Life On the Wild Edge - Part I

For decades now, my artist wife Penny and I have practiced a form of restoration ecology whether we were buying previously existing homes or, on one occasion, building one of our own.  With respect for their beauty and uniqueness, we have generally removed nonnative vegetation and reestablished native vegetation.  We have made as many energy and water saving modifications to the house itself as possible and as we could afford, including establishing rainwater holding tanks and installing tubes that bring sunlight into previously dark rooms. We recycle, we repurpose, and we compost. Mostly, we try to live quietly in our neighborhoods and in unity with our non-human neighbors.  For example, our mouser, for the areas above and below the living quarters is Bill, a five foot black snake. Black bears visit the spring at the lower end of our small patch and the cubs play in the spring pool.  The bears often pass under my study window and their wet, gamey smell lingers for some time along with their paw prints in the wet earth.

In fall of 2004, we moved from White Oak Cottage, our place deep in the woods of northwestern Georgia, and relocated to the mountains of Western North Carolina.
We were attracted to Hidden Springs by a number of things.  The house was about the right size.  The rock of the ridge along the west side of the property was exposed along half of the property line.  The native rhododendrons and laurels were beautiful and provided a sight and sound barrier between us and our closest neighbors.  We were also attracted to the hollow that dropped steeply down behind the north side of the house. 
Unlike White Oak Cottage, our home in Georgia, Hidden Springs is located in a development aptly named Rambling Ridge about ten minutes from the crossroads of Etowah, NC and half way between the much larger centers of Hendersonville and Brevard, both about 30 minutes away.  Our home is located on a ridge at an elevation of 2500 feet, about midway up a convoluted series of ridges that rise a thousand feet above us and drop below us to the valley floor through which winds the French Broad River. 
We live on what ecologists often refer to as the wild land edge.  As human populations push harder and harder against the as yet undeveloped places of Earth, an increasing number of people in the United States and throughout the world live on the wild land edge.  All in all, this is a loss to Earth and all its ‘tribes’ of living things.  But the inexorable push will continue.  There are ways to soften the impacts of human expansion.  There are even ways to correct those impacts and restore wildland and we must look for these ways in order to live in greater harmony with the larger community of life on Earth.
We are the third owners of Hidden Springs.  Twenty years ago, a developer brought in a bulldozer and knocked the top off of this part of the ridge to create a place just flat enough for our home.  In the process, all of the native rhododendrons and mountain laurels were bulldozed into oblivion.  Fortunately for us, the destruction stopped no more than six feet behind the rear of the house.  From that point the land drops steeply into a hollow and the rhododendrons and laurels take over.  The first owners of the home planted the front of the place with an extensive lawn and mostly nonnative plants. They must have been comfortable with this because when we purchased the place and moved in it was hard work for me to undo 20 years of ornamental growth.  The roots of those shrubs went deep. 
But most of these imports are gone now and in their place native species such as sweetshrub, sweet spire, and strawberry shrub are growing.  We brought cuttings of these species from White Oak Cottage in Georgia and planted them here at Hidden Springs.  Many of them made the journey successfully and have taken root.  They are now, years later, several feet tall.  Their red berries and white racemes feed the birds and nurture the butterflies and the deep auburn of their leaves will complement the muted russet brick of our home providing color through the snows and over the winter months. 
Those places left barren by the removal of nonnative annuals and perennials have been replanted with native species such as trillium, trout lily, galax and other native perennials. The corms and tubers we have planted over the years have survived and increased in great numbers thus establishing new 'native' plant beginnings on this ridge.
It wasn’t until the surveyor’s plat arrived, while we were still at White Oak Cottage in Georgia, that we realized that there was yet another feature to Hidden Springs.  The plat showed a ‘pond’ at the lower end of the L-shaped property.  On the day we finalized the purchase I hiked down into the hollow and there, set among the rhododendrons and just within the property lines was a pond that I estimated to be about 5,000 gallons.  What an added bonus and all of this on less than an acre! 

(Continued in the next post.)


 I sit here
on the edge of the world.

Beyond me
the forest stretches further than the western horizon.

There are roads out there
dirt and gravel, and asphalt.

But it seems
as if this small cottage, perched on the side of this hill
is the edge of the world

Beyond me
the roiling clouds of a late winter storm color the sky black and grey.

There are people out there
living lives uniquely their own.

But it seems
as if this small cottage, placed among the ancient oaks
is the edge of the world.

Beyond me
The forest anticipates change, the coming of spring with budding shrub and tree.

But it seems
as if this small cottage, slumbering above the greening meadow
is the edge of the world.

(Previously published in the summer 2003 issue of Talking Leaves)


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