Where I'm Coming From

Many a writer has tried his hand at capturing in prose the town where I grew up. Chapel Hill, however, is such a complex, multifarious beast that its essence almost defies description, especially when one is pressed for space.

Will Blythe did an excellent job of describing it in To Hate Like This Is to Be Happy Forever, but he did so exclusively through his chosen lens of the Carolina-Duke basketball rivalry. The fictionalized version of it in Tim McLaurin's novel Woodrow's Trumpet takes a somewhat broader view, but still does so in service to another agenda, namely the plot. To really get Chapel Hill, I suspect one has to be concentrating on just one thing: getting Chapel Hill.

And it's hard to get. Its mixture of Northern and Southern, rural and urban, simple and sophisticated leaves the place looking downright mottled at times, and damn near contradictory at others. But every once in a while, an observer makes the Hopkins-like realization that the beauty of the Southern Part of Heaven is in fact pied beauty, and that makes the observation worthwhile.

Wells Tower's "Life on the Hill" is such an observation, a brief and loving slice of analysis as sweet as pound cake and as clear as the Carolina blue sky:

While traditionally Red State Carolina may scoff at Chapel Hill and Carrboro's dubious Southern bona fides, I submit that we have salvaged most of what is good about the Southern way of things and left the unpleasant bits at the curb. Our schools are excellent, and yoga is a local epidemic, yet on a summer night in Carrboro, you need not look far to find porches stocked with people plucking banjos with utmost sincerity. In our downtown, million-dollar green-built condominiums are springing up like kudzu shoots, but we still have springtime eruptions of old-growth azalea and dogwood blossoms to gobsmack a Savannahian. Free parking is increasingly hard to come by, but drive three miles to the north or west, and you are in swaying cornscapes and pasturelands comely enough to stop your heart.

Please, click the link and enjoy the whole thing. Even if you know as well as I do that no CHPD siren ever sounded as half as soft as a mourning dove's cry.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on August 28, 2009 9:12 PM.

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