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A respite unruffled by nightly rumblings

Published May 29, 2004

For years, we struggled without success to defeat the squirrels that want to eat the birdseed we've put out to attract our feathered friends.

Then our problem grew larger. Much larger. Sort of "bear-sized."

We thought we had trouble when the squirrels learned to hang upside down on the "squirrel proof" bird feeder and eat their fill.

But when Mr. Bear is hungry he (or she) pays nightly calls to our house in the western North Carolina mountains.

When he arrives - usually some time after midnight - he strips the bird feeder off of a tree limb, takes it apart and eats his fill.

The next morning we track down the feeder parts scattered through the surrounding woods and down a steep slope, put it back together and refill it.

It happens night after night. We were becoming No. 1 consumers of bird seed. Who knew that something as big as a bear could be enticed by mere bird seed?

Sometimes we hear him in time to flash a light down at him and catch him running away. But increasingly his nocturnal appearances were driving our Siamese cats, Lewis and Clark, nuts.

We didn't mind so much as long the cats just raced around and squawked. But after each of us fell victim to the scratch of a departing cat going into orbit, we decided something new had to be done.

We began by putting a large bell on the tree limb next to the bird feeder. That only succeeded in getting more attention from the cats as Mr. Bear made his nightly visit with much more noise.

Then we decided to take the bird feeder into the garage at night and put it back on the tree each morning when birds were expecting food.

The first morning brought traces of Mr. Bear's anger. He (or she) simply snapped the limb off the tree altogether.

No problem. We found a new limb. Problem solved. For the moment.

We'll see what new tricks Mr. Bear has learned during our winter absence. This marks our first weekend of the summer season in the mountains. Stores that have been shuttered all winter are opening their doors and old friends are gathering to catch up on a winter's worth of news.

Life is simpler in the cool crisp mountain air. For years Floridians have been fleeing to these mountains as the temperatures climb into the 90s. There are days when every car in the post office parking lot has a Florida tag.

So many Floridians are hiding out in these mountains that it isn't at all unusual to see a campaign fundraiser or an occasional billboard touting a Florida candidate.

It is a 45-minute drive to the nearest Wal-Mart or Lowe's. Mom-and-pop businesses dominate these mountain villages that have fought to keep out the big chains. Last year it was Lowe's that wanted to build a store in the one-red-light town of Cashiers. After a storm of criticism and petitions denouncing them, they dropped the plan and went away. Only locally owned hardware stores survive.

It may be harder to find a good deal on a new chain saw, but the storekeepers know you and bend over backward to find what you are looking for.

Everything moves at a slower pace here. Just ask anyone who has tried to build a house - local workers take on a big load for the summer and are always running behind.

Those looking for noise and a lot of partying would be disappointed most days in the mountains. Those who want to find a hiking trail, a good mountain view or an ice-cold brook with sliding rocks are in luck. And if you are happy sipping wine on a cool deck while reading a good book, it is heavenly. For us, it is a welcome change from hectic days in the Legislature and demanding telephones and deadlines.

Soon enough we'll be immersed in the heat of summer with an election on the horizon. Time enough to worry about politics.

[Last modified May 29, 2004, 01:00:33]

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