Article in the Lexington Dispatch 1/13/2011

The Mountain Man

Years ago, I went on one of my many hiking get-a-ways. For reasons that will become clearer toward the end of this narrative, I will not reveal the location nor the true name of the individual in question.

I drove as far as there were roads to drive on and found a good place to park the car where it might not be disturbed for the intervening days or weeks that I may be gone. When I went on these trips I never knew exactly just how long I’d be gone.

I started up the side of a mountain just as the sun was beginning to lighten the morning sky. It was not a particularly steep climb, there were no rock faces to scale and even the steepest of slopes had plenty of trees. It took me nearly all day to reach the summit, the sun was dipping low cloaking the western sky with hues of orange, red and lavender. As I stood there taking in the breathtaking beauty of the sunset, I saw smoke curling up from the slope below. My eyes traced the smoke down to its source, the last thing I would’ve expected to find, a cabin.

Thinking that there must be a road or path leading up that side of the mountain that I didn’t know about, I began descending in a circuitous route. But by the time I had climbed back to the summit once more I found that there was not so much as a path leading to the obviously occupied log cabin. Realizing that there was only one way to solve the mystery I warily made my way down to the rustic looking Structure.

As I got close it was obvious that the logs and even the stones that made up the chimney had been hand hewn. The doorway was covered in a huge black bear hide; its gruesome head and all four sets of it’s claws were mounted above. The message was clear, the owner of this place had bested a monster, beware.

Slowly, I approached the cabin, listening carefully to try to ascertain if anyone was home. I was standing there in front of the doorway wondering whether I should knock on the wall beside it or just announce myself. Without warning, I heard a loud metallic click from somewhere close behind me. “Keep your hands where I can see them and turn around real slow like.” The deep voice was low and grumbly and I could almost imagine it coming from the bear’s head above me.

Very carefully I began to turn, making sure that my movements were slow and steady. I was already sure that the sound I’d heard a moment before was a weapon being cocked so it was the first thing I laid my eyes on as I turned to face this rugged mountain man. The gun, if you could call it that, was huge. It was like looking down the barrel of a cannon. If the gun was huge then the man holding it was enormous.

He stood well over six feet tall and his shoulders were so broad that I wondered how he managed to fit through the opening behind the bear hide. His long full beard hung nearly to his waist covering up much of the hand sewn leather coat. The long, menacing rifle looked like it came straight out of the wild west along with the rugged mountain man holding it.

“Who are you and what are you doing on my mountain?” he asked as he kept the aim of that cannon centered on a point between my eyes.

I remember being so scared that I found myself stammering as I tried to explain to him that I was just a hiker looking to experience nature for a week or two and had no idea that anyone else was up here, especially not a cabin. I guess as I talked he must have percieved that I wasn’t much of a threat because about halfway through he smiled and set the rifle down against a tree.

He then stepped up and grabbed my hand. “Sorry about the gruff greeting, I don’t get many visitors up here so I’m a little mistrustful of the few that do stumble onto my humble abode. My name’s Willie, Big Willie they call me down to the store whenever I make it down off of the mountain. You can make camp anywhere you choose or stay in the cabin with me, I’ve got another cot, it’s hardly ever been used.”

That’s how I met the mountain man. I took him up on his offer of the extra cot and ended up staying with him a little over a month. I thought I was an expert at living off of the land but it turned out that I had just met the expert. Over the next few weeks I soaked up as much of that knowledge as I could. I ended up bartering for that knowledge with the one thing I could give him that he couldn’t give himself, stories.

He’d been living on that mountain, and it really was his mountain, for over twenty years and he said that in that time he’d only went down for supplies about a dozen times, and he’d had less than half that many visitors up here, so for him, it seemed that companionship was the one thing that he couldn’t manage on his own.

At one time he was a very successful business man who got tired of the rat race. He signed everything over to his daughter keeping only one thing for himself, the mountain itself and a bank account that would draw enough interest to pay the property taxes in perpetuity. Only on proof of his demise would the parcel of land and the bank account transfer to her ownership.

In all my years of telling tales, I’ve never had a more attentive or appreciative audience. He literally hung on every word and throughly enjoyed every tale I would spin. Three more times over the years I returned to his mountain to spin off some more tales for the man that I now consider this storyteller’s biggest fan. Big Willie was the biggest influence in me deciding to start writing down some of my stories, he always told me that I shouldn’t let them die with me, so I’ve finally started joting them down. Any that I can’t get puplished, I’ll put here on this website to share with the world.

He was getting so old the last time I climbed the mountain that I figure he must be dead by now. I do need to make one more journey up that mountain some day just to insure that Big Willie has had a proper burial.