Home on the Ridge
Riverdave’s Journal
Published in Eno River Currents
Spring 2002

      We've done the unthinkable. My wife and I have "developed" a half acre, forested lot adjoining the Eno park lands on Wanda Ridge in Durham. Chain saws were buzzing on that memorable September day in 2001 as a sad number of oaks, maples and pines came crashing down. I couldn't help recalling that annoying bumper sticker that occasionally showed up on vehicles at West Point Park - "Plants and animals disappear to make room for your fat ass!"

      And it's true. As bulldozers rolled in, Josie and I scrambled to rescue snakes, toads, salamanders and turtles as they fled from "our" property back to the park to avoid being flattened by the hired heavy machinery. No doubt some didn't make it. We even wondered if we could bring ourselves to stuff the sacrificed tree parts into the belly of our wood burning stove next winter.

      What a strange bag of conflicting feelings we carried as we commenced what is touted to be one of the crowning moments in the American dream - building your first house. Initially we had to make decisions about how "green" we wanted our house to be. To rate at all in the standards set for environmentally sound buildings, we would need to use mostly recycled or composite building materials.

      But when it finally came down to the decision as to what Riverdave's and Riojosie's home would consist of, we were amazed to find ourselves wanting only natural materials - a log home instead of a structure made of particle boards, genuine quarried rocks instead of fake colored cement stones and a solid tin roof instead of conventional asphalt shingles.

      We wanted to "honor" the Eno River aesthetically more than we desired to try to set a standard of being strict or trendy in resource management. As admirers of Henry Thoreau we wanted to use white pine as he did at Walden Pond. As animists, we coveted real rocks for our foundation that hopefully still had "Spirit" in them.

      Bucking the neighborhood trend, we left the forest standing in the front yard and oriented the house backwards facing the celebrated river instead of the usual asphalt street. But yes, we erected yet another building on the face of this urbanized planet when there were already a zillionza preowned houses we could have chosen from instead.

      So why did we do it our way? The answer is that we are not really sure ourselves. When the lot became available we first went and sat in the midst of it. While leaning against a prodigious pine tree, we asked permission from the spirits of the land to build a home. Naturally, It was difficult to listen objectively for an answer when we wanted so much to move forward with a unique and creative project. This was the only parcel of land we had found for sale adjoining West Point on the Eno Park. We were excited about the possibility of being able to walk to work on river trails without ever laying eyes on an automobile. If we didn't purchase the lot, surely someone else would zap it up immediately. But finally, we got our mandate from the cuckoo bird!

      Some folks divine by waiting for a bullish trend in the financial
markets. Others watch the fluctuation of interest rates. Still others open their Bibles and point to the verse where God said to Solomon, "Build me a house!" And then there are those who never wrestle with these issues at all and simply forge ahead with what is often just a normal expectation to build a house. But for us, it all came together this past July. We had come to know a local contractor who shared our concerns for a structure that would blend in with the natural setting. He agreed to come up to Wanda Ridge to have a look at our lot.

      And wouldn't you know it, the moment he put his foot on the property, a yellow billed cuckoo let out its riveting string of "cukcukcukcuk,cuks ..." Josie and I whirled around to catch each other's reaction, overwhelmed by this most auspicious omen. The contractor never even noticed it, but instantly we knew that we were on tract with the right builder, and with all the neoprimitive ideas we had conjured up for our Eno River home.

      By the time this essay appears we will have moved into our log cabin by the Eno. It is a modest building of only twelve hundred square feet made from sustainably harvested, white pine logs from New Hampshire, recycled shortleaf pine flooring from the old Liggett and Myers tobacco warehouse on Broad Street. The prized centerpiece for our house is an antique oak farm table from Normandy.  Our kitchen has no refrigerator. As an act of honoring our ancestors, we stuffed the front foundation with leaves of Carolina tobacco and laid the hearth with red river stones from Josie's hometown Delaware River.

      We have a sunny, screened-in porch with a southern exposure facing the river. We can't see it, but from our backyard, the Eno is but a five minute saunter down the ridge and through the woods. On days with high water we will be able to hear the river from our porch rushing over the Sennett Hole Rapid. On days of low water we will be walking down river to work at our Wafting office at West Point Park.

      On the very day following the trauma of the lot's initial bulldozing, we were amazed to see gray squirrels planting acorns in the exposed, scarred earth. They wasted no time instigating the regrowth of their forest. And obviously, these particular squirrels will never taste the fruits of their labors. The acorns they planted would have become both home and garden for squirrels ten generations into the future. What an amazing example for us!. We are humbled by the forbearance that these furry creatures showed our corrosive development project. We are inspired by their example of foresighted sustainability.  And that is just what the local movement to protect the Eno River has been about all along - planning for ten generations to come.