find!
During our travels through the mountains north of Asheville, we found ourselves driving through a small town called Pineola.
It was here that I caught a glimpse of an old church that caused me to scream that we had to stop. Haha. My poor friend was driving and had never experienced my irrational demands to stop and go back immediately.
Isn’t it pretty?
With wood shingle siding and stained glass windows, Pineola Presbyterian Church is one of the prettiest and most unique churches I have seen.
The hillside behind the church holds an older cemetery and there’s a shelter house with picnic tables where I imagine the church holds events.
Here’s another look from the cemetery.
There are churches everywhere you look in North Carolina. This one is tidy and so pleasant it’s tempting to go back for a service someday just to see inside.
The best things in life are rarely found in the places you plan to go. They typically occur at unlikely times and in places where you least expect to find something special.
That’s exactly what happened when we were searching for lunch on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We had packed snacks and drinks but hadn’t planned for our midday meal. According to our trusty map (always carry a map because cell service is unreliable in the mountains), we were approaching a small town called Little Switzerland.
As you exit the Parkway, you will immediately see a resort called Switzerland Inn. It’s home to fine dining, shopping, a spa and more. But if you keep going, there’s a little area on the side of the mountain where you’ll find the village post office and a complex that includes a restaurant, general store and bookstore.
That’s right, friends.
In the middle of the wilderness, in a town populated by approximately 46 people – yours truly found a bookstore.
It was a proud moment.
We were there for lunch, not books, so our first stop was the Little Switzerland Cafe. Here we had the best meal I’ve eaten in ages.
The food was prepared fresh and served by a handful of waitresses who know how to hustle. We did have to wait a few minutes for a table because it was quite busy with locals and tourists including lots of folks on bicycles and motorcycles.
It was worth the wait.
They have vegetarian options and everything is made with what tasted like very fresh ingredients. My quiche had a flaky, buttery crust and was served with a fresh salad and homemade bread. The attention detail was impressive especially for the price which was about $10.
In the general store you’ll find some souvenirs and handmade items as well as some things you might need while out adventuring like aspirin and bandaids.
The bookstore, though, is the stuff that dreams are made of. It looks tiny from outside but the store is multiple rooms that wind around and reach into the basement. It’s packed from floor to ceiling with new and used books and interesting things to see in every nook and cranny.
At this point in the trip I had already purchased an alarming amount of books so I practiced restraint and purchased just one – a lovely little pocket sized copy of Thoreau’s “Walden.”
Little Switzerland was such a fabulous diversion that I badly want to go back to stay at the inn and explore the area (and the bookstore) more.
By the way, people like to think of Appalachia and rural areas as being backward. There are charging stations for your electric car right outside that bookstore.
Little Switzerland Books and Beans can be found online here. Learn more about Switzerland Cafe here. And if you’re interested in staying, there are a few options in the area including Switzerland Inn which we passed on our way on and off the Parkway. Find it here.
It’s Thursday of what is turning out to be a very long week. The path of least resistance is pretty darn appealing right now.
So, instead of actually writing something that requires thought and effort, here’s a pretty picture to remind you to schedule yourself for some rest or adventure or whatever it is you need this weekend. It’s a long holiday weekend for many of us. Try not to waste it all on yard work and Netflix. Instead spend time doing the things that make your heart and mind truly happy.
I really wish I had a pep talk in me today but I’m running low on pep. Just remember that self care is not an indulgence and it is not selfish. It’s a form of self preservation and you owe yourself that much.
So, go forth and take care of yourselves, friends. We will resume our trip through North Carolina next time.