Adventures in Downsizing: Songs of the Mountain

Since recently moving into the Intermountain Community below Mt. Shasta in Northern California from the Southern California desert, I have been spending more and more time just sitting outside, enjoying time by myself and the mountain silence while reflecting on my life.

Sometimes I think about the life-goals I have already achieved, such as serving in the military and my time as a law enforcement officer, but more often I think about the many goals I have not yet accomplished as well as pondering potential goals I have not even set for myself.

Other times I think about nothing at all and I am content to just sit here peacefully, enjoying the silence and the songs of the mountains that surround me.

It’s been raining here for seven days straight and it was a very brisk, twenty-one degrees last night; but from what my mountain kids say we haven’t even begun to get into the colder weather or had to endure any double-digit, negative temperature drops yet.

But today was gloriously sunny and in spite of our rain-soaked surroundings it could even have been considered warm at times.

I love the view from my “outdoor office” in the morning, when the sun is just starting to come out.

So I took advantage of the brief change in weather, got out of the RV and spent the entire day happily writing my news reports outside in the sunshine in my “outdoor office.”

Of course that is really just fancy-speak for an old, second-hand desk we have sitting on an all-weather carpet outside our RV under the retractable awning.

Now as night falls and the evening’s darkness envelopes our little homestead, I am enjoying a quiet night of sitting outside, out from under any cover, with the vast sky above the mountains surrounding me.

Since it will start raining again soon and the snow is expected to start falling next week and will be coming down in earnest by the first or second day of December, I want to enjoy these evenings outside while I can.

I notice that there is no moon out tonight and dark, rain-filled clouds are moving in once again. I notice the heady smell of rain in the air. It isn’t close yet, but is far off still and headed this way; its scent carried to me by the growing, blustery wind.

It is so completely black tonight I can’t even see the countless pine, fir, oak and maple trees that surround me and the only light outside is from the soft glow of my laptop as I type.

I breathe deeply the smells that surround our mountain home, inhaling the rich, fragrant and comfortingly familiar scents that seem to come from nowhere and everywhere at the same time.

While I can’t see them, I notice the varied smells of the countless nearby trees, which are swaying and conversing with each other in the evening breeze.

I enjoy the unmistakable smell of the fine, red dirt that covers our mountain community. The soil is still damp from all the recent rain and has its own special and unique aroma that I have always loved so much.

Soon, the wonderful, thick and rich smell of smoke from the chimneys of several nearby homes and cabins fill my senses, as our neighbors stoke their evening fires to keep their families warm.

The fires inside the many, cast iron, wood-burning stoves are undoubtedly fed by firewood our neighbors either hand-chopped themselves or were given or traded for with a neighbor who did cut the wood.

It seems that most everyone in my tiny town of just over 400 people either shares, swaps, or barters anything and everything with their neighbors; exchanging chopped wood for home-distilled honey moonshine, a fresh baked pie in exchange for a snow shoveled driveway, or trading an old four-wheel drive quad for a tree that needs to be cut down.

Occasionally in the darkness I can hear the wind’s howling approach as it whips its way through the tall trees that surround our home.

The gusts, which we hear coming long before we feel, make the branches sing their own songs, as they give up the last of their leaves and the final remaining pine needles find their way to the cold, moist ground below.

Other than the occasional gust of wind, the only thing I really notice at first is what seems like the complete lack of sound of any kind. It is so quiet my ears are actually ringing.

With all the heavy rain lately I have had fewer outdoor and recreational distractions and I have been able to spend more time with my “jhobby” of writing news reports. I say jhobby because the news reports I now write, which I call my “work,” are really just an unpaid labor of love that I continue to help me recover from my brain injury and to keep myself sharp and motivated.

So, with few distractions or opportunities to go out in my wheelchair this week, I have spent the last few days working 15 to 20 hours a day, which for my “retired” status isn’t too bad, considering the insane, multiple-day typing marathons I used to pull as a breaking news reporter and feature article journalist for newspapers in Riverside and San Diego Counties.

Sadly, or maybe thankfully in my case, chronic, pain-related insomnia and an unstoppable drive to remain active and connected to life and everything that is going on around me makes it very easy for me to work for days on end with little or no sleep.

But now, as I sit outside in my wheelchair with a bottle of delicious, but quickly disappearing Jack’s Tennessee Honey Whiskey by my side, I feel my work/hobby tension begin to loosen and melt away.

