bears, yahoos, and security needs

Late September 2018

“I hate to be the bearer of bad news.” Sam’s words were difficult to pick out over the intermittent cell connection, but this one sentence came through loud and clear. My heart sank.

I was an hour into the two-and-a-half-hour drive from my parents’ house in South Carolina, where I’ve been staying until I can build the bare minimum I need to live on Joyous Gard, the name I’d given to my land in North Carolina. The whole endeavor hinged on Sam’s ability to excavate an accessible road and clear a home site on which to erect my yurt. Add high hurricane winds to the wettest year the locals can remember, and the results were one delay after another. I was heading out to the mountains for another walk-through of Sam’s and Darrell’s progress and to answer a few questions they’d had the week before about felling trees. Sam’s words filled me with dread.

“Seems some people’ve been driving around up here, messing up Darrell’s grading,” Sam continued. “Looks like a dually and a smaller truck with mud guards. The damage isn’t too bad — they missed the drain pipes — but Darrell’s gonna hafta regrade part of the road and the bank coming up the hill once the mud dries.”

Great. As if the weather delays weren’t enough, now yahoos in trucks were costing me time — and money — to redo the work. Sam suggested we gate the entry at the main road. He gave me a materials list and suggested places to start. My debit card and I would hit the ground running upon my arrival in the mountains.

defining “security”

I’d been giving a lot of thought to security, partly because of news reports about rabid coyotes (even in the suburban neighborhood where my parents live) and partly because of the bear who pays visits to my land and my nearest neighbors’ house. Friends also expressed concerns about my living alone on rural property, less because of beasties of the four-legged kind than of the two-legged kind.

In the city, security felt more cut-and-dry. My house had an alarm system, and I had motion sensors on the side and back of the house where the streetlights didn’t illuminate entry points. The close proximity of watchful neighbors and two dogs to raise a ruckus further minimized my concerns about burglars. My yard was fenced, which kept out any dogs potentially roaming around — a rare occurrence due to ordinances and the accessibility of animal control resources — and there were few truly threatening wild critters to worry about, outside of the occasional raccoon vandal. 

An off-grid life in the country presented new threats, not all of which would be as easily solvable as they might be in more urban settings. Would an electric bear fence keep the bruins out? How much of a dent in my solar collection would one make? Even if a fence kept larger animals out, smaller ones like raccoons and opossums — which can also carry diseases that might threaten my dog or me — would still be able to get in. And while a gate would keep people from driving up to the house, would it deter people on foot from wandering the land while I was away? (Poachers have already dug up or picked clean several medicinal herbs and wild, culinary mushrooms.) Would motion detectors alert me to intruders, or would they simply illuminate the way for sketchy characters? How would I even begin to install alarms on a yurt and/or a kitchen cabin?

In addition to the gate, Sam recommended getting a cable and a certain kind of lock to make it harder for trespassers to cut their way in. As I shopped for the assembly at an area hardware store, an employee stopped and asked if I needed help finding anything. I explained about trying to select a cable to help make my gate a little more secure. I glanced up to find him smirking.

“The only thing’s gonna make you and your land secure is a Colt 45.”

His words fell on me like a two-ton weight, nearly breaking me as they sent me into an anxious spiral.

fighting the victim mindset

I’m a peace-loving person, and I try to be very mindful of the kind of energy I send out into and welcome back from the world. While I’d been considering a shotgun for protection against bears and coyotes — more as a means of scaring them away than of killing them — I’d been politely rebuffing recommendations from concerned friends and acquaintances in whose opinions I should purchase a handgun. Although I respect others’ desire to carry one, handguns, from my perspective, are too easy to use. I worry about how owning one would change my mindset.

Giving in to a handgun would mean giving in to a level and kind of fear I didn’t want to cultivate. It would mean jumping at shadows, feeling like a victim waiting to happen. It would confer on me a kind of deadly power for which I’m not ready to take responsibility. It isn’t that I believe a shotgun is any less deadly — in fact, I’ve read about how they tear people up when fired. It’s a psychological thing for me: Shotguns were made to be hunting tools and can be used for protection; handguns are single-purpose weapons, and their purpose terrifies and appalls me.

Still, a cold fear had settled into my gut, tarnishing my dreams for a simple, peaceful, off-grid life among the trees.

for now…a gate

“I know I’m not building the Taj Mahal here,” Sam drawled as he laid his level against the fence post for the third time and nudged it a little to his left. “But I figger if I’m gonna do something, I might as well do it right.”

It took them the better part of the day to set the posts and let them cure in place. While Darrell joked and teased and helped Sam hang the gate, I gazed around at the tall, nearly leafless trees and the vegetation in the process of dying back for the winter. The right-of-way, which had once been nothing more than two tractor ruts, curved smoothly up the hill to a turnaround for my driveway. Fresh rock lay crunching under our feet, a sign of the (relatively) more civilized shape the land was taking under my direction. The sparkling blue of the autumn sky offset the layers of brown and red and green blanketing the hillside and woods. It was beautiful. Serene.

But would I ever really feel safe here?

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