Years ago, when Forrest was a baby, I lived near a small town on big mountain. Population of the mountain was 50. Probably 45 of them claimed to trace their roots back to the Spanish that passed by the area over 400 years ago. A beautiful mountain, one more of the many I have been lucky enough to see, to live on, to become a part of, to try to understand.
The house we rented for dirt cheap was made of adobe, with on-grid electricity, sporadic though it was, and off-grid water. Once a week, weather permitting, I’d drive to town with a bunch of 5 gallon jugs for refilling, rattling in the back on the road down the mountain, sloshing around on the way back up. You learned to conserve. No need to flush toilets; there was only an outhouse. For cooking, cleaning, washing, and even gardening, I learned how little one can do with, how much we can do without, and how many times one can re-use the rinse water.
When I first moved there, things were not comfortable. That’s a nice way to put it. Every night I’d hear trucks drive by, pull up, stop, but not kill their engines. (They were, I later came to realize, more frightened than me.) Men’s voices would call to the house, often drunk and slurring. I sat there inside with the curtains pulled, my sleeping baby next to me, and got mad.
I started by calling the sheriff. I’d be a fool to wait on him, he told me. He was stationed in the nearest little town, a half hour away at best. It was a wise old lady on the mountain that told me I needed to learn to shoot, and to shoot something loud. I’d never used a hand gun, and was intimidated at first. But each afternoon I’d walk out behind the house and get out my gun and make a lot of noise.
Well, the adobe house was on the edge of this little valley that housed the majority of the mountain folks. When I’d fire down the pasture from my house towards the river, the entire valley would fill with the reverberation of each shot.
Every day for a week I did this. And funny thing was, by the end of the week, not a car stopped by, not a voice was heard at night, and my baby and I slept well.
I made it through that first winter, silent and in relative peace, with but a few folks stopping in to check on me, bring me firewood, offer me fish and beans to eat. No one on the mountain had much for money. My simple ways were understood and respected.
When the snow melted off and the mountain began to warm up, so did the neighbors. The wives began to stop by, to introduce themselves, to warn me about a bear in my back yard, to check on my baby, to tell me that since I made it through the winter, perhaps I was OK.
Neighbors. Real neighbors. People who live there, who work the land, who live on it and for it and because of it. Who have nothing else and want and need no more and do what they can to make it all work out. This is something I miss.