But it is seriously in the boonies (in fact, I think that's where the term might have originated). Untouched by most of the ugly industry you find in cities - I had forgotten how green and verdant this area of the country is. It's all that fog in the mornings - Smokey Mountains indeed. It's not hurting for water like so much of the country and is just beautiful as a result.
Across the road was the garden where the chef picked herbs for our country breakfast each morning and where we met the bees who produced the souvenirs we purchased.
Behind it is the old school house (now a giftshop). I think this is where storyteller Orville Hicks' (Ray Hicks' nephew) went to school. Although after reading his biography, I'm pretty sure he hung out in the woods more than in this building. Wouldn't you if you had to hike all the way down a mountain to go to school, only to have the kids make fun of your overalls and your Elizabethan accent?
Stan and I went to meet Ted Hicks (Ray's son) in Banner Elk. He's not doing too well health-wise right now. Even so, he regaled us with jokes and wonderful stories including a Jack Tale of his own invention "Jack and the Octopus." From what we heard, he keeps the entire life center entertained! (Doesn't surprise me a bit.) He came into the storytelling tradition a little later in life, but now he's considered one of the true keepers of the Jack Tales. I'm so glad I got to meet him.
The next morning we headed up to "The Beech." You've probably seen images of the Hicks' family home as Bob Timberlake (yes, that Bob Timberlake) made them famous in his paintings Ray's Place and Ray's Moon. (Click the links to see his artwork of the Hicks' home.)
Lynn Salsi tried to join us - but couldn't. Nor could Lisa Baldwin, but she did hook us up with Amy Michels - probably one of the best claw-hammer banjo players in the area and a subsistence farmer.
In fact, Amy is a bit famous herself. A producer from the BBC joined us to scout out Amy's and Rosa's farms for an upcoming documentary, which didn't seem to phase Amy a bit.
She is a dear friend to the Hickses, so we were thrilled to have her as escort. She even pulled out her banjo.
Here's who I went all that way for... Rosa Hicks (Ray's widow). Although she tended to step back whenever the limelight was on her husband, Rosa is a singer and storyteller in her own right. You just have to catch her when she's not in the kitchen.
Here I am with Leonard and Rosa (and a man doing some work at the house).
Stan went with Leonard to pick some cabbage and potatoes for us to buy. (They sell much of their produce these days.) Have you ever picked a potato straight out of the ground? Rosa said 'taters' were her favorite food. I suppose if they were the only thing between you and starvation, they'd be yours too.
Stan got a workout diggin' up 'taters' - here was the haul:
THAT is why this trip was so important and why I'm so glad we went. Of course, now the work begins to turn it all into a book. 100's of years and generations of storytellers telling Jack Tales. Think I can do it?
On our way home, we stopped in Asheville, North Carolina and I'd be remiss not to mention Lauren Patton's ZaPow! gallery and Leslie Hawkins' Spellbound Children's Bookshop right in the heart of downtown. Lauren is an aspiring children's book creator and getting to see her was yet another fun connection on this voyage of connecting.
So now we're back in the big city and we've certainly eaten well since our return... cream of potato and leek soup, cabbage and potato stew. With each bite I'm reminded how lucky I am with my modern conveniences, but also to have touched a world of stories and history that continues to add such value to my life.
And I've noticed an interesting trend... Whenever I follow the path the Jack Tales put before me, good things tend to happen. I think I might follow that clever boy for a might bit longer.