Up here at about 3,200 feet altitude, autumn has been nudging at our heels for weeks now. The heat of July and early August has eased, the locusts have been turning rusty for a months and way up at their tips a few of our trees on Belcher Mountain have turned crimson among the heavy greens of late summer. The hayfields that gave up a fine crop of grass in June have dried up, and only the cabbage palm, thistle and locust shoots have thrived. Days are shorter, nights a little crisper, and each day we get closer to finishing a year-long rebuilding project prompted by a devastating fire in June of 2010 that burned to cinders the two-year-old long home we had planned for decades.
Yesterday Ed Erwin and Luis Izaquirre poured a concrete base for the stone walkway from our gravel drive to the front steps of a timberframe home covered with Hardieplank and Hardieshingle siding -- a material made of fiber and concrete that's reported to be much more resistant to fire than white pine logs soaked in two coats of oil. Martha and I finished putting up the stovepipe for the Woodstock Soapstone Stove, and Tobie Blankenship got the over-sink pendant light in the kitchen going. The list of to-dos is shorter: New wings on each side of the barn to store all the excess stuff we couldn't figure out how to get rid of; a two-car garage to be built before winter weather sets in; and more trees that were killed by the fire have to be taken down by the end of the year. We lost dozens of mature shade trees in that devastating fire, but had hopes for a number of trees that leafed out in the spring. Alas four more of those on the field side of the house have dried up, and one of them is shedding bark every day. And then there's a driveway -- torn up by fire trucks, demolition haulers, concrete trucks, cranes and a veritable mechanized division of pickup trucks driven by contractors, subcontractors and specialists of every sort. Even our ruts have ruts. I may finally learn how to use that big heavy box blade behind the tractor.
But we've no complaints. After more than four decades of covering politics and public policy for the Greensboro Daily News, Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, Roanoke Times, Greensboro News & Record, N.C. Insight Magazine and The Charlotte Observer, I formally retired at the end of July. (see www.jackbetts.blogsport.com for a link to my last column at the Observer -- and all the other 755 or so writings on This Old State, the blog I wrote for the Observer for five years.) Martha B. retired from the Wake County Department of Health and Human Services in April, and we moved up the hills in June with our 8-year-old French Brittany Spaniel named Sadie. We talk of putting in an apple orchard next year and I'm looking for a bluegrass band to sit in with, soon as I find the sweet spots on the keyboard of an Englehart string bass that replaced my 1946 Kay school bass that perished in the fire.
And sometime this fall I'll go back to work for a couple of days each week -- no more, I hope -- doing research and writing for a few clients of Rocky Knob Writery LLC. I'll split time between the mountains and a town house in Greensboro, but the plan is to take life at a slower pace and enjoy what sure are some of the prettiest mountains in all Creation. We'll put up a few photos from time to time to help make the point, but for today, there are holes to dig for 6x6 posts through ground so tough that only a spud bar will make any kind of headway. I can feel the muscle aches now.