Here begins the story. Thank you to all my friends, alive and departed, who have asked over the years that I do this. So I’ve been digging into my past to begin putting all the chapters into something resembling a book, and yes there will be one. Winter on the North Shore of New England is a grand time to batten down the hatches, harbor in, and … I feel like an archaeologist digging up bones. I will also visit an old bear, a deer and a mountain lion I named Brook Cat.
It was May when I first drove the winding country roads through the deepest parts of one of the most beautiful States in our country, West Virginia. The year was 1966. The Vietnam War was raging. Young men and women were dying. Protesters were marching and going to jail, and some of them were dying as well. It was a time of almost diabolical contrast, from the killing fields of Vietnam to the loving fields of San Francisco. Woodstock was yet to be. United States President Lyndon Johnson was saying that we should stay in Vietnam until communist aggression was stopped there. US troops now totaled 190,000 and 20,000 Buddhists marched in demonstrations against the policies of the military Government in South Vietnam.
Driving that back-country road as the beauty of spring was coming to life, I was feeling far removed from all that was going on in “the outside world.” However, I was about as not removed as a person could be. My Father was Government. I was, in the words of John Fogerty “a fortunate one.” And yet, I had already refused to take part in the safe life, having publicly burned my draft card. I had refused induction into the Vietnam War, after forcing the Selective Service to reclassify me from “fortunate” (otherwise known as 3-A, that is, a family hardship deferment) [What Hardship? you ask] and a college deferment to boot, which meant I was never going to Vietnam. Except I was not going to sit silently and watch others die while I took the easy way out. So as I drove that beautiful country road, I was remembering the day I was supposed to step forward and accept enlistment, but instead stepped backward and said, “No Thank You”. I laughed as I remembered the Sergeant’s face looking like it was about to explode. So Prison was no doubt in my future. It was part of my plan to accept nothing that “they” would offer, but first I was going to have a little fun and lead them, the FBI, and a few others on a merry chase for a while. There will be more on those adventures in the future, but this is about the wonder and beauty of being alone and the ability to sink into my mind, with the sounds of the City and the normal rush and noise of the day-to-day world left behind.
Driving on, I finally entered Alderson, West Virginia, but to get to where I was going there would be a few more miles on paved road, then two miles up what amounted to little more than a trail. The last two miles would be covered on foot, and there was no cabin. That would need to be built before the first cold began on my mountaintop.
Walking up the last few hundred yards to where I would spend the next year of my life, I could see smoke. Were the woods on fire? The nearest cabin was about three miles on the other side of the mountain, so it could not be a fireplace. But it was. The friend that I would spend the next year with – a very self-sufficient and capable woman – had already, with the help of those nearest neighbors from over the mountain, built a fireplace of rock. In fact, it was one wall of what would be the cabin. Having no other heat or electricity, this fireplace would be used not only for heating the cabin, but also for heating water and cooking. It was large enough to accommodate a very large kettle of water or food, with a side stove for baking. Other walls were started, with the help of the nearest neighbors, as well as a garden begun.
Emily, who owned the property, was also a military brat. Also very against the war, her Father was a General in the Army. She was not just going to sit around and wait for me to arrive. Her abilities were made even more remarkable by her small delicate looking frame and pretty face. Not the type of looks you would expect for a woman who could carry rocks and wood and begin the building of such a place. When the cabin was finished, we tended the garden, grew sunflowers, and took long hikes either together or alone.
A stream ran through the property about fifty yards from the cabin, from the top of the mountain where there was a waterfall, and I spent many hours alone there thinking about the future, the past, and mostly the beauty of the present. I heard birds singing, and occasionally the sound of something in the woods could be a bear, wolf, or deer … this was true wilderness. It was not unusual to wake in the morning to see a deer or a few wolves playing around the yard, or a bear trying to get over the fence that protected the garden, or into the small barn built for one goat for milk. Goat’s milk, by the way, in my opinion, is very good. In addition, we had a few chickens for eggs. Fish came from the stream, and meat was never eaten. We had beans, rice, plenty of vegetables, and fish. The diet was sound and healthy and provided by us for us, and not by the local Stop and Spend.
The mornings, even in the summertime, can be a little chilly and a fog will add an even deeper mystery to the world. Forms move across, in the distance, almost like spirits, and the Cardinal, the State bird of West Virginia, will begin to sing the sun awake while the soul seems to have found its place on this earth.
After a year, I left Emily and that mountain. I never saw her or the mountain again. I often wonder if she is still living there, or has she also returned to a city somewhere, remembering the mountaintop days. Even if that is so, I like to think that there is still an old stone fireplace standing and echoing the memories of long ago, and maybe the great-grandson of that old bear still rubs against the garden fence, and the wolves welcome the moon at night, and the Cardinal sings to the morning sun. It can take my soul back to that place of peace, believing that is true …
(To be continued)
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