The Apple & Burnese Dog Festival

By Emilia Azar – 2014

The Apple Festival that took place in Cashiers, NC was one of those events that was not on our initial itinerary. We had no prior knowledge of the festival, no set plans. Upon arrival to this upscale mountain town, the four of us walked out of Katie’s car, stepped into the parking lot, and looked around at each other. The decision about where to head to first was unanimous – the nearest coffee shop. Throughout our travels we had learned that a coffee shop was great for three reasons: a warm drink, a dose of the local culture, and advice on where we should head next to see something unique the town had to offer.

Buck’s Coffee Café catered to all three of our needs. Drinks in hand, we observed the mix of southern locals in camouflage jackets and out-of-towners in expensive designer coats. We then asked the barista: “So what’s going on here today?” “It would be a shame if you missed the Apple Festival about two miles from here,” he responded. “It should be nice.”

We then found ourselves at the High Hampton Inn. The Inn itself is a beautiful sight – a completely wooded structure nestled among the Blue Ridge Mountains. It serves as both a resort and country club and is surrounded by tall hemlocks and a privately owned lake. While the Inn is normally the perfect spot for an early autumn wedding, that particular Sunday the outside space was reserved for the Apple Festival – or what I now think of as the Apple & Burnese Mountain Dog Festival. Why? Because apples and Burnese Mountain Dogs were the co-spectacles of the festival. In a tented area, shaded under the strong October sun, around ten vendors were selling their apple products. Whole apples, apple cider, apple pastries, apple jam… the possibilities were both endless and absolutely mouth-watering. In the open field, giant, gorgeous Burnese Mountain Dogs were scattered throughout, wagging their tails in a friendly welcome to all people they encountered. It turns out that there was a small competition occurring for these furry creatures. An obstacle course was designed for the dogs to navigate around, with or without carts attached to their backs. Historically, they are trained to haul heavy supplies, which has resulted in a proclivity for strength and loyalty. The astounding size of the dogs (about 25-28 inches in height) would lead to a specific assumption – that they must be dangerous, powerful creatures. This could not be farther from the truth. Though they may be powerful, they are one of the friendliest species known to man.

After taking in the sun on the grass beside my new furry companions, I decided to explore the inside of the Inn. What I found was a luxurious indoor restaurant with an adjoining lounge area. The lounge had two fireplaces, numerous comfy couches, and – what immediately drew my attention – a freestanding bar. Here the bartender was making the most tempting looking Bloody Marys I had ever seen… I’m talking that red, spicy mixture topped with limes, lemons, celery, olives and even bacon. I scurried outside to find my group members, lounging in the sun with apples in hand. “You guys have never tried Bloody Marys, right? Now’s the time.” All looked eager and screeched with excitement, then proceeded to follow me inside to the bar.

Unfortunately, the $8.00 Bloody Marys were just too spicy for us to finish. I spent most of my time chomping down on celery, masking the peppery taste of the blood-red drink I was attempting to enjoy. Despite the disappointing taste of the drinks, sipping on them in front of a fire, while sitting cross-legged on the velvet-colored carpet was an ideal reflection time for the four of us. We had only one more city to tackle on the HWY 64 Mountain route – Brevard. I truly do not remember ever feeling so exhausted, exhilarated, and straight up sad after a four day trip. I didn’t want to leave – none of us did. Returning back to Elon University after Brevard would be like prodding someone awake from a perfect dream. The fact that I had just spent two hours surrounded by fluffy, happy dogs and more apples than I could ever dream of was a harsh reminder of the pseudo-reality we were experiencing at the time. Truthfully, the mountain life was someone’s life. But it was not ours, as desperately as we wanted it to be. I remember borrowing Katie’s keys to walk out to her car to grab some gum (the Bloody Mary aftertaste was really starting to affect my taste buds), and I sat on the hood of her car alone for a few minutes. I looked both up and around me; all I could see were trees, mountains, and blue sky. I breathed a small sigh, and thanked the universe for this trip, and this moment. College students rarely get that time alone in nature to truly appreciate what surrounds them, whether or not they can see it on a daily basis.