Bill Altork returns to the mountains – and to music

Shelly Frome
Special to The Black Mountain News

After recently returning from another ramble through the West, Bill Altork unhitched his trailer and took time out to come to terms with his wanderlust.

“Back in 1964,” he said, “when you first drive up after graduating from Coral Gables Senior High School and you pass the final hill through South Carolina, you realize ‘Wow, there are the mountains!’,” he said. “And you know they’re in North Carolina, and they harbor the creeks and lakes and give you contour and viewpoints.”

This initial impression came to him while he was making his way to what was then called Montreat-Anderson College. His older brother and sister went there, he dearly wanted to get away from home, and his grades were so terrible that this was the only college that would accept him.

From then on, this pocket at the Blue Ridge Mountains stayed in the back of his mind, all while he was preoccupied with playing guitar and surfing in South Florida, California and Hawaii. At one point, he stopped “traveling all over the map,” took up residence in central Idaho, and started composing songs based on his experiences.

“Then I pulled up stakes again,” he said, “and went back to South Florida. But my muse remained behind in Idaho. I sold my guitar and my creative side stayed dormant for 30 years. Finally, in 2006, I was tired of all the fabricated communities tearing away the natural vegetation. I also realized that every time I traveled east of the Mississippi, I was in another country that’s all lit up. Out west, except for the coastal areas, there’s a great deal of open space. So why finally come back here (to the East) and start to settle down?”

But Altork, now 70, left a successful career as a home inspector in Florida to do just that - he came back to the Black Mountain area. He met his eventual partner, Sue Temesrisuk, who wanted to learn to play the guitar. And so he purchased one at a pawnshop. While he was teaching her, “the inner creative switch turned back on,” he said.

“I could now see that Sue, my music, and the surrounding mountains were the most important things in my life,” he said. “Plus, we made good friends who found their own connection with this very special place.”

Delving deeper, he also realized that age had become an operative factor. He could no longer take off willy-nilly or undertake the arduous process of moving yet again (not to mention the fact that he missed Sue after only a couple months of being far away from her).

Moreover, he’d developed a reliance on a continuous flow of energy as a source of inspiration. Clouds rolling over the mountains, the sound of the nearby creek running close to his bedroom at night, the migrating patterns of wildlife and birds that cross his path - all brought him energy.

“As a result of this dynamic, there’s a shifting undercurrent in our consciousness that’s also seasonal here,” he said.

He spoke of the vibrant, rolling thunder that affects his mood and spirit in summer, forces he juxtaposes with peaceful autumn when he sits in the grass and watches the stars, as compared to winter, which draws him snugly indoors. Each season has a totally different rhythm for him. He can always rely on the natural changes this region undergoes, he said.

Altork’s songs reflect the pull that the seasons have on him. They reflect the abiding comfort his partner gives him and the wisdom that comes with aging. His lyrics take into account “the water flowing under the bridge.” The “winds of change” exhort him to “go to the mountain” and bring him “closer to home.”

“The older I get, the more I step out of the way,” he said, “the more this creative source comes through. Writing the music first conjures up feeling and images of the reality of life’s situations that we all go through. Which I hope everyone can relate to.”

From time to time, Altork can be seen busking on the streets of Asheville. He can also be viewed playing his songs on his YouTube channel.

Call of the Valley is writer Shelly Frome’s periodic feature about what draws people to the Swannanoa Valley.