I have lived in the woods for 16 years, on a one-lane road that originally was gravel. Years of being worn down by slow-moving vehicles have turned it to dirt. Not the red dirt so typical of this area but a dull gray color that looks from a distance like wet sand. There are only three houses on our road, and ours is the middle one. It faces due south by the compass, but because our road veers off at an angle from the nearby southbound highway, I am always turned around. Which is just fine by me.
No one ever drives down the road except those of us who live here, family or friends coming to visit, the mail delivery vehicles, occasionally a UPS or FedEx truck, and sometimes people who are lost and have to turn around in our neighbor’s driveway. We are only one-tenth of a mile from the highway (I measured it when we first moved here), but most of the time we might as well be miles away. During the day we can hear the highway traffic, especially on weekends when the tourists on motorcycles roar past on their way to the nearby town of Helen. But it’s a two-lane highway, and traffic is never heavy during the week. At night, the traffic dies down to almost nothing, and if one can stand the mosquitoes in summer and the chill in winter, the front porch is the quietest and most peaceful place in the world.
From the Front Porch
It’s a classic Southern front porch, with white ceiling fans and wicker furniture. Stretching almost the full length of the house in front, it gives a different view of things from each end. There are two seating areas, hanging baskets, wind chimes, a hummingbird feeder in summer, and a large basket woven from kudzu vines that holds gardening gloves and small garden tools.
From the porch in the summer, the neighbors cannot be seen. The house on one side is barely visible through the trees, and the house on the other side cannot be seen at all. Across the road, the woods come right up to the edge of the lane. Tree branches hang over the road, fall into the road, must be removed from the road. If a large branch falls or an entire tree blows down across the road, chainsaws are brought out, and neighbors work together to remove debris. Otherwise, some of us could not get in or out.
We once had family come to visit, looking for peace and quiet. They couldn’t stand sitting on our porch. It was too noisy. Too noisy with the chorus of katydids during the day, the cries of the pileated woodpeckers, the screams of the hawks, the continual buzz of hummingbirds. Too noisy at night with the songs of tree frogs. That’s what I love about living in the woods.
From the porch in winter, we can see our neighbor whose house is through the woods on the far side of the road. She lives in what was once the small railroad station for a rail line that stopped its trains nearby so they could take on water. Our road is named after the whistle stop location. And beyond, we can see Mount Yonah. Only in winter do we trek through the woods to visit her. I want to see where I’m walking when there are snakes around.
Beyond the Deck
The back yard once was grass, then moss, and now the woods are creeping ever closer to the house. It’s easier that way. The back deck is another world away from the porch. The sounds of highway traffic fade away. Even in winter we cannot see the neighbors on either side. We moved here in the summer, and until the leaves began to drop in the Fall, we didn’t even know there also was a house behind us, built halfway up the hill in the woods.
Snakes, Spiders, Scorpions, and No Cell Phone Service
There are inconveniences in the woods. Spiders can be as big as small tarantulas. The occasional scorpion appears in the house. Snakes are a concern, although in 16 years of living here I have actually seen only two snakes, and neither was poisonous. Raccoons get in the bird feeder at night. Bears get into bird feeders, garbage cans left outdoors, and pet food left outside at night. Small outside pets sometimes disappear overnight, presumably eaten by coyotes. Trees can blow down in summer storms or just pop and break off 20 feet in the air during an ice storm, damaging whatever they hit on the way down.
To go anywhere, a vehicle is necessary; to walk along the highway is to take one’s life in one’s hands. There is no city water; everyone has a well with a pump (and for you city folks, yes we have running water just like people in the city), but if the electricity goes out, there is no water because the pump will not run. Septic tanks must be cleaned out periodically. There’s no old-fashioned, rabbit-ears television reception and no cable, so satellite TV is a must. Cell phone reception, although passable in the winter, is almost nonexistent when the leaves are on the trees, so a land line phone is also a necessity. When we see the neighbor walking past our house and up the hill, we know he’s trying to get cell phone reception.
The Place To Be
In spite of the above, for me, this is the place to be. When I drive down the one-lane road, when I see the surrounding hills, when I hear the cries of the hawks, when I listen to the tree frogs at night, my soul is nourished. When I am here, I am truly at home.