City Boy Finds a Secret in the Country

We would open up the want ads on Sunday mornings and read them aloud to each other.

“Hge. views! Wooded. 10 acre tracts. Southern views. Some w/springs, deer & turkey galore. Telephone/elect. available.”

“Unique mtn. resort! 4 Season Amenities. Slopeside, lakeside or secluded. Spectacular views & cool mtn. climate. Trout stream flows by your door! This is your vacation home!”


My wife was especially good at reading these ads. You could almost hear the trout splashing in the streams when she did it.

I was not impressed. I had been a city boy all my life and my distrust for the countryside was considerable. The country was where pink-eyed children out of “Deliverance” played banjos from the back of pick-up trucks while their kinfolk eyed you with evil intent.

“Listen to this one,” my wife said. “ ‘All cedar mtn. chalet overlooking pond. Loft, cellar, wood stove. Good timber. Deeded access to state forest. Financing avail.’ ”

I snorted. I do things like that on Sunday mornings. It prepares me for the coming week.

“I think we should at least take a look,” my wife said. “I would like to see a hge. view with deer and turkey galore. Just once.”

I snorted again. Just to keep in practice.

The next Sunday we drove to the mountain mentioned in one of the ads. It took about three hours, but it was a pleasant drive. The trees and bushes were in full bloom, traffic was light and nobody seemed to be in a hurry.

The real estate agent had given us directions to a pharmacy in a tiny town. He would meet us there in his four-wheel-drive Jeep, which we would need to get up the mountain.

The first thing we noticed as we waited outside the pharmacy in the sweet-smelling sunshine was that everyone going in and coming out said hello to us.

Do we know these people? I asked my wife.

“They’re just being friendly,” she said. “That’s why you find it so strange and disconcerting.”

The real estate agent arrived on time. He had moved to the region from North Carolina and retained a soft Southern accent. He was not a hard-sell kind of guy. I could tell that because his first question was not whether I had brought my checkbook.

He just stood for a while looking at the mountaintops, which spread all around us. Some were close by and dark green. Others were farther away and kind of a hazy lavender.

We got into his car. We drove down a country road. The only things we passed were an elderly man on a folding chair by a wood pile and a cat.

“That man, Ben, is there every day selling that wood and nobody is real sure whether it’s his wood,” the agent said with a chuckle. “And that cat waits out there for the road crews to cut the grass. Then it goes after the mice. It’s a very patient cat.”

I kept pinching myself to keep from liking this guy.

We passed a country store that had a sign in its window offering “bear tags.” My wife asked what they were.

“Well, we have a short bear-hunting season here,” the agent said a little sadly. “I’m not a hunter, but some folks around here, well, their daddy hunted bear and their daddy’s daddy hunted bear and so they have to hunt bear.” He shook his head. “Don’t see it myself.”

He drove in silence for a few minutes. “If you have bear on your property, it’d be up to you whether you’d want to hunt them,” he said. “Didn’t mean to be judgmental.”

“Oh, we wouldn’t hunt them,” my wife said.

Bear? I was thinking. All the sudden we are making plans about what to do with our bear?

Are these large bears? I asked. Or sort of teddy-bear-sized bears?

The agent pounded the steering wheel while he laughed. “That sure is a funny one,” he said. “I’ll have to remember that one.”

We turned up a freshly cut dirt road. “The ‘dozer just cut it two days ago,” he said. “Before then it was only a Jeep track. So you folks will probably be the first to see this.”

We climbed and climbed and climbed. When the wheels of the car began to slip, the agent eased into four-wheel-drive and we spurted forward, climbing higher.

Every now and then, we would get out and and walk through the trees and take a look at the view. It was magnificent. Stunning. Breathtaking. There were overlapping mountain ridges in the distance. A bright green valley floor below. And occasional hawks making slow circles in the air.

“In the real estate business,” the agent said, “we call this a huge view.”

Hge. Real hge.

I cleared my throat. Uhh, I said, what would land up here cost. I mean, money-wise.

He mentioned a figure for 10 acres. It would not buy you a quarter-acre with view of dumpsters in the alley in any city in America. The reason was not hard to figure out. This place was hours away from anywhere. You would need a four-wheel drive to get to it. And all you really had around you was a place to buy bear tags, a guy who sold wood of questionable origin, a cat who waited patiently for mice and a pharmacy where folks said hello to strangers.

You may have noticed I have not told you where this place is. And while I am making up my mind about it, I don’t think I will.

I wouldn’t want a lot of city folk coming in and scaring away my bears.