Fall on the Mountain

Small Town Mountain Living


Cognitive Dissonance


I'm a small town boy. Born and bred small town as a matter of fact, and proud as a peacock of my heritage.  I suspect it's one of the many reasons I have adapted so well to living a relatively isolated life up here on the mountain.

It fits my DNA.

Back in 1998 when I moved to Fairfax, VA (a Northern VA 'suburb' of Washington, DC) from rural southeastern Connecticut I assumed I could bring my small town ways to the metropolis. I was shown otherwise in very short order.

Where I come from when you move to a new-to-you small town, or even just across town, the first thing you do after unpacking the U-Haul is to stroll over to your nearest neighbors and introduce yourself. This assumes, of course, that your nearest neighbors haven't already visited to introduce themselves.

Things worked a little differently back in 1998 when I moved to Fairfax. I was a single parent back then with a 13 year old boy in tow. We moved into an apartment complex and, after unpacking, I grabbed my son and we knocked on the nearest doors. The reception was not what either of us expected.

We introduced ourselves to whomever answered the door, then quickly explained we had just moved in next door and wished to meet our neighbors. At the very least we expected a reciprocal introduction and possibly even a handshake.

They were not forthcoming.

Mostly we were met with blank stares, the type reserved for uninteresting, and uninvited, guests. Two responded with an abrupt "What do you want" and one even said "Not interested" followed by the slam of the door in our faces. After nearly a dozen similar episodes, my son and I sadly realized we weren't in Kansas anymore.

I suppose when you stuff 150 sardines into a can comfortably sized for 12, this is what you get. I can only imagine what it must be like in LA, New York City or Chicago.

This is not to say everyone we ran into was rude and unfriendly. But we quickly realized it is 'normal' to have friendly-wave relationships with your neighbors, whereby you recognize them as someone who parks near you , seems to live nearby and therefore warrants a friendly wave when encountered either getting into, or out of, their vehicle. This can go on for years without ever knowing their first or last name.

I once discovered a neighbor's name when his mail was mistakenly delivered in my locked box. Unable to stuff it into his mail slot, I knocked on his door and quickly explained the error by the postman. The person gave me a strange look, as if I had just rifled his mailbox and violated his privacy, then grabbed the mail from my hand and slammed the door shut.

From that moment on I was no longer his friendly-wave neighbor. I still waved, he did not.

While I can certainly understand a healthy amount of suspicion when dealing with the new kid on the block, being rude and abrupt while in defensive mode is  downright Neanderthal. However, after living there for a few years dealing with the day to day crush of traffic and humanity, it required a conscious effort on my part not to act similarly.

Like I said, too many sardines in the can does that to you unless you remain mindful and vigilant.

This is not to say my fellow mountain dwellers are any less suspicious of newcomers. But overall they are much less hostile and defensive, and certainly more welcoming. Mrs. Cog and I understood from the beginning we would need to blend into our new community and demonstrate respect for their shared values and perspectives.

Speaking of friendly-wave neighbors, the other side of this coin is what occurs almost exclusively in our little county. While driving the back roads around here, pretty much all males wave to each other. Not a full fledged wave of hand and arm, but more like a raised hand or fingers from the steering wheel while passing.

Interestingly, if we drive over the border into any of the two adjacent counties, the practice quickly disappears. Personally I love it and immediately fell into the habit once we settled in. It's feels almost like a we're-all-in-this-together type of unspoken camaraderie, one rarely acknowledged by the women folk behind the wheel.

And the exchange almost exclusively occurs on the back roads and is notably absent when traveling the main thoroughfares.  I take this as a vetting process. If you're on the back roads, you're probably one of us, a local, and thus wave worthy. Main road people are much more likely to just be passing thru, therefore not one of 'us'.

The picture at the top, of the pumpkins arranged around a house, was taken in what we call 'town', essentially a local business center consisting of two gas station/country stores,  a small country restaurant, a small manufacturing business, a church, the local elementary school and some tourist attractions to pull people off the Blue Ridge Parkway.

I frequent the local business enough now that my face is quickly recognized and my Yankee drawl ignored. I am now a local, albeit still a newbie and a Damn Yankee at that. But my money still spends, my demeanor is pleasant enough, I engage in friendly conversation and I now share the local spirit and pulse.

I am home.



Cognitive Dissonance

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