North Carolina Tour

On Tuesday, June 12, 2018, Beatrice, James Ambrose and I began a four day tour of North Carolina. The idea for the jaunt was to make a loop around parts of the state with which the children and I were all unfamiliar. I made a list of possible destinations, we packed our things, and set out.

The goals for the trip were:

  • See places we've never or rarely seen

  • See art

  • Swim

  • Walk - cities and parks

Above all, I planned to do some family tuning. In Asheville, we stopped for pizza and then met a friend for a walk. I enjoy Asheville's counterculture vibes but that evening it reawakened the old longing to relocate somewhere, anywhere but wherever I'm living. We spent the night in a motel, then the kids swam in the motel's pool the next morning before we set out for Mt. Mitchell, the highest peak in the eastern United States. On the way, we stopped at the Folk Art Center, a museum and market featuring artwork and handicrafts from the Appalachians.

Mt. Mitchell was fog-cloaked and rainy. Kids were scared and uncomfortable and protested being there but toughed it out admirably. We had a three hour stretch to Greensboro so we sang a couple of childrens' songs (I Been Workin' on the Railroad, Skip to my Lou) and I rewarded their fortitude with a surprise ice cream - the last thing they expected! They were very serious about those cones.

Greensboro has railroad lines going through its downtown, so it reminds me of a much larger Spartanburg. Elsewhere is a place unlike any other, a museum and a playground and a continually shifting incubator for artists. I had visited there once before, with Lily ca. 2008, and in the intervening decade the space's dedication to lateral-thinking art projects has been maintained beautifully, even as the amorphous organism that is the museum itself changes rapidly.

On Friday, we spent some high-quality time with Justus Knights in the state's capital. Raleigh also is home to the North Carolina Museum of Art, where we saw collections ranging from Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome to European and American portraiture, pre-Columbian pottery and sculpture as well as Renaissance oils. We saw works by Auguste Rodin, Kihende Wiley and Alberto Giacometti, all of whose human images are as startling as they are arresting.

Beatrice and Ambrose, reflecting (when questioned about what made impressions on them) upon the museum visit, noticed the nudity of much of the work, especially classical Greek sculpture and the large, dark bronze casts of Rodin's powerful figures. They puerily wondered about the dismemberment of the bodies represented, through wear and breakage and otherwise.


This short tour was packed with content thanks to its improvisational spirit. It was modeled, structurally, on a reckless and ramshackle tour of six states undertaken in 2015: Western North Carolina, all of Tennessee, crossing the state line in Arkansas and then zipping through Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. The basic idea for that one was to go as far west as possible before I had to turn around and there were no destinations chosen in advance of getting in the car.

Several destinations on the NC tour were not decided beforehand, but a number of them instead were loosely sketched out. Mt. Mitchell was chosen because I had happened to see a road sign on the way to the motel near Asheville on Tuesday evening, and hoped we could do some hiking the next day. It was both relaxing and stimulating to be free of strict routine and free to roam. The most fundamental aim of the trip was getting the family more in line, and we made progress in that.