The southern states are mighty pretty in the summer but the heat can be unbearable. So we planned a trip for early June when the climate is more temperate and the bugs haven’t hatched out yet. And sure enough, it’s been bug-free and nicely cool but that’s because of the big thunderstorms rolling through every day. Record rainfall, they said. Lots of water. Well, two out of three ain’t bad!
John C. Campbell Folk School
After a few days at the John Campbell Folk School we have slid into a comfortable routine of campus life. Our campground sits high on a ridge, and from the east dawn spreads over our mountain view. Coffee is sipped under the awning where we are serenaded by spring birds and the ever-present chuckle of woodpeckers.
The school day officially begins with a tradition of Morningsong in the main hall, followed by breakfast in the dining room – both of which we skip as we dine en coach, and besides that’s way too early for me to be appropriately dressed and suitably social.
Classes start at 9:00…show up when you’re ready. I take a short walk down a wooded path to the Basket Studio, and Tim rides the motorcycle down a big hill to the Blacksmith Shop, the farthest flung classroom.
In the Basket Studio, seven of us sit at long tables and toil at our craft. The studio is spacious, well lit with windows, and filled with supplies and tools. Days have been sunny and mild, and I’m often outside at a picnic table sewing strips of bark together. Visitors from other classes stop in occasionally to peek at our projects.
Instructors are chosen from the top in their fields. They come prepared to teach 1-3 projects or are happy to assist if you want to divert onto different projects. I started with a difficult birch bark canister, the main project of the course. It was tricky construction using many unfamiliar techniques and took 2-1/2 days to complete. My canister turned out a bit crooked and tilted, so I’m glad we are not graded on our work- I would not have made the honor roll!
Most folks attending this off-season session are in the 40-80 year old range. I would expect a younger crowd in the summer. More than half are returning students, some on their fourth or fifth visit here, and I agree the experience is definitely worth repeating.
Keen friendships are formed in the studio, we all admire each other’s work and boo-hoo over failures. Instructors are quick to offer assistance or divert you to a less tasking project if you seem to be getting discouraged.
It’s an easy way to study new skills – entirely self-paced and if I need a break I can wander the lovely grounds, shop a bit at the craft store, or start a little side project. Ah, the life of a student at Folk School!
This week we are enthusiastic students at the John C. Campbell Folk School.
For 90 years this school has been teaching the lost arts of hand crafts – baskets, blacksmith, broom, caning, clay, dyeing, enamel, felt, jewelry, lace, leather, painting, quilting, soaps, spinning, weaving, woodworking, and so on. Each craft has a dedicated building or studio and the campus is spread out over several hundred acres. Lighted paths are threaded through the woods and along open meadows and most folks walk to class.
Programs are a week long and each week has a theme. We are here during Scandinavian week, so all the classes, food, and entertainment are centered around Nordic traditions. Tim is learning Viking style blacksmith techniques. His first project is to forge an axe head from a single billet of steel.
My project is Swedish Birch Bark Basketry, and I’m starting with a round canister basket project. The birch bark is surprisingly soft and supple and is sewn together much like leather work.
There are 115 students here this week, nearly a full house. Participants can choose lodging and meal packages for their stay. Room accommodations range from private cottages to not so private dormitories. It’s a bit like summer camp for adults. You can wander in and out of class or return in the evening after supper if you’re really dedicated.
Meals are served family style in the dining hall. Tables seat 10 and giant bowls of steaming food are served to each table…help yourself and pass the butter. Folks in the blacksmithing classes are encouraged to sit together and are served a little extra because “Those guys are a hungry bunch!”
The central meeting place, Keith House, has lively entertainment scheduled each evening, from storytelling to live music to contra dancing. There’s even yoga classes and chair massages offered several times during the week. We intend to enjoy it all this week!
We left Chattanooga this morning, and I must say that in the category of Public Shaming, the Pillory Award goes to…The State of Tennessee. They not only sentence law breakers to hours of community service picking up trash from the side of the interstate, but also add a special layer of scorn by making the felons wear a neon green vest with 10 inch high letters stating, “I AM A DRUNK DRIVER.” An interesting touch of humiliation, don’t ya think!
We followed Route 64 most of the day – a lovely divided highway, smooth as a bamboo fly rod, until it entered the Cherokee National Forest in NC. There the road narrows to one lane, snaking and twisting along the banks of the Ocoee River – a burbling and churning whitewater stretch of rapids.This must be a big destination river as we saw dozens of rafting expedition outfitters along the way, and scores of folks in kayaks trying their luck with the foaming water.
Mid-afternoon we arrived at our destination, the John Campbell Folk Art School. Here we will take hand-craft classes and enjoy the mountain scenery for the next few days.
The school has a large campus of buildings nestled in the woods and along back country roads. Tonight we are tucked into their teeny tiny campground – only a dozen or so sites placed haphazardly and at such odd angles that it took 20 minutes of maneuvering to stuff the coach into a spot. Good thing we’ve got a little camper!
We spent the day in downtown Asheville, poking about the shops and enjoying the surprisingly hip atmosphere. A splendid blend of eclectic architecture, galleries and boutiques, street musicians, and superb restaurants. Someone said Asheville is “the new Austin, only with a better view.”
Tim found a guitar-like instrument called a Woodrow, a cross between a banjo and a dulcimer. He entertained us later in the coach as we said our goodbyes.
