Living room vista

Cold Mountain

By Diomedes | Robert O'Reilly | 29 Apr 2023



1*4QaQEmkQ7j82CjcZ-4qncw.jpeg Sanita’s ever-changing hairstyles.

Our move to Upper Lake, or rather a large and brand new A-frame on a wooded hillside ten miles up a winding dirt road, in the middle of nowhere, with not another house in sight and our nearest neighbor five miles away, was due in part to ‘A’ suggesting it, (with ulterior motives) after many long phone calls to Sanita. He lived about forty minutes away in Ukiah. Our little cottage in Santa Cruz was a bit cramped and cheap, while we had loads of money. So I sent her up there in the Datsun on an exploratory mission, ‘A’ promising to help. By now I could take care of the infant for a few days. All of his jaundice was gone and he was doing great. She returned on the third day, exuberant, announcing she’d found the perfect place for us and our baby.

Part of this move might have been her scheming to get me even further away from my old friends and speed (now four hours away), with only the responsibility of raising a baby in mind, and with no interrupting visitors or family even, to intrude upon this large, idyllic forest home.

We loaded up the camper, which could contain all our furniture and belongings, and headed North. I was surprised by the structure, the solitude of the place, the strangeness of it all. It was a huge house near the top of a low mountain, with only the tops of other steep hills visible all round, and forest everywhere. The living room was huge, carpeted, windowed all around, giving a panoramic view of the forests and hills. Its ceiling went up twenty feet, part of the A-frame, but there was a large mezzanine serving as a master bedroom at the back of it, with a railing overlooking it, giving both rooms even more spaciousness.

Beside that there was a dining room with a large fireplace and next to that, all open, a long kitchen with counters stretching on three sides, one counter between it and the dining room. There was a second dining room attached to the living room that had sliding glass doors that led out to a huge deck, fifteen feet deep and over thirty long, covering that side of the house and the best view. There was another whole floor downstairs with three bedrooms and a bath which we hardly used for anything the seven months we lived there, it being cold and damp.

The house, with its open wood beams in the ceiling, wood siding and so many windows was beautiful to look at but had one flaw. In short, it was impossible to heat in the cold, high elevation winters. But we moved in on a still lukewarm, sunny day in early November and only found this out a week later. The place was new and recently finished by a local builder. We were it’s first tenants. The man and his wife and a friend of hers, all in their early forties, with two girls, ten and eight, were delighted to rent to us, a young couple with a cute baby. I remember the husband had to leave after showing us his impressive creation but the wife, her friend and the children stayed for us to sign papers at the kitchen counter and collect the first and last month’s rent. It was eight hundred dollars a month. I went to the camper and grabbed a roll of hundred dollar bills. The two little girls were all over Willy, and Sanita was talking to women, telling her how much she loved the place. The two women and even the girls gawked at so many hundred dollar bills. I knew they suspected right then and there something not quite legit. But they took their share with a smile and politely said they’d only be back the first of each month to collect rent and never bother us otherwise. They held true to their word.

The day after we moved in we had our one and only unexpected visitor. He was our neighbor with a cabin another five miles up the dirt road. He knocked on our door that morning, a rough-looking, unshaven man in a ragged hunting jacket. He looked to be in his mid-thirties. We invited him in and he began asking a few questions, Sanita standing there with the baby in her arms. His first question was whether we had guns. I replied we didn’t. He looked deeply troubled for a moment, scratching his chin then asked me to step outside with him.

I followed, he walked me up near the top of our driveway and pointed down at some prints in the mud, bear prints. He told me they were all around and would pilfer any garbage we put outside and that some rabid ones would go even further and try to get inside our house. He told me for the love of god (to protect my beautiful family), I had to get weapons right away, that very day. He recommended at least one high caliber rifle, a 270 Winchester that could kill a bear, a handgun for inside the house and a shotgun. He told me the little store in town would have them all. I could see he was in deep earnest, as if it were a life and death situation, so I promised I would. He left and I never saw him again.

We drove down to the little town of Upper Lake that afternoon to the one business there. It was the combination gas station, grocery store, pharmacy, hardware store, video rental and gun depot, with only one man running it. I told him where I’d just moved with my wife and son and my neighbor’s advice. He knew of our house exactly. In such small towns there are no secrets. He was a young man my age and extremely courteous, even educated it seemed and out of place. Within the hour I was driving home with the ‘270’ and a ‘22’ rifle for target practice, along with cases of bullets. A few days later with my wife and child we stopped in and talked awhile. He seemed delighted with our company and as we were about to leave he ran to his pharmacy shelves and gave us a small vial of Potassium Iodide, a red liquid as I recall, for no charge, telling us it could be a life-saver in case of a nuclear war. I should point out this was 1988 and soon after the movies ‘Testament’ and ‘The Day After’ had come out and were on everyone’s minds. We took the vial and remembered his kindness.

A week later a cold front hit. The house had electric baseboard heaters but the rooms were so large they did nothing, raising the indoor temperature on a cold day from fifty to fifty five. For a few days we dressed for the arctic, warm underwear, double socks, sweaters and coats, but Sanita was seriously concerned for the baby’s welfare, so I came up with a clever solution. There was a large, heavy rug in our master bedroom, about the size of the opening from the living room to the dining room next to the kitchen. With her help I nailed it up to the ceiling above this opening with a dozen nails, careless of what damage it might do to the finish. This cordoned off the two rooms from the rest and when I started a blazing fire in the fireplace of the dining room it heated up the two rooms quite cozily, toasty in fact. So this is where we lived for the next four months, in the kitchen and dining room, with Willy’s highchair and toys spread around. We moved a T.V. to a kitchen counter, I read at the table and Sanita took up cooking, from cookbooks, learning quite a few new, tasty meals.

I bought a small chain saw and found that one small, red, smooth-skinned tree, a hardwood called Manzanita, that grew all around our house, burned to perfection even when cut live. It must have had some flammable oil in it. A single newspaper page would ignite a log of it, which burned perfectly till gone, with no smoke. By nights we slept in our king sized bed upstairs under piles of quilts, Willy in his crib right beside us under his blankets.

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B.A. in Latin and Greek from U.C. Berkley. Writer, Blogger and retired Electrician.

Robert O'Reilly
Robert O'Reilly

I am educated in the Western Classical Tradition, B.A. from U.C. Berkeley in Latin and Greek, English major, one year at U. of Toronto, studied under Alain Renoir and Northrop Frye, read most classics full time for many years after university in French, English, Latin and Greek to the modern day. I am interested in the near future of technology, what changes it imposes upon our heritage and character as humans. Short stories and Essays are my medium.

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