I’ve been experiencing some new and strange feelings lately and wanted to share them here. And I do this with some trepidation regarding the response some may have, but I began this blog with the intention of sharing my experiences and so I must continue.
Spring has begun to arrive, although slowly. The red buds are popping out on the tips of the maple branches and the forsythia are blooming beside the daffodils in the yards around the countryside. Pastures are becoming green and the livestock are having their young. I will soon lose much of my distant view from the deck but I look forward to being once again in the trees with their full green leaves and their shade.
I have been hiking and walking with Riley as much as possible and I noticed something else that was returning with the spring–people. In the winter, we can go for days without seeing any cars on our road. And at the busiest, we may see one or two. Now, I have been able to count 4-5 cars at times. I met one car on our walk this week and it was a neighbor who lives up higher on the mountain. But like so many in this region, he is from “off the mountain” and only lives here a few weeks in the summer. We both stopped to chat a minute or two and he asked me “How did you make the winter?”, and I told him we had made it just fine. Then he related seeing another of the “off the mountain” neighbors a week before and then said he guessed they would all be coming back pretty soon. And my response just jumped out of my throat when I said, “I am looking forward to it and I guess I’m dreading it at the same time.” He smiled and laughed at my words and then in a few minutes was gone back “off the mountain”.
I have begun to feel a little possessive of this mountain, these mountains really and now find myself feeling a little too much like a mountaineer. As Horace Kephart described in his book, Our Southern Highlands, “…my chief interest was not in human neighbors, but in the mountains themselves–in that mysterious beckoning hinterland which rose right back of my chimney and spread upward, outward, almost to three cardinal points of the compass, mile after mile, hour after hour of lusty climbing–an Eden still unpeopled and unspoiled.” (pg. 50) I have found myself roaming on the side of these ridges nearby and not seeing a soul unless I leave the mountain for groceries, mail, or other things such as work. Yes, I too have to make a living by leaving the mountainside and traveling 30+ miles.
So I am feeling ownership? Not a bad thing really. But I also find myself feeling protective of the mountains and suspicious of those who aren’t from here or a strange car on the road. Quoting Kephart again, “As you approach a cross-roads store every idler pricks up to attention. Your presence is detected from every neighboring cabin and cornfield. …Then all … descend their several paths, to congregate at the store and estimate the stranger…” (pg. 276) Yes, protective and wary of strangers is a new feeling to me. I don’t want anyone to come here and mar or destroy these beautiful mountains and peaceful pastures for the sake of business or commerce. These mountains are such a precious link to our Appalachian heritage and past and I want them to remain just this way.
Time is eroding much of the history that I speak of. Houses, barns, general stores sit on hillsides and crossroads now empty and in varying stages of decay and abandonment. But theirs is a still present reminder of those much more hardy than I am who built these cabins, who raised livestock and cleared the fields. I feel that theirs is an effort that deserves preservation and protection. Yes, I guess I am becoming a mountaineer.