Author’s note: This story, at its essence, is about a mountain and the people who loved it. It is inspired by our experiences with the legal system, which are a matter of public record. However, I have fictionalized the details of this story and the characters (except for my family), both for narrative convenience and for privacy reasons. Also, I am not an attorney. If you are, and if you read this story and note that I have used the words “district court” when I should have said “appellate court,” well — perhaps, you should read a John Grisham novel instead. My point in telling this fictionalized account is not to discuss the finer points of the law, but to relate some of the life lessons learned by two ordinary people who were trying to achieve a modest dream and found themselves at the mercy of our nation’s legal system.
To read the preface, click here.
To read Part 1, click here.
Once we returned to Oklahoma, Mr. Mom got busy – consulting with Mother over the road deal, talking with Jack about his plans and timeline, talking with friends who knew a little something about road-building and forestry improvement, and contemplating how to best proceed with the Unfriendlys. Mr. Unfriendly had died some time ago and his son, Junior, told us he was the manager of Mrs. Unfriendly’s affairs in regard to their mountain property.
Mr. Mom guessed the Unfriendlys would be unhappy about the road improvement since they had been trying to deny access to the road for years. But Mr. Mom wanted to be a good neighbor, so he called Junior to advise him of our intentions to improve the road (for which we were told we had a deeded easement) and to ask for his cooperation. Junior was polite and said he might want to change the route of the original road, but then he dropped out of contact and failed to return any more of Mr. Mom’s calls.
Weeks, then months, passed and Junior continued to evade Mr. Mom. Finally Mr. Mom left a pointed voice mail message: “Road improvement starts tomorrow,” he said, “on the historic route. If you want to change the route, you can discuss it with the road builder, Jack, when he shows up in the morning.”
When Jack arrived the next day, Junior was there. Jack had brought along a friend, Tom, and the three of them walked Junior’s property, looked at the overgrown road, and discussed Jack’s plans for improvement. Junior said his mother was unhappy with our plans, but knew our easement was valid and that she couldn’t stop us. He asked if Jack would be willing to deviate from the old road in a couple of spots in order to preserve a particular meadow. Junior said he might want to build a cabin in that spot one day and he’d always hated how the road went through the meadow. Jack said it would be more work to build a new stretch of road as opposed to improving an old one, and it would require the removal of mature trees, but he agreed to accommodate Junior’s request. It seemed like an easy compromise to remain good neighbors to the Unfriendlys.
Work began soon thereafter. Jack had a full-time job so he worked on the road in his spare time. Jack had several friends, including Tom, who all agreed to help Jack with the road improvement whenever they could.
Because Junior had stalled so long, Jack didn’t have much time that year. It would snow soon and work would have to be put on hold until after the spring thaw. But in the short time he had left, he managed to “scrape in” parts of the road with his D6 bulldozer, (which involves removing the scrub brush that had grown up). Late that fall, Mr. Mom and Parker drove to Colorado to visit the mountain and check on Jack’s work. Mr. Mom was pleased how much Jack had been able to do in a short time. While he was there, Mr. Mom met with Junior and Jack to discuss the final plans for re-routing around the Unfriendly’s meadow. There was still a long way to go, but Mr. Mom was excited to finally be making progress.
By way of explanation, mountain road building is a difficult process because of the terrain. The historic road had always been a dirt road, accessible by foot, by horse and mule, and by vehicle. But some spots were nearly completely overgrown and some spots had eroded to bare rock, so a great deal of work was needed. Additionally, Jack’s deal with Mr. Mom included extending the historic road all the way through our property to the peak of Jack’s property, which meant a lot of dirt would have to be moved. And because it’s easier to move dirt downhill rather than uphill, Jack would have to first create a “rough road” accessible by his heavy equipment. In this way, Jack would be able to start at the top of the mountain and work his way down in his efforts to improve and finish the road.
Jack took up his work again in late spring 2005. We decided to spend a week on the mountain that summer for a long-awaited family camping trip to our mountain. The road was very rough, but we were able to drive to our property in our four-wheel drive pickup. For Mr. Mom, it was the first time he had been able to drive there in decades, a pleasure I underestimated until I saw his face.
We set up our campsite in the middle of our largest meadow. I was astounded by our view – of neighboring mountains, scenic valleys, and the unbroken high prairie, which spread out for miles in the distance. It was like a tourist’s postcard view, and I couldn’t believe this Eden belonged to our family. I’d been skiing in Colorado a couple of times in my life, but I’d never been on the mountain in the summer. The blue skies, crisp air, and lush green forest almost created a sensory overload for this Oklahoma girl, who was used to parched, brown grass in mid-summer.
We used our time together to explore the mountain, to relax, and to reconnect – with nature and with each other. Mr. Mom knew every inch of his family’s property, so even though the kids and I were often “lost,” he never was. Mr. Mom taught Parker how to chop and split wood and how to start a fire with a flint and steel. I was the keeper of our campsite, planning meals and making beds (which consisted of our motley assortment of air mattresses and army cots) and generally tidying up. Jack and his wife, Mindy, visited us a couple of times and shared meals over the fire with us. We played horseshoes and soccer. And although the kids thought it was nothing more than a family camping trip (without the luxuries of civilization to which they had grown accustomed), Mr. Mom and I knew how very fortunate we were to have a place like the mountain to escape to and to call our own. Mother was thrilled. She had always envisioned her children and grandchildren would reap the benefits of her and Father’s farsighted land purchase all those years ago, and we were following in her young family’s footsteps all these years later by spending time on the mountaintop.
Our week on the mountain that summer remains one of the most enjoyable weeks of my life. You see, there is no time on the mountain. When you’re off the grid, time is immaterial. You get up when the sun rises and turn in when the sun sets. In between, time stops. You can sit around the fire, cook on the fire, nap, hike, read, talk, and enjoy the view. I did all of those things. And in doing so, I realized how simple life could be when lived in pace with the rhythm of nature.
We came home that summer more excited than ever, with plans to return as often as we could and fully committed to building some sort of dwelling – no matter how rustic – on our beloved mountain.
To be continued . . .