The first time we saw Buck Cove Mountain in Rice Cove, it was a late afternoon in May of 1996. Rice Cove is in the Beaverdam Community near Canton in Western North Carolina between Asheville and Maggie Valley.
Buck and I found a log to sit on. “I’m in love,” I said. “Me, too,” he replied. We sat there until dark, drinking in the view and the sounds. Except for the soft soughing of wind moving around between valley and peak, there was an absence of sound somehow deeper than mere silence. Like a grandma’s feather bed, and we sank into it.
By September, that silence was broken by earth moving equipment. “You-uns is lucky,” we were told by the driver. “No hard pan. We won’t have to dynamite.” Dynamite. My first clue that a building project in the mountains was a world away from putting up a home in the flat land of Florida.
By the next July, a 600-foot-deep water well had been drilled, and we moved in.
The well went dry the very next day.
Ah, we got smart, then, and employed the services of a dowser, otherwise known as a “water witch.” Ironically, when he wasn’t using (Webster’s definition of a dowser) “a forked rod believed to indicate the presence of water or minerals especially by dipping downward when held over a vein,” this 83-year-old gentleman preached in a hard-shell Baptist church.
We lived with water from a truck and showers from a neighbor for several weeks until the new well was drilled.
At last, all the noise-making machines went away, and we were left alone in our sunrise sanctuary.
Mountain coves are level areas sheltered by a horseshoe of mountains. The level areas are used mainly for homes, gardens, cattle-grazing and making hay. The otherwise unusable, nearly vertical slopes are valuable as real estate to sell to crazy people from Florida who have lived on flat ground so long they feel like they are getting ground itch, or perhaps at retirement want to have a feeling of getting closer to heaven.
Everwhat, as our new mountain neighbors might say, we were dazzled by the view of distant mountains, nearby valley, little steepled church and Mr. Best’s cows in the pasture just below us.
The silence we “heard” while sitting on the log that first day evolved into a natural symphony. The ever-present doves provided an acoustic background “ooh” sound. At 7:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. each day, a distant man-made sound was heard when the shift change whistle blew for the paper mill in the nearby town of Canton.
I shall never forget the first time — it was that summer — I heard a screech owl just outside our bedroom window. I still think it is one of the most hauntingly beautiful sounds in nature.
At this moment I am siting in a room we started out calling the “sun porch.” It has five sets of sliding glass doors and is adjacent to a partially covered deck, a perfect bird-watching spot, with regular and hummingbird feeders set up there. We soon changed the name of this porch to the “snow porch,” because it is on the northeast side of the house and is very seldom sunlit. But to watch snow fall outside while sitting in this room is unforgettable. This morning I have seen and heard rose-breasted grosbeaks, Carolina wrens, tufted titmice, bluebirds, doves and cardinals.
A bird sound we have eventually gotten accustomed to is the “Bam! Bam! Bam!” of a male cardinal — we call him Red Rover. For at least the past four years he has been a regular fixture, deliberately flying in to the glass doors of the snow porch. He takes a position on a railing about 3 feet away from a door and “Bam!” We have put out crepe paper streamers, fake owls, rubber snakes — nothing works. For a brief time two summers ago, he found a mate and we spotted him tenderly feeding her choice bits from the feeder. But she left him. Maybe a torrid affair with this excitable bird was fun . . .but the thought of a lifetime with a bird so controlled by his neuroses must have been too much for her.
The hummingbirds make miniature buzz saw sounds which can be disconcerting. One morning, sitting out on the deck eating a strawberry jam-covered waffle, a ruby-throated hummer decided he wanted it, and hovered inches away from my nose, tiny wings moving at warp speed. “Give me that! Give me that!” One was bad enough, but then another aggressive little fellow showed up and they started fighting, diminutive beaks clicking. Seems ridiculous now, but it felt threatening at the time, and I retreated into the house to finish my breakfast.
Our normal pattern each year is to migrate from Pensacola mid-April, just about the time our neighbor had moved his cows into the pasture below us for the spring, summer and early fall. That’s always a treat. We call it “Jurassic Park” because of the bodacious sounds made by these cows. I’ve never heard an actual moo, but rather snorts and shrieks in all octaves.
Sometimes the little Methodist church in the valley has its chimes turned and set on a timer so that about five in the afternoon the quavering bell sounds float up to reach our ears, perfecting the day. Often, all doors and windows open, I play Chopin nocturnes on my ebony Yamaha studio piano, wondering if music only floats upward or does it descend to those in the valley as well?
Sometimes we can hear the straining motor sounds of the UPS truck bringing books, music or a new pair of hiking shorts to our door.
One of the most memorable sounds has been the nearby hawk family teaching their juveniles. Papa or mama scream ferociously; baby hawk goes “eeeeeee!” They fly over the deck, wagging their wings at me. Marvelous.
Since that first summer in 1996, change has gradually begun to come to the cove. Two summers ago, a nice couple built a home halfway between ours and the main road. We are somewhat shielded from seeing their house in the leafy summertime, but from mid-fall through mid-spring, the pristine view is gone. People add people sounds, some more than others. Lawn is important to these folks, and so lawnmower and chainsaw compete with a miniature Schnauzer and his beagle friend as new elements in the orchestra around here.
Returning last week to prepare for a move back to the flatlands, we learned that the 44-acre tract of land adjacent to our 14 acres has been sold. A travel trailer is temporarily there now, and the buyers have begun preparing the land for their new home. Everyone needs a place to live, and while it would be supremely arrogant of me to resent any alteration of this landscape which we ourselves altered in 1996, it resolves any ambivalence in my heart about whether our decision to sell and return to Pensacola year-round is right for us at this time.
This has been a magical time in my life. I have learned to hike mountains, ten to fifteen miles in a day — what I call a four-peanut butter and jelly hike. I have learned to whitewater raft, to love wildflowers and to dream in the mountain mist. An abundance of gifts sewed into the fabric of my being forever.
Knowing that there really is a time for every season is wisdom, and my heart now longs for the sounds of the whippoorwill each night in the woods of Longleaf.