One Advantage of Living on a Mountain

headlights at night
Headlights at night

Not long ago, I heard an engine at 1 a.m. It sounded like a vehicle was coming up the mountain in the rain.

Over the years, I’ve lived near train tracks. I’ve lived in apartment buildings that were never quiet. I’ve gotten used to emergency vehicle sirens, car alarms, and other sounds of the city. But up here, there’s none of that. It’s so quiet up here and so sparsely populated that we rarely hear engine noises. When we do, it catches our attention. There are only two houses up here, mine and our uphill neighbor’s. If you’re driving up this way, you must be visiting one of us, lost, or trespassing.

Once it was a Lowes Home Improvement truck that got stuck on the steep road and was spinning its tires. Now and then it’s a Fedex Truck, which always surprises me because they have told us they won’t deliver up here. Substitute driver, I guess.

Sometimes when we think we hear an engine, it turns out to be an airplane or rarely a helicopter flying by. (My neighbor says they are looking for pot farms; I have no idea if this is true.) The mountains bounce the echo all around, so you have to look hard to find them in the sky.

Worst case is when it is dirt bikes or four wheelers looking for places to do off-road. I turn them away when I can. All the land up here, including the road, is private property. It’s clearly posted.

Small cars without four-wheel drive are also annoying because they often get stuck or slide backwards into a ditch. When the tow-truck pulls them out, it often gouges up the road and the swale on either side. That’s a hassle because we have to pay for the gravel and grading.

Unusual Visitor

In any case, we’d never had someone come up the road in the middle of the night. I grabbed the dog, put on my poncho and headlamp, and headed outside.

Sure enough, I could see headlights below us, heading up the mountain. At 1 a.m. In the rain. Unusual, to say the least.

Maybe it was my neighbor, coming home late for some reason. Then, as they came closer, I could see it was not my neighbor’s SUV, it was a full-size pickup truck.

Maybe it was a bunch of kids looking for a place to party. I headed down my driveway towards its intersection with the road. As the truck got closer, I hit it with all 1,300 lumens of my tactical flashlight. There was writing on the side.

That’s when I realized it was a sheriff’s vehicle. I don’t know who was more surprised, me or the deputy. I gave what I hoped was a friendly wave. He pulled up to my driveway, rolled down his window, and we chatted for a couple of minutes. The dog was calm, and I was glad my poncho covered up my shoulder holster and large-bore revolver.

Apparently, someone in this area call 911 and said they heard a suspicious noise, so emergency services had dispatched him to drive up and down the road. He said he was just going up to the neighbor above me, turn around, and drive back down. I told him he was welcome to do so, that it was nice to see him because I didn’t think I’d seen a deputy drive by the entire year I’d lived here.

Which could either be a positive thing or a negative, depending on one’s perspective. I choose to look at it as a positive, meaning little or no crime in this immediate area.

Privacy and Alertness

That’s one of those nice things about living in a remote area, be it a mountain or the desert. Unless they are on foot and in good enough shape to walk in (which means climbing more than 1,000 vertical feet, in our case), people are unlikely to sneak up on you. Because we look down on the road below us and it’s quiet, we usually hear or see vehicles before they get here. Having gravel means tires crunch, so even a quiet car will make some noise.

Of course, it’s harder to hear vehicles when the wind is howling, or when it’s raining hard. But at least we now know that if we call the sheriff’s office, they know how to get here.

I am reminded of a funny story that took place when I was nine or ten and on vacation with my parents in Calvert County, Md. My mother liked to walk along the Chesapeake Bay under the Calvert Cliffs at low tide, which in some spots was the only time you could do so. She would look for shells and shark’s teeth while I would look for colored glass worn smooth by the sea.

Because of the cliffs, there were only a few places you could access the beach. One morning, we are walking from one parking area to the next three miles away. There were occasional houses along the cliffs and on one of them was a fat old white guy drinking his morning coffee in his underwear. He scurries off and we laugh. He didn’t expect anyone to intrude upon his privacy a mile or so away from the beach access.

That’s why I don’t parade around my deck in my skivvies. Well, that and the wind chill.