Just a Sip

Sara Todd-Stone

© Copyright 2022 by Sara Todd-Stone

Photo by the author.
Photo by the author.

My husband and I left it all. We had successful careers, lived in a historic apartment downtown in a bustling city, walked to the local co-op for our groceries. We were up and coming … yuppies. After a visit to the mountains in North Carolina, we decided to take the road less traveled; literally. We moved across the country to a little old farmhouse at the end of a dirt road that backed up to 100 acres of old growth forest. We knew there would be work involved - lots of it. But our naivety slapped us in the face when we got there.

It’s easy to take modern conveniences for granted - like running water when we turn on the faucet. Our little house in the mountains of North Carolina sat on some of the most beautiful land. But that beauty was wild and fought our trying to tame it at every turn. Wrangling wilderness into submission is something we look at through rose colored glasses. We hear stories of pioneers and settlers, see the lives they worked hard to build and feel a sense of pride - That was amazing, what grit! But we gloss over that grit, not realizing the day to day struggle that grit really involved.

We had what sounds idyllic… a fresh from-the-side-of-the-mountain spring.

Water poured out from a hole in the side of a mountain, traveled to a holding tank and then ran down the hill to our tap. I had never tasted anything so cold, so pristine! There’s something surreal knowing the water on your lips is coming to you straight from deep within the earth. And the beauty of it was that there was no electricity; it was gravity fed. No pump, no wires, no hum of a motor. Just a crude filter on the end of a hose jammed into a hole in the mountain. But such beautiful simplicity comes at a cost.

That first winter, our water froze.

North Carolina doesn’t come to mind when most people think of cold winters. While much of the state has milder weather, the mountains are different entirely. Somewhere beneath the layers of snow, ice and granite our pipe had burst. We couldn’t just dig up the old line and replace it. The ground was frozen … solid … unrelenting to even the sharpest shovel until Spring; no matter the strength of the force behind it.

We spent money we didn’t have and bought a football field’s length of rigid, black pipe. My husband, Mike, hauled it up the frozen mountain, connected it to our holding tank and unrolled it back down to the house.

Those words make it sound all too easy. ‘Rolling’ the pipe meant making coils nearly as tall as he was, wrapping an arm through the thick bundle of heavy loops and desperately trying to hang on without it unwinding (beating him senseless if it did so). While scrambling up the slope, he’d dodge cow pies - which were scattered like land mines - after crossing a creek and crawling through a couple of barbed wire fences along the way.

With our first born only a few months old, I got to watch this from the comfort of our warm living room while Mike trudged up the mountain every day. My hero in Carhartts … sometimes smeared with manure and more than a little banged up … he never complained. Oh don’t get me wrong, there were days he’d come back in and not have much to say … at all. But he wasn’t ever short with our son or me. I don’t know how he did it, but he was able to leave it all up there on the mountain.

We left a lot of things up on that mountain.

Mike was working twelve hour days in construction – outside in the unforgiving winter. Yet he still made sure we had water every day. That meant he was up in the cold dark before dawn, unrolling the water hose and attaching it to the holding tank at one end and our water pipes in the house at the other. After a long, hard day on a construction site and a quick meal, it was back up the hill. We’d wash the dishes, bathe our son, brush our teeth and use the bathroom one last time. Just before bed, Mike would hike back up the hill in the dark and unhook the water line from the holding tank, roll it back down the hill and store it in the basement so it wouldn’t freeze overnight. In the morning, he’d get up and do it all over again. He did this EVERY day that first winter until the spring thaw.

When winter released her grip and the warmth of spring came, it wasn’t over; it was only just the beginning. We no longer had to roll and unroll the waterline each day, but traded that for digging a trench deep enough not to have to go through that again the next winter. There are no words that do justice to those long days and nights of digging - always digging, the shutter that rolls through a body when a rock is struck unknowingly at full force. Digging that trench was soul-breaking work - a pickaxe through granite laden soil, through and under a creek then up the side of a mountain.

We became a part of that mountain - our sweat, blood and yes, even tears. So many adventures were had and lessons learned in that little house in the woods. It stripped us down to our core, but also built us back up, stronger than we’d been before. Our taming of those woods left scars on both us and the land as we wrestled daily for things considered basic, given, taken for granted in a previous life. As I fill up my glass, water pours at the turn of a faucet, I’m in awe. Something so hard fought for not so long ago, so easy … too easy now.

Sara Todd-Stone spent more than 20 years building a professional career in insurance but left the corporate world to pursue writing.  She started a blog 
at livinginhisgrace.com and is currently working on a book capturing the adventures she and her husband experienced starting their lives together in the mountains of North Carolina.

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