Thursday, August 15, 2013

Look Homeward Lightning Bugs

This summer the lightning bugs returned to the farm after a long absence and we were so happy to welcome them home.  We returned too, to the summer places and attractions of our youth.

We returned to historic Tryon Palace in New Bern, North Carolina. We haven’t been there in 20 years when we took our children. We used to go there with our grandparents. But that’s not the reason you should go. This is.

If you’re keen on America’s colonial history, love historic restorations and hate crowds, you could skip Colonial Williamsburg (very crowded) and have a super experience in New Bern. There is a new splendid History Center with interactive exhibits that could convince any recalcitrant child that museums are the coolest thing on this planet.  The Governor's Palace and surrounding gardens and historic houses kept us fascinated and entertained for hours. We had a excellent lunch on the terrace of the History Center overlooking the mighty river Neuse. Oh, and before we forget: George Washington not only slept there, he danced there too.

We also went to Asheville, North Carolina. We haven’t been there in 50 years (not kidding) and were blown away by the culture, nature and ‘joie de vivre’ on offer in this southern mountain city.

If you go, don’t miss the drum circle that takes place downtown every Friday night. Hippies, hiphop grannies, kids, dogs - you name it, they’ll beat it. And try to get in a hike in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park  - think the ‘Last of the Mohicans’ with Daniel Day Lewis that was filmed there. We love the story of the park’s creation. In 1926, although Congress authorized its establishment , there was no federally owned land there. Philanthropists such as John D Rockefeller, and ordinary citizens of North Carolina and Tennessee - and I love this, the travel writer Horace Kephart and photographer George Masa, - campaigned tirelessly to create what is now a 500,000 acre achingly-beautiful preserve.

Also, don’t miss a visit to the homeplace and memorial of Thomas Wolfe, giant of American literature and author of Look Homeward Angel and You Can’t Go Home Again. The experience is so outstanding that it makes you want to run home and read Wolfe’s very, very long books all over again.

Finally, don’t do what we did and miss the Biltmore Estate, George Vanderbilt’s 250-room chateau built in 1895 that at 178,296 square feet, remains America’s largest privately owned house.  Bill Gates’s shack at 66,000 square feet pales in comparison. Alas, we didn’t have the time.

And so our summer of re-visitation came to an end. Last night as we walked up the driveway for the last time, our way was lit by a thousand little flickering lighthouses, lit by the flies we call bugs that are really beetles and I thought of Thomas Wolfe who ended one of the best passages in Look Homeward Angel with the line, “This is a moment."