north of asheville, about 20 minutes or so, lies a small, riverside town. it’s a place that seems to be stuck in the past, and yet, not at the same time. the only thing around for miles is this little, two stop light main street and a crossing street, which is actually only a bridge across the river. a big, white courthouse looms over main street. the sheriff’s department is just across the street from that. there are a few churches, a few general stores, a dentist’s office, a real estate office, a couple of different restaurants, and smack in the middle of it all… a coffeehouse called zuma.
i drove on the highway north out of asheville music blasting in my car and my windows rolled down, even in the middle of autumn. it was a glorious day for a little road trip. after a while, i turned off of the main highway and onto a small two lane road that followed the river, the french broad river to be precise. a great river for rafting, if you’re into that sort of thing – and i totally am. but, only in the summer. on this warm, autumn day, i soaked in the fresh air and found myself smiling to myself as i felt free and wild, being “so far” from the city.
i followed the curvy, mountain road and thought about the fact that i had never been to the the little downtown that is marshall. strange that i’d never made it here. i rounded a curve, river to my left and mountain to my right, to suddenly see a few brick buildings dotting the street and a little sign welcoming me to the town. i’m telling you, friends, it felt as if i had stepped back in time. it was not a sleepy little town., but it was somehow a throw back to the good ole days. people were walking about, doing there business. men in suits. older women walking with their friends all decked out in their sneakers & sweats. hippie twenty-somethings with their fabric bags and thrifted clothes. country folk in their overalls. and, wouldn’t you know it, a real live police officer standing with his hands on his hips on the steps of the big, beautiful courthouse, looking out over the town. it was idyllic. and there are no tourists that i could really see. who but locals would really find this place, all hidden back in the mountains, anyway?
i drove straight through the town (it took about 2 minutes tops) to the other end, just so i could scope everything out. i passed the coffeehouse where i was going, zuma, which also stood right in the middle of town, between the courthouse and the sheriff’s department. at the other end of main street, i got a different view of marshall. i saw the buildings, the street, the people, the river, and the train tracks. it was so beautiful. so real. so simple.
i stepped parked my car on the side of the road and got out. the town smelled like apples, fire, and coffee. i decided right then and there that i loved marshall.
after walking along the railroad tracks for a little while, taking photos, and just soaking up the beauty around me, i sauntered down the sidewalk to the coffeehouse. but, once i got there, i just couldn’t go in. i mean, marshall is so tiny, i just had to explore all of it. i found myself wandering across the railroad tracks to the bridge that crossed the french broad. i walked to the middle so i could look back at this two block town. i could just imagine the good old days. but, then, i thought, “the good old days seem to still be going on.”
the thing that made this place so different, was that it didn’t seem to be stuck in the past. the people chose to live more simply and yet, more earth-friendly and aware at the same time. yes, the simplicity and slowness of the past was something they chose for themselves as they also chose to be open and aware. do you get what i am saying? it was no backwards town. it was progressive and traditional all at the same time. it was moving forward and yet keeping the same values of true, real, simple life.
i soon found myself craving something, so after waving to the halloween-masked conductor of the train that went by just after i crossed the tracks back toward main street, i went on into zuma. it was the the place to be. a gathering place. people were coming to get their lunch. to sit and chat and have a break. others came from their homes a little further out – you could tell by how they were dressed. flannel shirts, boots, jeans, overalls. farmers and such. then, there were couples and friends enjoying a coffee together. most people were there with someone, and everyone knew someone. what an amazing sense of community.
i ordered a regular coffee and a pumpkin roll, spied a sofa near a window and plopped down. i stayed there for an hour. just observing and reading. and enjoying my amazing pumpkin roll. after a while, my dear swiss friend from ireland messaged me on my phone and we decided to have fika together – she had just made a cup of tea after work. and it was lunch for me, so we chatted over our smartphones and caught up with each other. what a fun, international fika moment.
before i knew it, i checked my watch and realized that i needed to get back to asheville. but, i did not want to leave marshall. not at all. however, i had to. i took a little peek at the courthouse up close, and then strolled down the sidewalk, across the street from where i had walked earlier. as i drove away from this little hidden gem by the river, i bid the town farewell, vowing to come back soon.