When we first moved up here after coming from a bustling and noisy city, the silence of the night-time mountains and sounds of so much nature was overwhelming and even a bit unnerving. Especially when we sometimes go an hour or two between hearing any sounds other than the ever-constant sounds of nature all around.

But in the quiet stillness of the dark night, the deafening silence soon gives way to the songs of the mountain and I start to hear new sounds. Noises I am sure I hear every day, but never thought to notice or acknowledge.

As I sit in contented and comfortable silence – my fingers gliding rhythmically over the keys of my laptop – I hear the occasional sound of a far-off vehicle traveling on nearby Highway 299. I can hear their tires singing their song on the pavement, getting louder as they approach and then dissipating as they continue on towards their destinations.

From the sounds of the vehicles I can tell if it is a passenger car, RV, pickup truck pulling a trailer or a big rig; or at least I fancy that I can.

Once I have decided what kind of vehicle happens to be passing by I sometimes wonder where the occupants are going and what they are doing.

I wonder if it is a frazzled mom, heading home from the grocery store in her mini-van, trying to decide what will be the easiest dinner to make for her hungry family.

Maybe it is a newlywed couple on their way further up the mountain to Mt. Shasta, looking forward to enjoying their honeymoon. I wonder if they are excitedly making plans for their future, much like my wife and I did, nearly thirty years ago. Or maybe they are just driving in comfortable silence, thinking about their future prospects together.

Perhaps it is one of countless truckers who pass tirelessly through our valley 24 hours a day; as they move the supplies, materials, foods, and goods that we have come to expect in our grocery stores.

Or maybe it is a family, all stuffed into the family’s SUV, pulling their big, new camping trailer. I wonder if they are on their way to a late-season camping trip for one last weekend of fun before the snow starts falling that the kids will never soon forget.

I can vividly recall those many cross-country road trips I took my own family on. The countless miles, the chaos, the noise, the fighting over the best seats, the oft-used but never followed through with threat of imminently turning the vehicle around, cancelling our entire trip and heading straight home…all wonderful memories I would never trade for anything.

Also, as many gearheads would probably admit to doing, I even sit here diagnosing possible mechanical problems from the sounds I hear coming from the vehicles as they pass through our little valley towards their various destinations higher up the mountain or making the hour-long, 55 mile drive down the mountain into Redding, the nearest “real” city.

“Yup, that car needs a valve job and that truck that just passed, well clearly it’s low on blinker fluid and the owner needs to get that checked out as soon as possible,” I think to myself.

I then smile at my own stupid joke; because, well, why not? That’s how I roll.

I can hear my wife inside the little mountain cabin my son and daughter live in across the property where they invited us to park our RV and enjoy slowing down a bit and living life for a while. It sounds like she is in the kitchen, probably helping with dinner or feeding one of the grand babies. She sounds so happy. So content.

I suddenly realize that even after nearly three decades of marriage, I am still so hopelessly head over heals in love with her.

When she went inside I told her I would be right in behind her. That was several hours ago.

“Just ten more minutes,” right honey?

Of course, she knows better and recognizes how much I love spending my time typing outside. She often needs to bribe me to come into the house or RV, but she knows she can always lure me inside with the promise of hot food or a warm snuggle in front of a blazing fire.

Once again the quiet slowly settles in around me; much like a comfortable, warm blanket on a cold night.

Soon, the quiet is once again replaced by the songs of the mountain. The nocturnal sounds I have so quickly grown to count on and look forward to every evening or in the early morning; when I first wake up and sit outside with a hot, steaming cup of coffee.

In the pitch blackness, a nearby cat calls longingly to be let into a home, while a dog answers in response as it begs to be let out.

Not far from the first dog, a larger dog barks out his orders of perceived dominance over the yard he patrols nightly. He knows from experience that he has to remain vigilant and keep an eye out for the ever-present, sneaky squirrels and the small families of deer that wander through our yards and up and down our little dirt road.

I hear a far off gunshot, but it doesn’t even make me blink because the only gunshots you ever hear up this way are hunters during the day and farmers scaring off a random coyote or bobcat getting too close to their chickens or livestock at night.

The silence of the late evening is broken again by the sound of wind sweeping down the mountain and through our valley. I brace for the rush of the cold air just as I hear a cacophony of wind chimes as the gust moves past our RV, heading further down into the valley.

