Roanoke, Virginia, through Newcomer’s Eyes: Part 1

Sometimes it’s hard to love the place where you live.  Which is why, two years ago, I gave myself a challenge:  every day for forty days I’d find *one* thing that I loved about Roanoke, Virginia.  Then I’d go home and write about it.

From now until mid-October, I’m taking Mondays and Tuesdays and sharing excerpts from my gratitude journey with you.  I hope these little posts give you a glimpse of the city through a newcomer’s eyes, and I hope they encourage you to help me share the sense of belonging that I’ve found here.

This is the post that started it all…



When home doesn’t feel like Home…

Honest words?  Sometimes this mountain town feels all wrong.

I’ve been here for two years.  The people are kind, the cost-of-living is low, and in autumn the place is shamelessly pretty, its red-and-gold slopes wreathed in fog.  Still:  some days I lean my head against the back window, watch the sun settle down behind the blue hills across the valley, and I think:  This place is not my home.

But maybe it doesn’t have to be that way.

Last night my husband and I drove home from a day in Charlottesville — a city that feels more “us,” in every way I can think of.  As we merged onto I-581, that wide ribbon of highway that curves fast through my little city, I felt an overwhelming sense of loneliness wash over me.  A sense that I don’t belong and never will.

And then something remarkable happened, in the simplest and least remarkable way possible. I leaned my head against the passenger window and looked out.  As I watched the outskirts of my city begin to flash past, the sky just lit up from within: a kind of luminous red glow that filled up the horizon, stabbed through by vapor trails.  A cloud of small black birds wheeled and dipped and seized upward in a single, frenzied animal shape.

It was beautiful — I mean, really, truly beautiful.

I reached for my iPhone, turned on the camera and started snapping. I took pictures of sky, of electrical wires and radio towers as they dipped and disappeared.  I pressed the phone to the glass, shot overpasses as they streaked above, and then the flash of the railroad, the red-black hulk of low-income housing where it huddles close to the highway.

The road curved up toward Mill Mountain, and I sat up straight in my seat.  “Get in the right lane,” I said to Thomas.  “I want to take pictures of downtown.” And there it was, flying by:  the coppery wink of the rooftop of the tallest building.  The shadows settling down purple over the wild angles of the art museum.  The velvety stretch of dark streaming down every street.  I took picture after picture, not worrying about leading lines or light, not trying to make something beautiful but to *see* something beautiful.  A beauty that was waiting for me to discover it. I felt something open in my chest, like a flower just starting to bloom.  And I thought:  I could love this place.  I really could.  If I tried. And that’s what I’m going to do.

Over the next forty days, I’m challenging myself to soak in this city with everything I’ve got.  To really *see* it — not just its beautiful blue hills and its sleepy tree-lined streets, but also its beautiful people.  I want to get out there and try to know them. And then I want to come home and write it all down here.

You’re invited to watch.


Here’s looking at you, Star City.  I’m giving you a second chance to steal my heart…   I hope you do.



If you’re reading these words and they connect with you, would you consider doing one of the following?  

  1.  Spend a minute or two and think about a volunteer group, charity or arts organization that really speaks to the things you care about.  Got a name in mind?  Good. Pick up the phone or send an email, and ask, “I want to help …. What can I do?” That’s it.  You might be surprised at how much more fun and effective it is to connect with a real person, rather than just stroke a check.  
  2. Would you consider joining me at this year’s CityWorks (X)Po?  It’s a gathering of local folks who share a desire to build a stronger community here in the ‘Noke.  I’ve never been, and I’m not sure exactly what to expect, but I’m super excited about sitting in a room with a lot of good people and asking the question, “How can we make this place even better?”
  3. Last but not least — if there’s a newcomer in your circle, I really want to encourage you to reach out.  Invite that person to a concert or a volunteer meeting or a book club or maybe just the farmer’s market this Saturday.  Introduce them to your favorite barkeep, or your pastor, or your best friend.  It seems simple, but it’s hard for me to put into words just how much of a difference you might be making.

Until tomorrow, friends… I’ve got some cocktails to go sample. 😉   And go, Roanoke! 🙂

–Ashley ❤