It goes without saying that this valley is known far and wide as an ideal retreat. Nowhere, perhaps, is that more evident than wending your way up North Fork, on your way to visit someone tucked away in the folds of that stretch of pastoral land.
In this case, that someone is Mary Lounsbury, who has just returned from the challenges of her studies in mythology at the Pacific Graduate Institute in coastal California. Here, in her peaceful haven, she has the space and time to contemplate and work on her thesis on a theme that touches people’s lives.
“As it happens, attraction to the power of myth has always been there for me,” she says. “I’ve always loved stories, especially fairy tales. The stories you’re attracted to and the subjects that seem to keep coming up have psychological meaning. It starts out to be intriguing, and you never know what you’re going to find. You follow it and go back to it, and it keeps coming up over and over.”
One of her favorites is the ancient Greek tale of Ariadne, Theseus and the Minotaur. Theseus’ task was to go to the middle of the labyrinth to kill the Minotaur. However, he needed the golden thread Ariadne provided in order to find the Minotaur’s lair and return safely after he’s accomplished his mission.
In her life, at different times and in different ways, Mary Lounsbury has experienced a parallel to this tale — she’s been drawn to follow something, perhaps without knowing, at first glance, where the thread will lead. In fact, by being open, and because she always loves making things, the “thread” became literal, leading to a time in which she became adept at spinning, weaving and dyeing.
That unique openness, along with her love of making things and the possibilities of group expression, finally led to the specific focus of her dissertation.
“It turns out that people have multiple ways of understanding and thinking about things,” she says. “Allowing that and giving voice to these different ways is actually healthy for you.” For instance, she cited the example of letting your intellect and intuition be in conversation with each other. “I’ve found it’s great to mix it up,” she says. “Work with words, work with paint, so that playful and high moments come more frequently.”
Which brings us full circle to her need for a special place — her home — where she can contemplate and embark on this promising project. She puts it this way:
“Here I can write and read. It’s not distracting. It’s soothing. It’s quiet and removed. Being ‘located,’ tuning into what’s happening and being aware, is really central to working on my topic. It’s very valuable having a communication with your surroundings. It changes you. There’s an experience and a world beyond your skin that opens you up in multiple directions.”
Those “multiple directions” prompt her to expound upon her greater surroundings. She finds something mythic about Black Mountain - the mountains, the Cherokee heritage, being in tune with nature. She feels this is an area of great natural beauty that’s valued, that prompts people to work to preserve it. What’s remarkable to her about this place is a consciousness of the spirit that incorporates the area’s origins as the hunting grounds of the Cherokee. She calls it an “amazing confluence of natural beauty and history that builds a community of people.”
“I feel a strong connection with the land and the people,” she says, “and (to) the natural spirit of this place that still has a regional character that comes through.”
In the presence of this great story weaver, you soon begin to realize that the threads she keeps discovering can lead in myriad directions, incorporating the “inner” and the “outer,” as well as where she’s been and where she’s going. In a word, the process is endless.
Call of the Valley is writer Shelly Frome’s periodic profile of people who are drawn to the Swannanoa Valley.