A clear and cold morning broke today – 22 degrees on the top of the mountain where we are parked. This is pushing the camping season a bit early, but we stayed warm and toasty inside with the furnace running.
The Legacy of the Land bus tour was about two hours, and fascinating all the way. Our guide focused on Frederick Olmstead’s vision for the property which, 100 years later, is just now coming to fruition as the trees and landscape have finally matured.
In the late 1800’s, when Vanderbilt purchased the land, it had been stripped bare for farming. Olmstead was contracted to develop the property, and he envisioned a bucolic setting with a variety of trees and shrubs, babbling brooks and ponds. He collected specimens from all over the world and workers replanted most of the 8000 acres we see on the estate today.
Olmstead designed parks all over the US, including Central Park in New York and Louisville’s series of urban parks. He considered himself a naturalist, and believed in the “unconscious recreation of the mind,” meaning that humans need to encounter nature to release the stress of working in an industrial world, else we are in peril of becoming beasts. And if we examine the ghettos and slums of our own day, we can see Olmstead was indeed right.
So the three mile entrance to the Biltmore was designed to immerse you in a natural setting, especially when traveled by horse and carriage which took about an hour. Then, around a tight corner, the estate home is revealed, with its expansive groomed grounds, fountains, and flower beds. Wow!
We lunched at the Biltmore Winery, shopped around a bit, and returned to the campground to enjoy the warm afternoon with tea and homemade chocolates complements of my Dad.
The Biltmore is America’s largest home, with 250 rooms situated on 8000 acres nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
This enormous property was built in 1895 by George Vanderbilt, who called it his “country cottage”. The first generation of Vanderbilt’s built their wealth on railroads, and the grandson who constructed this estate not only inherited a fortune, but doubled it by his own enterprise. Thus proving a prime tenant of capitalism: Money will pool to the few.
The home is furnished with European antiques of all periods, from sixteenth century tapestries to Louis XIV furniture. There are three Ming Dynasty vases in the library, each big enough to hold a grown man. Richard Morris Hunt was the architect and interior decorator, and traveled the world with Vanderbilt hunting for furnishings. Frederick Law Olmstead designed the grounds, and considered it the pinnacle of his life’s work.
We took an afternoon tour of the interior, and regrettably they have a No Photography policy. I did manage to squeeze off a few shots when the docents weren’t looking.
The Vanderbilt’s entertained often at this home, and the house is arranged to properly keep Victorian-era guests comfortable and the genders separated. Various “healthful” activities were hosted during the day; horseback riding, outdoor games, indoor swimming, bowling, and a gymnasium. Ladies were given a maid to help them change for each activity, usually requiring 5-6 different outfits for a single day. A seven course dinner was served at 8pm, and guests were expected to be dressed in formal attire.
George Vanderbilt died in 1917 and his widow continued to use the house. Their daughter married into the Cecil family, and descendants still own the property today.
Today was a work day for me. I set up our display booth this morning and worked the Carolina Trade Show from 10 to 2:30. Tim helped with the set-up, and brought over lunch from the coach. It has been a real treat to travel in the motorhome instead of hauling luggage around an airport, and I’ll have to plan this type of biz trip more often!
We left the Charlotte area late afternoon, traveling under sunny skies back toward the Blue Ridge Mountains. The ever changeable weather turned cold again, sprinkled with light flurries.
Tonight we are camped high up on a mountain in Asheville at Campfire Lodgings resort. The view is spectacular from our site, perched right on the edge of the mountainside. This campground offers rental cabins and yurts, and has a ring of trails I hope to explore later.
Up – At the crack of daybreak to check the weather, and sure enough it was snowing pretty hard. Big fat, wet flakes that were piling up fast. Nearby Gatlinburg was scheduled to receive a heaping 8 inches of snow today, so we made a fast departure to the south.
Down – The mountain we fled hoping today wouldn’t be hours of blizzard driving.
Up & Down – The mountains we went, and as we crossed into North Carolina a splendid blue sky appeared. Apropos, that was also the name of the sweet little diner where we stopped for lunch.
Up – At home, when the coach was in the driveway, the handle to our freshwater tank valve snapped off in my hand. It broke at the stem, and the valve started dripping water out onto the pavement. Since we had plenty of time today, I thought Camping World could replace the handle.
Stay Down – Hours and hours went by. We looked at everything in the store, talked to the salesmen about RVs, paced back and forth in front of the service counter, and eventually took a nap in the lobby on pair of recliners for sale.
I snuck into the service bay- No Customers Allowed!- to check on the poor parakeet. A long black hose was strung through the inside of the coach, and little dude mechanic was underneath the chassis swearing at a stripped screw. Long story short, they ended up replacing not just the broken handle but the whole valve assembly and interior water lines. I’m going to say it needed repairing, and then we won’t ever speak of this again.
Up – And out we finally went at 4:30, having shot the whole day at the service bay. Now we’re racing to get to our destination before dark, two and a half hours away.
Down – About dusk we were within half a block of the campground and couldn’t find the blessed place. Using all electronic devices at once, the GPS, two smartphones, and an iPad, we finally pieced together all the maps and found Apollo RV Park hidden down a side road.
Up – A short hill, we are within eyesight of the Charlotte Motor Speedway (now called the Lowes Something-or-other Speedway) which is a giant NASCAR racing complex. This area is an odd conclave of serial RV parks and double-wide homes set in residential streets.
Out – Of here tomorrow we will be!