By SHELBY NAPIER, guest columnist
Working with tourists on a daily basis, the majority of the questions people ask me begin with “as a local.”
“As a local, where do you like to eat?”
“As a local, what’s your favorite shop?”
“As a local, what do you like to do around here?”
I can say, as a local, there is a lot more to Brown County than what meets the eye.
There is more than great food, quaint shops and rolling hills. I don’t know what everyone else out there has going for them. I haven’t been around a lot in my short life, but I know what we have.
Ten years ago, I sat in the back seat of a car as we followed the winding roads of Spearsville for the first time, tailing a real estate agent to see a house. A few weeks before, I asked my parents if I could help find our home. After renting most of my life, and jumping from house to house, I was excited to finally settle down.
My parents agreed. I was young, and I don’t think they ever really expected me to help as much as I did, but after many failed attempts, it was the one house I chose that became our first forever home.
It was a beautiful, two-story, four-bedroom house sitting on 6 acres of land with a fishing pond and the sprawling bows of pines, maples, birches and oaks, gently protecting us from the woes of the outside world.
It was a balmy, foggy June. The foliage was full, thick, vividly green and gave way to spritely critters always bouncing about and sharing the land with us.
I was young and naive enough to believe I might just be in a fairy tale, and we found our piece of paradise.
So we begin to plant flowers, clear out the brush, build a barn, and by February, my dreams were complete as we brought home two Arabian horses. Our life was picturesque. Like so many of the famous paintings hanging in galleries across Nashville, living art was all around us to stroll through.
I grew up in those hills. I became a woman. I shed the cocoon of awkwardness, dried my wings under the golden summer sunsets and began a journey in life to find myself and my path.
It wasn’t always easy. Most of the time it was hard. There was a lot of pain. There was a lot of squirming around in a skin ready to shed. There were many sleepless nights, but the woods were always my guardian angel, there to comfort me and see me through until daylight.
The bright skies warmed me when I was cold. The rain storms dripping through the leaves soothed my restless spirit. The sound of the whispering wind calmed me when I was afraid. The cawing ravens led me when I was lost, and the soaring hawk kept me safe from harm.
I learned my life lessons from the white-tailed deer and sparkling butterflies. I asked advice from the brilliant blue jays and towering oaks. I became a person I could have only become here in these hills and valleys — a person I am still getting to know, but proud to be.
Once I was grown, I ventured further out of the hills and into the village of Nashville where I began working. At first, the jobs were laborious. They hurt my feet and wore me down, but I was held up and guided by supportive locals. I was taught discipline and work ethic and pushed to my limits in a way that made me stronger and gave me confidence in my abilities.
Eventually, I landed a job in tourism, right in the center of Nashville. Tourism wasn’t anything I ever thought about pursuing, and while everyone around me had an education, a stroke of luck and a chance given got me the job.
Once again, Brown County helped me grow into a new stage in my life — going from a very shy girl who could hardly talk to anyone, to an outspoken lady chatting away daily with hundreds of people, and enjoying it.
These trees, these hills, the valleys and the dirt — this is what Brown County does. It grows, it renews, it replenishes and it does the same for anything or anyone that stays here long enough to reap its benefits.
What was even greater is it gave me a glimpse into the world and places I might never get to see myself. People came from all over America, Russia, China, India, Jamaica and more. It quenched the thirst I had for interaction, for social adventure, for diversity.
It inspired me as an artist. It inspired my life. It opened my eyes to the beauty of the human race.
I talked for so long with older gents, young mothers, married couples, brothers and sisters, artists, writers, scuba divers, geologists, teachers, ministers, connoisseurs, entrepreneurs, jokers and smooth talkers. I could have gone to big cities, intersections of the world, to achieve the same thing, but I got what I needed right here in my own little intersection of Main and Van Buren, a meeting place of kind hearts, peaceful souls and laid back cats.
I might never see the world, but Nashville has brought the world to me.
Looking back on the history of this piece of land, we never struck oil or panned much gold. We didn’t build up skyscrapers with multimillion-dollar corporations. We didn’t pitch fame. We never sold gimmicks.
Yet, from the beginning of this heaven’s nook, we had one thing that was more rare, and harder to find. We had, and we still have, peace.
It seems there are healing powers in our soils, and just a touch under your fingertips and you can go back to when the world was simpler, and people were kinder. We have smiling faces, good conversation, swell manners, true morals, strangers that feel like friends and friends that feel like family.
So, people ask me what I like here as a local. I don’t just like anything, but I love the beauty. I love the nature. I love the fresh air in my lungs. I love the snake-backed roads. I love the prayer crosses in fields way back in the country.
I love traditions. I love the dedication, the patriotism. I love all of the restaurants that make me feel like well-known house guests. I love all of the hotels and inns that make me feel at home. I love every shop where they take the time to ask me how my day is.
To the locals, I’m not really a local. Ten years is just a sprout compared to the generation upon generation of family names and lineage. I wasn’t born in Brown County. Neither were my parents, or my grandparents. Nor were my great-uncles or great-great uncles.
I was not born in Brown County, but I was reborn, and that makes me a native.
Shelby Napier of Brown County is a writer who also enjoys painting and sculpting. In her spare time she loves to bird watch to find inspiration for her art. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.