Sometimes when the wind really picks up, we are rewarded with the majestic deep ring of one of our huge wind-chimes. The ones that really take a lot to impress because they don’t bellow out their deep, melodic ring for just any old wind that blows through.

More often it is the smaller chimes that come alive, always willing to sing their songs and happy to sound off at the slightest of breezes.

I suddenly notice the aromatic smell of dinner that is wafting from the cabin’s tiny kitchen which is just big enough for one person to stand in at a time. I’m not kidding…the kitchen in our RV is three times larger than the kids’ “fancy, indoor kitchen.”

Regardless, the delicious aroma of freshly baked corn bread and my wife’s home-made chili made from a recipe passed down in her family for generations is beginning to invade a space that just moments before was inhabited solely by the smells of the mountain.

Once again, I notice chatter from inside the little mountain cabin.

One of my older sons is just waking up and getting ready to enjoy dinner before heading off to another overnight shift at the lumber mill where he works as a millwright. He is laughing heartily, probably at some lame joke he made, but his happiness is infectious and again I find myself smiling at the simple joy my new and semi-retired mountain life has gifted me with.

After dinner I see my son off to work and after he drives away, headed towards the 299 and his five-minute drive to the mill, the songs of the mountain quickly fill the void.

Soon, the mountain sounds are once again drawing me in, until it seems there is nothing around me but the randomness of the natural noises of the night and the occasional sounds coming from my wife, children, and grand children, in the warmth of the little mountain-high cabin my kids have made into a home.

An owl calls out its wisdom; its far away and unanswered question very faint and almost haunting in the distance. Occasionally, nearby coyotes yip their back and forth conversations. Crickets chirp their own longing tunes and frogs call out from a nearby stream, seeking potential mates while snatching what my wife calls “flying raisins” out of the sky.

Just as I am lulling to the songs of the mountain, an early morning cry from one of the grand children stirs me from my typing. The cry is quickly stopped, most likely from a bottle or just a loving caress from “Bubbie.”

I suddenly realize that many hours have passed. The sun is beginning to rise, bringing another amazing day to our mountaintop home and the family I love so dearly.

Although the morning warmth is slowly chasing away the previous evening’s chill, it is still so cold I can see each breath as I exhale, like thick billows of smoke.

In spite of the hours and biting cold I am still sitting here, typing away. Another night lost to my love of writing. My fingers and leg feel frozen. And yes – I wrote leg, since there is no need or reason to say legs anymore.

The gals are still up. They are sitting on the front porch, chattering away happily and comparing green been casserole and sea-foam salad recipes in anticipation of Thanksgiving next week.

Sitting here watching the sun rise, I listen to the constant, repetitive calls of nearby roosters sounding their morning wake-up alarm, and I smile once again while thinking how blessed I am with my new life, my new environment and my new chance to re-invent myself once again.

Life could not be more wonderful or rewarding.

Adventures in Downsizing is a new regular series I will be writing, chronicling my move from a 3600 square foot, seven bedroom home to an RV with about 300 square feet, which coincidentally happens to be about the size of our old walk-in closet. I will also be going back and publishing a number of earlier Adventures in Downsizing meanderings and observations I previously posted on social media. I hope you all enjoy my wandering, nonsensical ramblings.


Contact the writer:

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Trevor Montgomery, who recently moved from Riverside County to Shasta County, runs Riverside County News Source and Shasta County News Source. Additionally, he writes for Riverside County based newspapers Valley News, The Valley Chronicle and Anza Valley Outlook as well as Bonsall/Fallbrook Village News in San Diego County.

Trevor spent 10 years in the U.S. Army as an Orthopedic Specialist before joining the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in 1998. He was medically retired after losing his leg, breaking his back and suffering both spinal cord and brain injuries in an off-duty accident.

During his time with the sheriff’s department, Trevor worked at several different stations, including Robert Presley Detention Center, Southwest Station in Temecula, Hemet/Valle Vista Station, Ben Clark Public Safety Training Center and Lake Elsinore Station, along with other locations.

Trevor’s assignments included Corrections, Patrol, DUI Enforcement, Boat and Personal Water-Craft based Lake Patrol, Off-Road Vehicle Enforcement, Problem Oriented Policing Team and Personnel/Background Investigations. He finished his career while working as a Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Investigator and was a court-designated expert in child abuse and child sex-related crimes.

Trevor has been married for more than 27 years and was a foster parent to more than 60 children over 13 years. He is now an adoptive parent and has 13 children and 14 grandchildren.