On remoteness

By Gwen S. Clarke
You know you’re not from around here if the first line of your high school Alma Mater is: “Where the royal palms stand proudly…”.
Even after 28 years of living in Patrick County, we’re still frequently asked how we happened to move from high-density, high-anxiety “urbia” to a county with fewer people than my spouse had co-workers.
My criteria for retirement living was the same as it had been for campsites. Our ideal vacations, for a quarter of a century, had been spent where we’d see no one else’s lights and hear no one else’s noise. After ruling out living forever-after in a remote location in the Rocky Mountains, far from all our nearest and dearest, we followed up on the first eastern mountain offering we came upon, per a local newspaper ad; we arranged a visit.
Our driving instructions led us to a country mountain road on the lee side of Virginia’s Blue Ridge. I was too busy naggigating to get car-sick on the switch-backs.
It was early April and few leaves were showing, or we’d never have found the tree-lined double-S lane to the redwood cabin in its high sloping hollow. It was instantly more familiar than the home where I’d spent the previous 23 years. My overwhelming reaction was: I’ve lived here in another life.
Alas! With one house to sell and another to buy, I wasn’t able to test the waters with both feet, but by the time the first autumn colors began to show, we were in Virginia to witness the annual transformation of the greenery to astonishing day-glow colors.
We left the city sparrows to their traffic light barrios and discovered flocks of kinglets, job-shopping their way through the rhododendrons. My first social contact was a bird walk—smotheringly overdressed, based on the unaccustomed morning chill.
After the constant hum of traffic, the wailing sirens, and compulsory familiarity with the neighbors’ taste in music and past-times, the utter quiet made our ears ring. We accommodated easily to the follow-the-leader drone of the cicadas and tree frogs, and the creak of our home flexing with the wind and temperature.
I’m glad we hadn’t panicked and fled when we made our first stop after crossing the North Carolina/Virginia line on moving-in day. Helping us with enough groceries to withstand a winter’s siege, the teen-aged bag boy spied our still-prominent sun-belt license plate. “Where’re y’all from in Florida?”, he drawled.
When we broke the news that we’d abandoned the Holy Grail of millions of winter refugees, he nearly surrendered the cart to the pull of gravity on the steep parking lot. I knew the word, “guffaw,” but I don’t think I’d ever really heard one until then. He couldn’t believe that anyone would intentionally move from there to here.
The last five of our 906 miles were spent in absolute silence. During the transitional process, we’d half-jokingly referred to the new digs as Isolation Station.
As we left the county road and wound up our lane, the sound of the gravel crunching under the tires was drowned out by the splash of our stream as it tumbled down to meet us.
It didn’t take long to come to the conclusion that the difference between isolation and Eden is strictly semantic, depending on the value of serenity to the beholder.


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