The Simple Life – In the Woods

Two of my favorite figures in the Arts and Crafts movement, namely Elbert Hubbard and Gustav Stickley, lived early in their careers in the respective cities of Buffalo and Syracuse. Each followed their paths toward the elusive Simple Life by moving to the country: Elbert Hubbard outside East Aurora, and Gustav Stickley to Craftsman Farms near Morris Plains, New Jersey.

My personal journey toward an equally as elusive Simple Life took me from a 5000 square foot, twelve-year restoration of a 1914 Arts and Crafts home in Asheville to a 1972, much smaller and very modest, split-level ranch house on a small farm seven miles away.

Life in the country, however, is not automatically Simple.

We awoke last Thursday morning to find a five-story, 24-inch poplar tree teetering across our driveway. Rather than falling completely to the ground, the top of the tree had become entangled in an equally as tall pine tree. There was just room enough beneath the diagonal poplar tree to squeeze a car through, but not my pickup truck, a UPS truck, a propane fuel truck or, should we need it, a fire truck or an ambulance.

Having lived among trees for years, I had a friend who was also an experienced tree man. Although he had a packed schedule, Lee and his foreman Rick dropped what they were doing and headed our way. What he saw did not please him, for directly beneath the suspended poplar tree were all of my electrical, telephone, television and Internet lines. After studying the situation for about twenty minutes, we came to the conclusion that (a.) the tree had to come down, (b.) we could not get a crane up our narrow, steep driveway, (c.) the tree was too precariously perched to send a man climbing up it to bring it down piece by piece, and (d.) there was a 50/50 chance that when Lee sliced through the trunk, rather than staying wedged upright in the top of the pine tree, my poplar tree would come crashing down onto the lines.

Lee looked at me and shrugged. I said, “Cut it.”

Lee picked the location of his cut carefully and his 60-inch Stihl saw sliced through the poplar trunk like a hot knife through butter. As soon as it did, though, the poplar tree groaned loudly and, like a sleeping giant, rolled over and off the pine tree. As it crashed through the neighboring trees it landed on top of the wires. For a moment it looked like there was enough slack in the wires that they would make it to the ground without breaking, but then, twenty feet to our right, the power pole, rather than releasing the wires under the pressure of the poplar tree, snapped off.

As we stood helplessly by, the electrical wires landed like a tangle of mad snakes atop the cable television, Internet and telephone wires, immediately began sparking and started a fire in the top of a small dogwood tree. The fire then started moving up the wire, melting and burning the rubber insulation on its way toward our house. Then we could hear it: a loud buzzing sound, like that of a hundred angry hornets, swarming along the wire leading to the connection box attached to the side of our house. The swarm reached the box, went quiet for a split second, then with a sound as loud as a gunshot, blew the metal box apart.

Just as suddenly, it was over.

The whole episode took about twenty seconds, and then it was quiet.

No television in the background, no computers humming, no lights buzzing in the garage, no phones ringing.

Nothing but silence.

Rick said it all.

“Holy crap.”

That was my Thursday morning. By late afternoon the power company had sent four enormous bucket trucks, one pickup truck, a new pole and seven men to get our power restored. Just as the sun was setting and the temperature had started dropping, they threw the circuit breaker and our lights came back on.

By that time, however, it was too dark and too cold for the cable company crew to be able to even begin running new wires and getting our television, Internet and telephones working again. The television we didn’t miss, but do you have any idea how many times you hit Google a day? Or how many times you go to check or send emails?

Three days later, I was still without an Internet connection and I was still picking up my dead phone, still trying to check my email and still asking questions of an unresponsive Google. It was eerie, and it was equally as disconcerting to discover just how dependent I had become on these devices.

My Simple Life wasn’t as simple as I had once thought.

Even in the country.

Until next Monday,

Have a happy – and safe – New Year’s eve, day and week!


P.S. – Don’t forget: sign-up for special room requests for the February 21-23, 2014 Grove Park Inn Arts and Crafts Conference starts at 8:00a.m. on New Year’s Day.