Monday, August 18, 2008

Asheville Before School Starts

I made a very quick trip out to Asheville before school starts--been hearing a bunch about the place and, of course, it was everything I'd heard and more. Reminds me of Burlington, Vermont, Northampton, Massachusetts, and Portland, Oregon--the combination of restaurants and grunge and people with money, too. I'm looking forward to spending some more time out there in another year. But right now I want to talk about four things in particular.

As I was driving up Patton Street, towards (what I understand to be) the center of town, I saw an obelisk. And I said, ah, that must be a monument to the Confederacy; I'm guessing it was put up in the early twentieth century. So, after parking the car in a nearby lot (complete with spray-painted "Tourists Go Home"--gotta love the local flavor!) and a walk back there, I see that I was pretty much on the mark. It's a monument put up in the late 1930s to Zebulon Vance--governor of our state during the Civil War. And, of course, it was put up by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. So I was pretty close; and what to my wondering eyes did appear in front of it, but a smaller granite monument put up in the 1924, also by the UDC, marking Dixie Highway and commemorating Robert E. Lee. So far, so good. Actually, calling this stuff is like shooting fish in a barrel--every southern town needs its confederate monument and they're almost all from the early twentieth century. So you can impress your friends and family by making these kinds of predictions. Let's see, big monument; southern town; ... "well, [affecting voice of authority], I bet that's an early twentieth century monument to the confederacy." And almost all the time you'll be right!

So a walk down towards the enormous courthouse and what do I see: a bunch of hippies surrounding a magnolia tree. As close readers of GreeneSpace will recall, I love magnolia trees--and so does pretty much everyone else, which is part of the reason why the moonlight and magnolia school was so popular. They were camping out, protesting the impending destruction of the tree to create ... a condominium, right next to the park they're building! They crux of this seems to be a decision by the local authorities to sell land left to the city by George Pack. One recent report talks about it in this way: "The park land was willed to the people forever by two deeds of the late and benevolent George Pack. The deeds and land now in question are said by many to have been improperly, if not illegally, sold by Buncombe County Commissioners in November 2006." Hmm, I'd want to see the deeds (or will, I take it in this case)--sounds like a gift in fee simple absolute, but perhaps there was a restriction on use or sale?!

Now, I part company with hippies on some issues--like property rights. However, I'm always happy to see people exercising their constitutional rights in order to encourage the rest of us to spare trees from the ax--particularly the ancient, beautiful, and slow-growing magnolia. Sounds like a new piece of what I might call hippie jurisprudence. There's something about trees, which appeals to my sense of vested rights. The old ones are venerable in part because they are old; they've survived the test of time, so that alone is a reason to preserve them, it seems to me. (Not to mention that trees as a stand-in in southern literature for families.)

Anyway, after a short time at the protest, I spotted yet another monument to the side of the courthouse. And this time as I approached it, I guessed--based on the stones--that it was from the 1880s or 1890s. Bingo! 1893 monument to soldiers at Chickamauga in 1863. Ah, gotta love monuments and monument law--and what a day when you see them all combined.

And now I'm ready for school to start, because this has been just the perfect summer.

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