Next Door to Mordor

We have experienced a peaceful existence if measured by a personal yardstick: living in a quiet place. Peace and quiet. Of course they go together. Peace and racing. Peace and shopping mall. Peace and gun range. Those pairings don’t belong together.

For 13 years now, we’ve grown accustomed to the elixir of quiet from our front porch when we have our meals in the evening; from the place we put our lawn chairs under the bluff on Goose Creek or beside Nameless Creek, back up in the place I have known–until now–as my “Fortress of Solitude.”

You might say that quiet has become one of our vital signs in the measure of the goodness and rightness of this place. The only ripples on this peaceful pond of place has been the occasional passing car, and sometimes, a few horseback riders clomp clomping slowly along the dirt road between the house and creek, the sea of silence closing in behind them like a curtain.

Silence on a morning here for all these years has been the white page I write on–an unblemished surface of calm not marred by screaming sirens, beep beeping backing up street sweepers, or the growl of traffic we once knew as city dwellers so long ago that those acoustic scars have healed. I owe clear thoughts to the  channels of human busy-ness that we cannot hear from here.

You know when you’ll miss the water. I missed the eloquence of quiet in its absence, in the impossibility of finding any of it for miles, literally, at Floyd Fest Thursday through Sunday. While the energy and human tossed salad of 12 thousand held its momentary fascination, it did not take long to become an oppression from which I wanted, but could not find, relief.

Maybe its is the low frequency sounds that have the greatest impact on the body and mind. I made the distinct connection between the ubiquitous and monstrously-amplified percussion and the kind of concussion that damages so many young men in our times, in Afghanistan and our other wars du jour. The concussion of the percussion, on top of the jangling cacophony of point-of-pain disharmonies from a half-dozen stages at once came quickly to feel like an assault. It made me long for the air of home as a kind of antidote to an excess of unquiet.

But no. The peace is gone from this place. It disappears around 7 in the morning, and struggles to return just before dark, seven days a week. We now live next door to Mordor.

But in their defense, the young new neighbors who have given their permission to turn 120 acres into a war zone of stumps, have in all likelihood, never known or required quiet. Most people neither know nor need it, they think. So the fact that the unending logging has trodden our way of life under the gangling treads of the machinery must never have occurred to them.  I have no reason to believe they are bad people and hope to find they will be good neighbors. Any neighbors will make here seem crowded, but we all need good neighbors. But I need a return to the sounds of this land, alone.

The well has run dry and it seems like forever, and I miss the amenities of our way of being terribly. Once the logging stops, the construction of a new house will begin, with its own attendant noises and traffic and dust. Once the house is built, we will never live on this creek alone again. I have the fear that we will hear four-wheelers by this time next year, small city children and their loud-adapted parents will be riding the muddy logging track that now scars our ridge, a remote place where I never ever imagined sounds other than the calling ravens and wind in the high tops of the white pines. That high ridge always seemed so absolutely safe from the risk of acoustic litter that would spill down into our valley, dawn to dusk.

I sat out on the front steps with my phone yesterday and recorded two 30 second clips: From the day-long sounds of assault on hardwoods and pines;  and last night, the loud but not nearly so disquieting whirr and chirp of full-time six-legged residents who make a racket for sure, but disturb our peace in ways we accept, that is more like music, that has become so familiar it is a part of the pulse of quiet that thankfully has been our habitat, our home, for the good years.

Listen first to the evening sounds of nature, then to the buzzing mechanical insects eating the forest down the road, 400 yards away. You can hear one of scores of trees cut yesterday, falling with a sickening thud, at about 50 seconds in. Dropbox mp3 one minute total


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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. 15 years ago, we bought our small piece of quite in Franklin County, & have reveled in the sanctity & peace of it. A few years ago, the elderly lady who owned land behind us died; her family of course, sold it to developers. We tried to buy a few acres adjacent to ours, but the developers, naturally thinking they had us over a barrell, demanded a totally insane price that we could not manage. The property was sold to a military person (Virginia Beach), who evidently saw this as his oportunity to wreck any kind of havoc he chose; i.e., one Friday last spring the gunfire started about 6:00PM; the last shot of an almost continuous string, went off just before 11:00PM. Of course, there are loud 4 wheelers in the equation as well. He has stated his intention to cut all the timber, so he can “ride fast”. I feel your grief; I would not wish this on anyone. Having lived my entire 61 years in southwest Virginia, I grieve what has happened to this landscape in my time…

  2. When I bought this beautiful piece of Floyd Co. 17 years ago I could hear no man made sounds other than the occasional airplane. Now I can hear almost every vehicle that travels 221, not close or loud but I can hear them. It’s only a matter of time for all of us I suppose.

  3. Even I in Los Angeles County get reasonable quiet on weekdays when everyone is at work. I really feel for you guys, who are not adapted to noise.

  4. You don’t hear those blasted fly-boys juiced up on testosterone skimming the tree-tops in their terror-dispensing rockets? If I had known about them before I bought my property, I wouldn’t have done so. Maybe in a few years, after Peak Oil becomes starkly real, we won’t have to put up with those damned idiots.

  5. Are they clear-cutting the entire 120 acres?? What kind of trees? White pine? Or mostly hardwoods? I can certainly understand your feelings – I’d be extremely upset, too!