Cold Mountain: A Novel of Self-Reliance

By , November 24, 2014

I have read Charles Frasier’s Cold Mountain (check your local independent bookstore, or your nearest garage sale) many times over the years. I enjoy it on a lot of different levels. Recently, I had the pleasure of listening to the audiobook, read by the author in his own soft southern accent (see Voices in My Head). This time around I realized how the story relates to our life here on the “homestead”.

Cold Mountain, (Grove Press, August 31, 2006)

Cold Mountain, (Grove Press, August 31, 2006)

As I try to stress now and then, while we do strive for self reliance and simple living, we aren’t really “preppers” in the popular sense. While we don’t anticipate (or, as some do, avidly hope for) a societal collapse on some scale, we do incline toward preparedness for emergencies (see Living on the Edge: Security Through Insecurity). If this weren’t so, I probably never would have looked at my old favorite through a new perspective on this last “reading.”

Briefly, Cold Mountain tells of a young southern couple, Inman and Ada, in the North Carolina mountains who, just as they take halting steps toward romantic involvement, become separated by the American Civil War (or, from the book’s point of view, “The War of Northern Agression”). Inman becomes disillusioned with the war after surviving a near fatal wound, and deserts to return to his homeland and Ada. She, meanwhile, struggles with the help of a new friend to eak out a living on her dead father’s farm.

The story’s backdrop features all the elements of an apocalyptic future (see Apocalypse Then): an all encompassing war that crashes the local economy, leading to severe shortages and privations; violence perpetrated by enemy armies and power maddened local authorities, lawlessness, betrayal, rough justice, and a general breakdown in society.

Ada’s part of the story resonates especially. After being raised for a an expected future in polite society, her circumstances force her to shift her paradigm, and learn a whole new way of living in the face of the new reality that confronts her. Her efforts to learn practical survival skills and realign her expectations are well portrayed, and, in my mind, offer some vital lessons to be considered today.

Intertwined with all of this is a realistic look at life in a simpler time, a portrait of a past we’ve largely forgotten, if we indeed ever knew it. Aspects of that era are fading quickly from our lives: homemade music, orienteering, plant and animal husbandry, even handwritten letters.

Most would consider me a fool to care about such passing, perhaps rightly so. Others might agree with me, that these are skills and values worth keeping and upholding. They may even be needed again sometime soon.

If you haven’t seen the movie version of Cold Mountain, it’s well worth it! The scene of an African American Union soldier and a Native American Confederate soldier grappling face-to-face for control of a knife as The Sacred Harp Singers bawl out the shape-note hymn, Idumea is a particularly chilling moment!

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