Trigger warning again from "The Gods Are Bored": The story you are about to read is pretty horrifying, especially since it's true. If you don't like to be scared, stop here.
The estimable Oscar Wilde once said, "When the Gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers." Not gonna argue that one, Oscar. And I've met lots of Gods and Goddesses.
I bought a 4 acres of undeveloped, off-the-grid property in 2021. It's about a half mile from where my great-grandparents are buried, and it's all wooded. It was a longtime prayer I offered to the Gods, to let me have a little piece of ground in the land of my ancestors.
When I bought the property, my family (and some of you too) were worried about bears. There are bears around in those mountains, but I have only ever seen one in all my 64 years. I wasn't particularly worried about bears.
But I was worried about people.
My family in New Jersey found this baffling, especially when I said that the biggest problem I would have in the area was my New Jersey license plates. This observation met with wide ridicule in the bosom of the fam. Who looks at license plates? Ridiculous!
Hmmm. Not like I grew up in the mountains, and they didn't.
Anyway, just lately I went to Anneland for a long weekend. The weather turned out absolutely splendid. Instead of being hot and humid, it was breezy and cool, more like September than August. This allowed me to do some serious trailblazing to make it easier for me to get up and down the hills.
On Saturday evening, I parked my car where I could see it and decided to stay to star-gaze. The Perseids are sort of over, but the star-gazing is just fabulous on any given clear night in the mountains.
First I watched the sun set. Then I listened to the katydids as they geared up. The twilight was lovely, and the insect symphony was gorgeous.
Just as the sky was turning from deep blue to black, a big white pickup truck passed my car on the road. The truck drove really slow. It took me about five minutes to decide that I'd better scrap the star-gazing and mosey along. (I overnight in a nearby campground with cabins.)
I had just reached the car and had my hand on the door handle when a very tall man with a very large German shepherd emerged from my property, raging about "motherfuckin' New Jersey tags." I literally didn't even have time to hop in the car before he was in my face.
It was dark. He was drunk. The dog didn't bark.
I said, "Hey, hey, hey. I own this property, I bought it from Charla. Are you B*** P*****?"
(The said B.P. is the nearest neighbor, living off the grid and unseen across the road.)
He said, "What are these goddamn Jersey plates?"
I said, "I live in New Jersey, but I grew up around here." I then began to go down a list of all my relatives, living and dead, in the township. I dropped the names of my three second cousins that I was sure he knew.
He said, "What do you know about the fire ring up on the state land?"
I said, "Nothing, because it's not on my land, but I don't like it there. It's too small and surrounded by dry leaves - a forest fire waiting to happen."
Then I went back to the "Who's Who," and he began to confirm that he knew these people. The guy was blotto, but some of what I was saying began to filter through. And then, as drunken men in the backwoods will do, he began to tell me how the government was buying up all the land around there, and -- yes, this sounds like a conspiracy -- they had plans. That's why he was concerned about the New Jersey plates. "I took a picture of them when you was up on the state land," he said.
So in my most soothing voice, throwing in a little accent for good measure, I explained that my grandfather's farm got sold, and I just wanted a little piece of ground, and I was lucky to get this tract from Charla at a good price, and I had no plans to build anything on it, and he could hunt it to his heart's content.
At this point he introduced me to his dog, who sniffed me politely and let me pet her massive head.
But that's when it got really terrifying.
So convincing was I with the genealogy, the name-dropping, and the "pity poor me that I even have to live in New Jersey," that he got flirty. He wanted to know if I was married, and where my husband was. He wanted to know why I used my maiden name, which he reassuringly pronounced "Jawnson." As I answered these questions he began to address me as "milady" and started apologizing. He wanted to know how old I was, and when I told him he said I didn't sound that old (this whole conversation took place in pitch dark). I said he would know my age if he could actually see me, but I didn't open the car door or turn on my flashlight.
The nearest house to my property is about 150 yards away. And it's around a bend. Only about three cars use the road during an entire 24-hour period, so there was about a ten percent chance another driver would come by.
The convo continued, self keeping it light as possible, and it did run on, because the dude was in his cups in that effusive way that would put your hair on end if you were sitting in a crowded pub. Finally after about 20 minutes the tension was mostly diffused. Then I politely bade him good night, saying I had to phone up the husband at a certain time. With a few more "milady" and a "blessed be," he stepped aside. I got in my car and waved to him and his oddly benign dog as I pulled away.
I have never been more terrified in my life.
Safely ensconced in my tourist cabin, I mulled what to do as my heart rate very, very slowly came down from mortal peril to red alert. Then I decided. I couldn't let this man scare me off my land that I had waited so long to obtain. I had planned to go back to Anneland in the morning. I determined to enact that plan. To hold my ground, so to speak.
After a sleepless night I put on my big girl pants and went back to my land. I plopped in my folding chair and read my book. Sadly, instead of being soothed by the fabulous forest, I was on hyper alert, fully realizing that the Gods were punishing me by answering my prayers. But it was quiet, and I did a little more trail blazing, and then at about 2:45 I started back for my car, which was parked at a pull-off just beside my property that is on state forest land.
As soon as I got to my car I saw the white pickup truck coming. He must have been waiting for me, but he made it look like a coincidental encounter.
He stopped, rolled the window down, and said, "I'm sorry about the ruckus last night."
We shook hands and chatted a little bit about how he had Jawnsons in his family tree, and we were most definitely related somehow. I repeated pretty much the spiel I'd given him the night before, figuring he probably didn't remember much of it. The dog was in the passenger seat.
We chatted about 15 minutes, and I wish I could tell you that, in the sober light of a Sunday afternoon, he was a changed man. Well, he wasn't combative, and he wasn't flirty, but he had way too much to say about government takeovers, and how the state police had violated his rights on more than one occasion. He inquired about my profession, and I told him about teaching at the Vo-Tech.
Chillingly, he asked, "Anyone in your family in the military?"
I replied emphatically in the negative.
After some parting pleasantries, he drove off and so did I, in opposite directions.
Did you ever notice that, when buying a house or a property, people will ask dozens of questions but never inquire about the neighbors -- what kind of people they are, and if there's ever been any problems with them? I sure didn't think of it when querying the property seller about the surroundings. She said merely that her brother lived off the grid, down over the hill, and that she didn't really talk to him. This family's surname is quite known and respected in the vicinity.
Call it a lapse, or wishful thinking. I just didn't account for a paranoid hermit just a few years younger than me. The mountains have always hosted people like this, but just as with everything else, the Internet has stoked a whole new level of anxiety.
The "ruckus" happened four days ago, and I still haven't recovered. I'll never be comfortable staying on my property after dark. And the bear spray Yellowdog Granny sent me will be in my pocket at all times.
It'll be like forest bathing with a snapping turtle in the tub.