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This must be the place: There is no other way, and there never was

This must be the place: There is no other way, and there never was

Maybe it’s the espresso or maybe it’s the rush of blood to my heart from thinking about the faces and places that have led to this point. This week will mark 10 years since I first stepped foot in Waynesville and decided to call Western North Carolina home. 

July 2012 and I had my back against the wall. With freelance writing gigs drying up in my native North Country, I sent out dozens and dozens of resumes all around America in hopes of full-time work again. Resumes to small newspapers in Nebraska, Nevada, Michigan and points in between. For the love of god, someone hire me. Dammit. 

That spring of 2012, I almost took a gig on the coast of Maine. I remember borrowing my mother’s car to make the six-hour trek from Upstate New York to Damariscotta. I remember the cold and sterile newsroom. I remember the editor who told me from across his second-floor desk that if I worked for him, then I’d have to wear a shirt and tie every day while on assignment. And I remember the pungent odor of ink from the printing press downstairs.

I drove back to New York with the job offer in-hand. Six hours later, I handed my mother her car keys back and told her I wasn’t going to take the job. Something just didn’t feel right about it. Honestly, I felt there was something better waiting for me just around the corner. All I had to do was hold out a little bit longer. My friends and other loved ones thought I was crazy to turn down the Maine gig. 

Nah, I knew better — always (always) follow your intuition. It’ll never lead you astray. I’d rather starve to death in pursuit of a dream than be cozy and warm and miserable existing in some life I dreaded waking up and walking into. I’d rather stroll down a rugged path of passion than drive down a paved road of complacency.

Two months later, I got a call from The Smoky Mountain News. They liked my resume and the clips of old articles I’d sent along. After another two rounds of interviews, I was asked by my publisher, Scott McLeod, to come down to Haywood County for a final onsite and in-person interview. I told him I didn’t have enough money to drive down in hopes of a job. He gave me some gas money. I said I’d see him in a few days.

Jumping into my beat up 2001 GMC Sonoma, I made the 1,100-mile trek in record time. Driving some 16+ hours nonstop, I only stopped for gas and a quick cat nap at a Virginia rest area along Interstate 81. I slept in the bed of the truck underneath the camper shell. A simple sleeping bag and two musty pillows. I could hear the tractor-trailers zooming by the rest area to destinations unknown. I couldn’t sleep, for tomorrow might be the start of a whole new life.

And it was. I arrived in Waynesville on Friday afternoon and did the interview. I wrote a couple stories on the fly to see if I could handle the news beat and vibe of this fine publication. When that weekend ended, I was offered the job. I accepted and said I’d be back in a little over a week. I had to say goodbye to my family who were vacationing up in Maine. And I had to head back to New York to pack up with truck, only to circle back another whirlwind 1,100 miles to Haywood County.

The first week I lived in Waynesville I slept under my desk at the old Smoky Mountain News office, which is now the Church Street Depot. My old desk is now where the register sits. I slept under the desk until I got that first paycheck, which would cover rent for the first and last month of an apartment that I still reside in all these years later. 

Back then, at age 27, I had $33 in my bank account when I laid down on the newsroom floor in my sleeping bag and two musty pillows, wondering what adventures awaited me in the coming days, weeks and months ahead in my unknown future. A decade later, I can’t even begin to scratch the surface of the people, places and things that I’ve been able to cross paths with — as a curious journalist, but more so a curious human being — either on purpose or by happenstance (which are the best kind of interactions).

Back then, I had only planned on living in Western North Carolina for a year. The plan was to save up enough money to get myself back to the West, back to the Grand Teton Mountains and Eastern Idaho, just over the ridge from Jackson, Wyoming (my most favorite place on this planet). Ten years later, I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else besides the ancient Great Smoky and Blue Ridge mountains.

Ah, the simple and intricate nature of nothing and everything, and then some. Nothing matters in this universe besides treating others with kindness, with empathy, and with endless curiosity. There are billions of people in this world. Each cosmic entity of flesh and blood has a story, each as fascinating and wondrous as the next. And the goal remains within me to tell as many of those tales as I can — to meet, interact and dive deep into the endless depths of the human condition and the human experience.

I remain curious. I remain hopeful for whatever lies just around the corner, ready to surprise me at a moment’s notice, whether it be friendship, love or an adventure (or all three at once). Whatever is out there, I will always run towards the unknown horizon in a reckless abandon, a grin from ear to ear, the winds of change forever blowing through my hair and swirling around my body in motion, and in real time.

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all. 

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1 comment

  • There is something about these mountains that touches one’s soul. My ancestors, my very young years, the happiest memories were from the Blue Ridge Mountains and their hollers. My life took me from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from the U.S. to Italy and back. Yet my longings drew me back to my roots. I am not alone as I hear my story repeated by the multitudes who have returned. I was not military connected either.

    posted by Mary Eileen

    Sunday, 07/31/2022

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