When you live in a vacation destination, you must be willing to put up with tourists. At least, this is what I’ve been telling myself every summer (and every October) since I moved permanently to Brevard, North Carolina, well over a decade ago.
Brevard, like other cool mountain towns, tends to swell in size once the weather warms. Folks head here to hike, camp, bike, paddle, and climb, stay for a weekend or transition to their summer homes. When I first moved here those years ago, town stayed fairly sleepy until Memorial Day weekend. Now, the “summer people,” as we tend to call them, often arrive at Easter and don’t leave until after Labor Day. (Then, of course, they’re back for October, because it’s glorious.)
It’s easy to forget that you live in a special spot when you’re not on vacation in it. For example, I’ve grown somewhat immune to the delight of a white squirrel sighting, and packs of middle-aged men in cycling spandex no longer take me aback. When parked cars stretch for a mile along the curvy, two-lane road past Looking Glass Falls, and it takes an hour to exit the Pisgah National Forest when everyone decides to up and leave at the same time, I try to hide my exasperation.
Thank goodness I’ve taught my own children to be more benevolent. (There may be no truer—and desperate—parenting adage than, “Do as I say, and not as I do.”) On our way out of the forest the other day after a hike with my daughters and our dog, we followed a long line of cars moving at about eight miles per hour. I mumbled something under my breath: something along the lines of, “We’re waiting until Fall to come back to the forest.”
My eight-year-old—she of the bat-like hearing—said, “Aren’t we lucky to live somewhere people want to come on their vacations? You know, Mama, there are a lot of people out there who don’t get to live in the mountains.”
Children serve many purposes in our lives. They teach us about love and selflessness and a bunch of other really important stuff. Mostly? They’re here to deflate our egos.
I’m ashamed to admit that often, on my busy way to school or work or various activities with my children in tow, I crest one of the many hills around my town and forget the fact that we are surrounded, 360 degrees, by mountains. Or perhaps I don’t pay attention to the way the fog lolls about along the ancient river bottomlands, as gauzy as a dream.
When both my calendar and my brain are far busier than they need to be, I overlook the world around me. I miss the joy of a 56-degree August morning, or the fact that I get to hear a thrum of crickets, cicadas and tree frogs each night, instead of a highway overpass.
After my daughter’s unknowing admonishment, I decided to take notice. The next morning, I smiled as I sat in traffic next to Bracken Mountain Bakery downtown, watching the tables outside fill with retired couples, hikers and cyclists, all savoring the sugar rush and jolt of caffeine. I chuckled—because I’ve been there—at parents whose children dragged them bodily through the cheerful, open doors of O.P. Taylor’s Toy Store.
Really, it’s ever so much fun to play the tourist in your own town. When you do, you see things you might have forgotten about the place where you’ve chosen to make your life—things visitors find unique and lovely. When friends arrive from out of town, they find wonder in the Brevard I take for granted—be it a white squirrel, a local brew or rollicking street dance—and their smiles are bright, open and unhurried.
Yes, I know they can afford to be that way. They are, after all, here on vacation. But so what? Tourists remind me to cherish my chosen home, and after they’re gone I’ll miss their bustle and joy at being here. Plus—and this is pure truth—there’s more than enough for everybody.
Katherine Scott Crawford is a novelist, hiker and mom who hopes you decide to play tourist in your own town the first chance you get. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.