Tuesday, January 15, 2002

9,200 ft above sea level

We've learned a lot since we moved to the mountains.

Direction. A home on the southern face of a mountain gets a lot of sun. This is good because it helps lower utility bills in the winter and melts the snow off our driveway. Homes on the north are endlessly under snow, cold and dark.

Water. Water is rare. Most homes up here use wells to get their water. Lots of businesses cannot move in because their water requirements would dry up nearby residential wells. We are lucky to be a part of a community well system that seems pretty much like a normal water utility - just more expensive.

Sewer. Most homes in the mountains have their own septic system installed. This means you have to remember to have your septic pumped regularly and must be careful what you flush down. We are pretty lucky again to be a member of a massive community septic that services many homes in our area. Again, it feels like a normal utility except for the slightly higher premium.

Trash. Like any American home we have trash to get rid of. Once a week the trash truck comes by and picks up whatever we have. This is probably the most non-unusual part of mountain living. It would be normal, at least, if we could put the trash out the night before without having to worry about bears digging into it.

Dogs. Dogs are not rare. We have a dog. Her name is Dixie. Dogs are very common in the mountains, mostly, because of their utility. They are security systems. They are early warning systems. They are companions. What is normal is that dog pens are fenced around the perimeter. What is unusual is that pens are also fenced overhead to keep mountain lions from pouncing in and snacking on Fido.

Cats. Cats are rare. Many people used to have a cat. Cats have about an 80% survival rating if they are not indoor cats. There are just too many predators who would love to choke on a fur ball.

Altitude. Pressure is low. It's an obvious observation, I know, but slide two miles between you and sea level and suddenly things change. The biggest change is cooking. All the secrets your mother taught you in the kitchen are lost when you move to the mountains. Just expect to have your bread doughy and your cookies flat for the first few months.

The sun. This surprised me, but makes sense in hindsight. With fewer atmospheres to filter the rays of the sun, the sun is brighter. I mean really brighter. A drive without sunglasses is not a fun drive at all. And always pack sun screen.

Wind. If anything has surprised me it is the wind. It usually comes at night. Remember when you squeezed your dad's water hose and could spray it across the lawn? The smaller opening made the water flow faster. The mountains squeeze the atmosphere like you squeezed the hose, and the result is wind. 80 mile per hour wind doesn't even make it on the news. Imagine!

Seclusion. A bitter sweet aspect of mountain life is the fact that you can be alone. Many people move to the mountains and take great measures to ensure they can neither see nor hear their neighbors. As promising as it may sound, the result is a very common and very strong corporate loneliness that plagues most people. Humans are a social animal and, frankly, I do not know how people without a church home make it.

Stars. Stars are not rare. If you ever want to be an astronomer, here's your chance. Move to the mountains. Remove the light pollution of the city. Remove the air pollution of the city. Remove the atmosphere. And add the Milky Way. It's great.

Elk and deer. Some homes in the city get some deer visits, but up here it's an every day event to see a small herd of elk standing in some neighbor's yard munching on the bushes. Driving home from church we had to swerve to miss an elk meandering across the road. We didn't even mention it to anyone else it was so normal.

Grass. If there is one thing I miss it is grass. The idea of grass is not completely lost in the mountains, but for the most part, the fertile land needed to grow such a delicacy is not here. Most of the land is made up of powdered granite. Some flatter-lands have grass, but the dry air and animal grazing keeps the harvest pretty slim. The good side: I own a half acre of land and I don't own a lawn mower.

Fall. We expected to miss fall because Aspens and Pines make up the wealth of our trees. Aspens blanket some mountains. They are golden in the fall. We miss some of the reds from Oak trees, but we don't miss fall. Not to mention that warm/cool sweater/short sleave weather in fall is what we have almost year-round.

Entertainment. The similarity between a small town and living in the mountains is great. The biggest difference is, of course, the mountains - and perhaps a richer economy in a mountain community. Anyway, what is the same is the lack of restaurants, movie theaters and go-kart tracks. It's a trek down the mountain if you want that kind of play.

Broadband. I don't know. Some people may not care about high speed access to the internet, but I do. There are only two choices in the mountains. There are three if your local telco is willing to install a DSL switch for your community (which ours is not), otherwise you are limited to satellite or ISDN. Neither of those is cheap.

Crime. The good news of having so little oxygen is that it's hard to run! The truth is, mountain communities have one of the lowest crime rates of anyplace in the country. The most common crime is to have incidentals stolen from a construction site, but in all reality, most of that crime is likely perpetrated by the employees. When 80 MPH winds and mountain lions don't make the local paper, pick pockets do.

Health. You know that you are supposed to raise your heart rate for 20 minutes three times a week, right? That significantly reduces your chances for a heart attack. Come carry groceries up from the car to my kitchen and you'll never have felt so good. Not enough for you? Try the laundry from the basement to our bedroom on the third floor. We should charge people to come work out.

Skiing. Skiing is fun. When we lived in Washington, so close to the museums, we still missed seeing a lot of them. When you live in the mountains, so close to the western slopes, you can easily miss them, too. We're trying not to.

Snow. A big surprise, so far, for us is that the snow is not as pummeling as we expected. In fact, most of the snow we have had has melted by the week's end. It's also a dry, powdery snow - not so good for snowball fights. We've always gotten up our driveway and we've never felt snowed in. And - to add to it - I bet we've had more snow that you have had this year. (unless you are from Buffalo, NY)

Cost. This is a quick one. Things are more expensive in the mountains. One reason is because stores have you sorta trapped. Another reason is because the plumber you hire pays his mortgage with your payment. It's the circle of life, but it's expensive.

That's all. There's more, I assure you - the mountains have surprised us in many ways. The most pleasant surprise is how the beauty of the ranges out our windows never grow old. The pink morning, the powdered snow tops, the sunsets - almost every day has been a surprise.

Every once in a while, like when I was taking down some of the Christmas lights that had come loose last weekend, I just catch myself, stop for a second, and re-experience the peaks that poke out of the forests below. That, let me tell you, is a worthwhile surprise.

No comments: