We drove four hours west to Brevard, North Carolina. On the way, we munched on Dunkin’ Donuts, fruit snacks, Sour Patch Kids, and cashews. And we entertained ourselves with chatter about family, hometowns, and what it means to bring yourself and your racial background into a new place. You look around for signs that you are safe, that there are folks like you who have arrived before and decided to make their home here. The talk turned toward “diversity,” whatever that means these days, and we took to our smart phones, googling “U.S.A.’s most diverse cities,” and comparing the statistics and fact sheets on the most and least diverse places to live. We made a verbal note to avoid the Ohio/Kentucky/West Virginia border region.
Once we reached Brevard, we were rerouted around the small downtown area, which was blocked off for the white squirrel festival. “White squirrel festival?! Do you think they have real squirrels? I didn’t see one last time we were here. I want to see a white squirrel.”
Brevard is the land of waterfalls, and it delivers on its name. The first afternoon we hiked past Rainbow Falls to Turtleback rock, a nature-made water slide. The current runs over several large smooth boulders, and then falls over an 8-foot drop into a deeper section of the river below. I never pictured the forests of western North Carolina looking so tropical. It is as wet and green as a South American rainforest. We hike single-file back to the trailhead, comparing our surroundings to Jurassic Park, and wondering whatever happened to Jeff Goldblum.
The family dinners are my favorite. In this particular season, I need experiences with “chosen family” to remind me that family is for everyone. And it helps that we all have some degree of kitchen-savvy, and our meals are delicious, in spite of a few mishaps. We realize there is no flour in the house, and so we substitute pancake mix to make homemade tortillas for vegan tacos. When asked how they turned out, my friend says, “They’re good. They taste like pancakes.” We load them up with salsa, crispy potatoes, and other fillings. We joke that pancake tacos are sure to become the next big thing. We indulge in gourmet house-made cocktails, courtesy of our talented host, and play charades until 2 am.
In the afterglow of graduation from UNC, and with my 28th birthday behind me, I realize I have reached the edge of my young adult imagination. I have run out of mental images and expectations for how I thought life would look at this age, in this stage. Even still, I don’t think I would have imagined weekend trips to the mountains in Brevard. Sliding off boulders into rivers; shooting aluminum cans with BB guns; telling ghost stories around a bonfire while fireflies wink at us from the bushes. I am still on the look out for signs that it is safe for me stay a while longer. Maybe it is.