We were on a northeasterly heading at 7,500 feet above and along the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina. Had I not looked down through a very small hole in the clouds by pure happenstance, there would be no log cabin in our life. I saw, at that moment a long, paved runway in those high mountains. It seemed odd and in curiosity that paid off later, I circled the location on the aeronautical chart and placed it back in the map holder.
This happened while en route to Mount Airy, North Carolina to look at a large track of land owned by the Reynolds Tobacco family. We landed and were met at the airport and toured the property. I found it strange that in the middle of over 2,000 acres was the Reynolds family cemetery, which was to be sold with the land.
I should mention that by “we” I meant myself and Alfred (who usually went by “Al”), a wealthy German who lived in the Bahamas at the same time I did. My sweetheart job was to be his on call personal pilot and fly him around the Bahamas or wherever else he decided to go. In this case, North Carolina.
We returned to the Bahamas the same day and made an offer to buy the land that was not accepted. When I heard that, I took out the map and discovered that the runway I’d glimpsed through the clouds was Banner Elk airport at the foot of Beech Mountain, a ski resort not far from Grand Father Mountain. I called and located a local realtor who had 1,200 acres for sale.
We flew back up and landed at Banner Elk airport, which is like landing in a mosaic of autumn tree colors in Shangri-La. It was also a bit hairy, since you do not see the runway and lower the gear until you are in the left bank skimming the trees halfway around Beech Mountain. This trip ended with Al buying 1,200 acres near Valley Cruises, and Boone, home of Appalachian State College.
Al had four sisters in Germany and had five one-acre parcels surveyed, giving one to each of his sisters and one to me. I was given first choice but refused, saying that his sisters should have their choice and I would take the last one, As they say “the last shall be first.” I got the best one overlooking what I renamed “Waldo’s pond.”
A few years later the economy tanked, and with Maria getting Island Fever and not wanting to live in the Bahamas, we compromised, rented out our home in Tampa and moved to Boone to build a log cabin on Waldo’s Pond. The first choice was a log cabin kit. We visited several dealers and placed a down payment on a kit. But when we were ready to take delivery on the order, we were told the original owner had taken possession, leaving us without a kit. It was then that I decided to move on, design our log cabin, buy logs from the kit suppliers and build it from scratch.
I was lucky to find a new all-electric sawmill that had stacks of logs ready to go. My offer was accepted and in three days, after gravel was delivered to the site, two trucks off-loaded random lengths up to fifteen feet long of newly cut 6 x 12 inch white pine logs that varied in length by feet and by a quarter-to-on- half inch in width. The random width dimensions posed the first problem; do I go centerline, flush to the inside, or flush to the outside? I decided to flush to the outside for two reasons: first, rainwater would not get caught in the edges, penetrate and rot the logs, and second, the randomness gave the inside walls more of an old-timey log-cabin look.
I selected the Norwegian notch, purchased an electric chain saw and started placing the logs. The walls were eleven feet high—eleven logs high. It was hard work, but slowly logs were placed from the stack. I am not sure a computer could have made the daily decision of selecting which log from each stack, since the best log would be four levels of logs down in the stack. Each log selected off the top would go to the best location with minimum waste. I did all the plumbing and electric installation, but we needed a local crew to do the roof beams and roofing.
A very interesting and scary thing happened one night just after we moved in. A severe wind storm howled through the mountains with strong violent gusts that woke me up. The cabin was making scary noises like a Clipper ship rounding the Horn in a gale or a wounded elephant. I got up and, with a flashlight, checked to see if there was movement of any kind. It was then that a horrendous gust of wind shook the cabin, making one last incredibly loud noise and then everything went silent. The wind still gusted but no further noises came from the logs. I summarized later that the logs where all in tension, and with that last gust, they all settled in place. I went back to bed in a silent house with only the sound of the wind outside.
As architect, contractor and laborer it all went well. We moved in and lived very enjoyable years of a quiet life on Waldo’s pond. Our neighbors were blue birds and hummingbirds, and we welcomed occasional family and friends visiting from California, New England, Germany and Tampa.
We enjoyed the people, learned the mountain folklore, drank my supply of authentic moonshine, delighted in the mountain music, and celebrated my Big Five-O party with friends, neighbors in the hollow and a banjo and fiddle mountain band. I cut down locust trees to make split-rail fences and hauled field rocks by the wheelbarrows for stone walls. We had a very generous vegetable garden and we made apple cider from the old apple trees.
It was a special time—all those years on Waldo’s pond—until we realized that we were too young to remain so tucked away from civilization. Maria being a city girl, we rented our cabin to a newlywed couple. It was a life and time well-spent. We moved back to enjoy the good life in Tampa.
Cornelius “Neil” Cosentino became a US Air Force pilot in 1960, and went on to log over 6,000 hours in military, commercial and private flying. He flew the B-47, KC-135, F-4CDE, including three tours in Vietnam. He was awarded 9 Air Medals and the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Neil joined OLLI-USF in 2018. He has taken classes in writing, music, teaching, activism and online searches. Neil is always interested in new projects.