LIFE ON THE MOUNTAIN by middle-grade and YA novelist (and frontierswoman) Shelley Sackier

I live on top of a mountain all by myself.

Okay, that’s a lie.

Actually, I live on top of a mountain with a huge hairy dog named Haggis, a pack of kittens who insist the only warm place to sleep is on my laptop keyboard, two sheep named Toot and Puddle, who are large enough to qualify as short woolly mammoths, and a bucketload of forest friends.

There are deer, coyote, fox, turkeys, bear, bobcat, and at least one cougar.

I call them friends, but in truth, we are not. Even when I have mistakenly tried to be friendly, they have repeatedly made strong statements that scream, BACK OFF, LADY!

I get it.

I’m in their space. I’m using their resources. I’m competition for survival.

Realizing that—somewhere in between being chased by a 300 lb. black bear, and being sized up for dinner by a sleek and cunning cougar—I found my fresh understanding of the mountain’s wealth of supplies starting to leak into my writing.

My last book, The Antidote, may be a story about magic and medicine and the women who wield them both, but some of the underlying themes—those of depletion—of stripping your kingdom of its much needed riches—revealed the extent some people will reach for their own selfish gain.

But I refused to fall into despair thinking there was nothing I could do to address this greed.

It’s easy to see fellow countrymen—like the heroes and villains in my books—living only for themselves and for today. To believe that their actions are unredeemable.

But this is not true.

People are not hopeless. When I write about the gluttonous self-interest of these characters, I don’t leave them like that. I problem-solve their way out of those behaviors. I search for solutions.

That might involve something as simple as an AHA! moment, or something as grand as a battle to the death, but it usually includes some sort of accumulated wisdom.

Squirreling away all the wealth of one’s community will cause the poor to soon rise up with hunger and anger.

Stripping one’s land of all that makes it desirable, to simply exchange it for coins in one’s pocket, leaves one with nothing but coins in one’s pocket to snack on.

Plus, robbing one’s little chunk of earth makes it defenseless, leaves it vulnerable to disease, disasters, and destruction. Making our earth sick makes all of us sick in return.

Think of it this way: if I take everything for myself on this mountain and leave nothing for my forest friends, they’d react with more than a frown of disappointment. They’d either die from lack of sustenance or form a small army to hunt me down.

I can manage the monumental stress of running from a large creature with sharp and pointy teeth only once in a while. But every day would be impossible to sustain. A body isn’t too fond of continually swimming in a soup of stress hormones. And our planet doesn’t much like the taste of that dish either.

Thankfully, answers exist, and problems are solvable. We can work on embracing the ideas of partnership and preservation.

Just like the bear and the cougar where I live, we may not be friends, but we certainly can be respectful.

I will use only that which I need and try to replace it with as much or more, and in exchange, they will not eat me for lunch, right?

Sounds like a problem solved to me.

Because, I do not live on a mountain … all by myself.

Shelley Sackier is the author of three acclaimed novels, Dear Opl, The Freemason’s Daughter, and The Antidote, and also an award-winning blogger. She lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Visit her website at

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