Dreams vs Reality, or What Yeats and I Have in Common (sort of)

Lake Isle of Innisfree

by William Butler Yeats

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

When my spouse and I lived in North Carolina, we frequented a pub called W. B. Yeats. It’s closed now, the Internet tells me, but in the late 90’s and early aughts they poured a good Guinness. Or rather, the one tall fellow with the longish brown hair poured a good Guinness. When any of the other bartenders was working, we’d order something else, but when floppy-haired guy was there, it was Guinness, and it was good.

When we finally returned to North Carolina for the first time since we conceived our daughter there in 2004, we didn’t visit the former home of the Yeats pub. Instead we spent four days in Asheville. I loved it there just as I expected I would and in some ways hoped I wouldn’t.

Like the poet Yeats and Innisfree, his idealized, Walden-inspired refuge, my view of life in Asheville is not very realistic. Yeats would have needed more than nine rows of beans and a bee hive to sustain himself, and I would probably find that tourists, vintage clothing shops, and Malaprop’s Bookstore would lose their luster after a while.

That last one’s probably not a good example—I’m not sure any decent book shop could lose my interest, and Malaprop’s is far beyond decent—but the fact remains that there are real-life reasons to abandon my Asheville dream.

But in quiet morning moments when I’m walking through my neighborhood and the clouds stack up just right so that it looks like there’s a line of hazy mountains looming on the horizon, I smell the woods and feel the fog on my cheek even in the middle of suburban New England. The mountains call to my heart, despite the protests of my brain.

The Mountain City of Asheville

inspired by William Butler Yeats’s Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Asheville,
And a downtown loft buy there, filled with local pottery and art:
A corner coffee shop will I have there, a book store just down the hill;
And each morning anew I’ll start.

And I shall feel at peace there, for peace through the mountains rolls,
Roaming with the fog of morning to the sunset’s fading glow;
There midnight sings with indie tunes, and noon with bluegrass barcaroles,
And evening full of pleasures slow.

I will arise and go now, for always day and night
I hear the tree tops rustling in the breeze that I adore;
While I drive along suburban roads, or the Massachusetts Pike,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

Where is your Innisfree/Asheville? Do you love it for what it is or for what you imagine it to be?

(Note: Since it was first published, this post has been edited significantly to reflect the suggestions of my spouse.)

Carolina Dreaming

Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina via Wikimedia Commons, taken by Ken Thomas (Public Domain).

I walk along the red clay path past white dogwood blooms. My son spots a black and orange millipede. We stop to watch it cross the path and see a second one on the other side. My children gather rocks and throw them into the creek as I try to capture the splash with my camera. The scent on the air smells a little like sandalwood, but more than anything it smells like North Carolina, like the mountains that loom up to my left.

My mind tries out scenarios of varying degrees of ridiculousness that might bring our family here to live instead of Massachusetts. My spouse could teach at the college. I could join a writing group and maybe get my MFA. I look up homeschooling groups and flute teachers online. But I know we’re leaving the mountains tomorrow, and that living here isn’t something we can do right now. Or maybe ever.

My eyes sting and my belly feels like I’m falling, but I try to remind myself to breathe this place in, to be here now rather than missing it before we ever leave.

Back in town, street musicians—a ragged bluegrass band, a guy with a guitar and a brindle mut, a fellow smoking a cigarette while playing on a synthesizer—provide the soundtrack as we walk by book shops and head shops, art galleries and cafes. We stop by the gallery where the owner of the condo we’re renting works and exhibits her photographs. We talk about how much Asheville has changed in the eleven years since we last visited, which changes are good (an even greater commitment to green living and cleaning up the mountain waterways) and which are kind of mixed (lots and lots and lots of tourists who fill up the parking garages and restaurants but about whom we can’t complain because we’re among them and whom she can’t complain about because they rent her condo and buy her artwork).

We can’t stay long, though, because we’re meeting a friend for dinner, a friend from Salt Lake City we didn’t know was in town until my spouse bumped into him on the street. It’s just a coincidence, him being in town for work at the same time we’re in town for the first time in more than a decade, him passing our building at the same time my spouse was walking back from the ATM, but to me, this is just another bit of the magic of Asheville.

This is just what I expected when we planned this trip. The anticipation of this visit was what infused me with joy as we drove into town and what prompted my daughter to ask as we walked the few blocks to dinner that first night in town, “Mommy, would you be happy if we lived in Asheville?”

That first night when I could barely keep myself from jumping up and down with glee, my answer was an unequivocal “yes,” but now I feel less certain.

Even though I love this city and the mountains where my grandmother’s family have lived for nearly 300 years, even though I love the independent bookstore where the cashier invited me to attend a literary salon based around the book I bought and the Mexican-Caribbean restaurant where I ate transcendent fire-roasted tomato chipotle peanut salsa, would I really be happy here? Would the joy wear off? If I lived here, would the negatives start to overwhelm the positives? Would I start to hate the tourists and long for a quiet place where there are more playgrounds for my kids and where people don’t wax poetic about micro-brewed beer and locally-sourced produce? After a few months or a year, would I do like I always do and start looking for another, better place to live?

In a way it doesn’t matter. Because we’re not staying here. We’re driving back to Massachusetts and our sweet little split-level in the suburbs where we can open our windows and hear the chirping of the spring peepers as we fall asleep instead of live indie rock until 2am from the bar downstairs.


Written as part of the Weekly Writing Challenge theme, Great Expectations.