We’ve been visiting a cabin in the Blue Ridge since I was about 8 years old. It’s super primitive, and about as rustic as this girl will get, since it has no hot water. This means bathing takes place in a creek that is sub zero year round and frequented by some interesting, albeit charming, native mountain folk, but I love it. The silence there is stunning, and you are so far removed from time and throngs, buried in the trees on the mountainside, that you just feel entirely insignificant and at peace with that.
Our family had spent Thanksgiving at the cabin, and, when out for a walk up the road, I was followed by a chocolate lab puppy from another homestead. He was beside himself with jubilation, as only a dog can be, at the sight of me, and being a canine lover and attention-whore myself, I was pretty thrilled with the worship. Only… he wouldn’t go home. I checked at the cabin he seemed to have come from, and no one was home, so “Jake” (as his tag read) came with me on my walk, and back to the cozy hearth of our mountain home.
Having grown up on the mountain summer after summer, I imagined that Jake’s owner was likely one of the Bubba types who resided there. We passed them on our way down to the creek, shirts off, skin deeply browned by the sun and by not having bathed in a while, few unimportant teeth (courtesy of chaw, ya’ll), and hair cut only in the places that caused an obstruction of some sort. They were friendly, functioning alcoholics, mostly. They always waved and grinned their sparsely-toothed grin, were quick to lend a chainsaw for a fallen tree, and occasionally stood naked on their balconies while shooting guns.
It took me all of 5 minutes for me and my family to fall in love with Jake and I dreaded calling the number on his collar, but knew I had to.
“Hello?” Came a smooth, young, not-drunk voice. I had never seen a person near my age on the mountain, so this made me sit straighter and maybe I twirled my hair while I explained the situation.
Winding down the story, I said, “I took him back to your place, see, but he just followed me home again so…I think you’re going to have to come here and get him,” I panicked for a moment at my own words, since I usually spent my days at the cabin swaddled in sweats or hiking gear, but simmered when I remembered I had packed mascara.
“Well, Abigail, this is Jeff, and I sure do appreciate you taking care of Jake. Hope he’s not a bother. I’ll swing by on my way up tonight. I’m kayaking with friends, but shouldn’t be back too late.” This was all said in a smooth, deep timbre that curled at the ends with a slight southern drawl.
I got a brief scoop- He had moved onto the mountain less than a year ago, was into sports and loved dogs…what else was there to know? Assuming he had all of his teeth (at least the visible ones- a girl has to have standards), I was going to marry him.
Jeff showed up, and , well, I nearly fell down the steps when dazzled by the glory of his chiseled face. There were no Bubba tendencies. I’m saying, if they were casting for a movie where a absurdely good-looking, all that is male, outdoorsy guy was to move onto a remote mountain where no one but some random shoe-obsessed girl from DC would find him, they would pick Jeff. Only, he would be given a fitting name. Like whatever they call the Brawny lumberjack guy.
He was friendly and said I should stop by next time I was in town, and maybe I tried to come up with something cute to say, but just ended up nodding dumbly and staring at his ice blue eyes while contemplating whether his clean shaven and powerful looking jaw could crush boulders.
Flash forward to this past Memorial day. About a year and a half later.
While walking back down the mountain from a traditional trek to the top, I hear a quad coming up the road. We had been passed by one earlier and the coot driving it had a full beard, yellow chompers, and permeated a shower-free existence. A quad came into view and I assumed the guy had done a loop, snuck past us and was now somehow coming up the mountain, instead of down, but as he drew closer, I saw that it couldn’t be the old guy. This fellow was taller, with broad and well set shoulders, had a full and thick beard, and was muscled where the old guy had been stooped and pot-bellied, but that was where the differences ceased. The patchwork denim, the plaid shirt, the rough-browned skin, and yellowed the teeth were uncanny.
I waved and smiled and he pulled right up.
“Hey,” said the wild looking mountain man before spitting onto the ground ( but on the other side of his quad than I was on, which was proper hill billy code).
“How are you?” this feral male queried with some familiarity.
“Good, thanks,” I said ‘thanks’ like it was a question, since I was sure by the way he was looking at me, and talking to me, this guy had met me before, but they all looked the same up there, and I never remember names, unless…Oh. My. Heavens. Even though his full beard ( Like Santa- full) and his bush sideburns covered most of his face, and perhaps being out in the elements and maybe smiling a lot had caused lines to form where they hadn’t recently been, there was no mistaking those arctic blue eyes.
“Jeff,” he reminded me, reaching for my hand.
“Right,” I exhaled, and I let him fold his rough, dirty paw around my fingers, just as a lady should.
He talked about foreign topics, like weather change according to the Farmer’s Almanac, and I just stared, like an idiot, my shoulders slumping with each new subject, each fresh stream of brown fluid to the red earth. My mind began to wander and I wondered what had happened to hot Jeff. Had the mountain people, like vampires, sunk their volatile teeth into him, making him lose his mind, and succumb to their way of living and eating? I took in the machete and chainsaw strapped to the hood of his quad, and in an effort to be neighborly, I asked,
“What’s that for?”
“Aw, heck, “ he said with a marigold grin, “I like cuttin’ new ways down the mountain. I do some new trails every week.”
“Oh,” I said meekly, trying to muster some excitement for his new way of living, “And then what do you do? I mean, I’m usually ready to head home after a few days, since it’s so remote, so, err, what do you, um, do? For fun. Other than cut stuff.”
He bristled slightly at this, and that was when I knew that Jeff, hot sporty Jeff, was truly gone, and in his place was a primitive man, in touch with his surroundings in a way I wouldn’t understand.
“I know everyone in the valley. We get together every night at someone’s place, “ his chin tilted defensively, “We have a bonfire, guitars, and beer.”
And it sounded like a good time. Heck, I love a bonfire once in a while, and there’s nothing like just spending time getting to know people better. Once, I was driving cross-country with friends. We were in the middle of nowhere New Mexico in the middle of the night, and our gaslight had been on for miles. We finally had to pull up to someone’s house (there was one every mile) in desperation. I’d seen too many movies about this exact thing to be willing to get out of the car.
My friend walked around back and found 3 cowboys sitting around a fire, drinking. They, of course, had a can of gas lying around, gave it to us, and wouldn’t accept any payment. When my friend asked what they were up to, to make small talk, one replied, “Sitting around, drinking beer, looking at the moon. Raisin’ hell.” The simple life, no?
“And I have my guns, “ Jeff added with a nod, “Lots of guns, and I like to shoot off of my balcony.”
Officially one of them. The little candle I had burning for Jeff made an audible “pffft” as it went out.
“Good to see you, Jeff,” I smiled.
“You, too, Abigail. Let me know if you need anything. Anything at all.”
And I said I would, because his offer was genuine, as was every native’s on that mountain that had helped pull our cars out of the snow over the years, cleared trees off of the driveway, and in general, cared for us. Lifestyle be damned. These were good people. I just didn’t want to hitch my wagon to Jeff’s anymore. Is that so wrong?
Same as the last lumberjack story, I felt like Jeff was worth mentioning somewhere, but had a tough time drawing parallels to how that impacted my fundamentally, so instead, I’ve posted it here. Let me know if you’ve extracted anything that I missed.