Opinion Latest

We’re the lucky ones; we live here

We’re the lucky ones; we live here File photo

As I think ahead to 2024, I can’t help but feel so lucky to live here, in these mountains. 

My wife, Lori, and I both have family members — parents, siblings — who live in eastern North Carolina. Because of that, we’ve plowed a gulch down Interstate 40, making that drive countless times in the 31 years we’ve called Waynesville, Haywood County and Western North Carolina home.

Perhaps you’ve made that drive often, and maybe you have had this same experience: each time I’m headed westward toward home and get past the exit to Marion and the mountains spring into view, a feeling of exhilaration sweeps over me. Home is right there, in those mountains where we raised our children. I can’t wait to start that climb up and over the Eastern continental divide to where rivers and creeks flow clear and they flow west, into the Tennessee River and on to the muddy Mississippi before making their way past New Orleans and into the Gulf of Mexico.

On Jan. 1, 2024 — yesterday as I write this — Lori and I took a short hike, almost two hours. We walked out our front door, down the steps, turned left and started up the mountain that rises behind our home. It’s a strenuous climb, but soon we’re right at 4,000 in elevation and are probably a half mile — as the crow flies — from our house. There are sweeping views to the east and west from atop the mountain. Living on a mountain can be tough in the winter, but there are payoffs: it’s often as much as 8 degrees cooler in the summer than it is in downtown Waynesville, and we can take a hike without getting in the car.

I feel damn lucky to be able to do that. It’s why I live here. But it’s not just the weather, the beauty and the awesome people and friends we’ve made over the years. There’s also the places and establishments that have become like old friends. I’ll throw my list of those out there, and I encourage any of our readers send me their faves or to add to this list.

• Shining Rock Wilderness Area/Sam’s Knob — it’s been one of our family’s go to hiking and camping spots for years. It’s just a stunning area with lots of different vantage points, open fields and forests, a creek to wade in on hot days and even a waterfall if you hike toward Graveyard Fields.

Related Items

• Downtown Waynesville, Canton, Sylva, Franklin and Bryson City — All these towns have a quaintness and picture-perfect main streets and business districts. I can go into detail about each of them, but I’ll leave it at that: I love our downtowns.

• WNCW and Blue Ridge Public Radio — Somehow, we have both of these stations in Western North Carolina. During the holidays I was reminded of this as Martin Anderson of WNCW was playing from the top 100 list of 2023 albums, a feature I look forward to every year. I wanted to just keep driving my truck and listening. WNCW may be the best public radio station in the country, or at least it has the best music. Blue Ridge Public Radio also punches above its weight with news coverage of the region.

• Tuckasegee River — The beauty of the stretch of the Tuck flowing through Webster has taken my breath away on many occasions, especially when a line of fly-fishing anglers can be seen casting.

• Blue Ridge Books/City Lights Bookstore and all the other bookstores in the region — I don’t read as much as I’d like, but bookstores — like newspapers — remain comforting to me, warm and inviting. We have two of the best.

• Blue Ridge Beer Hub — Great selection of beer and brewing supplies, but it also has one of the friendliest pub atmospheres I’ve ever encountered. That’s due in large part to its owner, bartenders and the regulars. Cheers to all of them. One of my favorite places.

• Innovation Brewing/Cosmic Carryout — OK, so I like craft beer. Innovation has reliably some of the best brews in the region. And I love the atmosphere and the clunky wooden tables and chairs at the original Sylva location. By my estimation, (and I’m sure I’m not alone,) Cosmic’s Bronco Burger is a food-truck classic.

• Bent Creek mountain biking trails — We live in a mountain biking Mecca, but Bent Creek has become our go to for fun, just-technical-enough trails and surprisingly uncrowded riding. Of course, Tsali is also a jewel, it’s just further for us.

• Ten Acre Garden — One of the most comforting ways I know of to spend a Saturday afternoon with friends is at this place. Picnic tables, homemade pizzas, bring your own beverage, music, kids screaming and running around and mountain views any way you turn.

• Rocks — Why do I love living here? Because my property grows rocks. I’ve done a good measure of landscaping around our home from rocks that I’ve put in piles over the years around our 1.5-acre property. I’ve invited friends who needed rocks to come get some. And each year it seems there are plenty more. Unexplainable that the rocks just never get depleted. Perhaps a geologist will enlighten me.

I started this with no idea how far it would go, so let me end with these additions to the list: Deep Creek in Swain County, LeConte Lodge in the Smokies, the back porch of Frog Level Brewing and Panacea Coffee, Lake Junaluska’s walking path, the Jackson County Courthouse, HART Theater, Asheville Greenway, the original Wedge Brewery in Asheville, Barley’s Pizza, road bike riding in Bethel, spring wildflowers, rime-covered mountaintops, big snowfalls … I could go on and on.

As we kick off the new year, I’ll just say it again: I feel lucky to live here.

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

Smokey Mountain News Logo
Go to top
Payment Information


At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.