It is a large hill—or a small mountain—separated from its parent limestone ridgeline by a creek that runs north and then west across ancient terraces to the river that flows down the great valley, prehistoric floodplains now blanketed with a quilt of subdivisions, food joints, office parks, old mills, newer factories, and ubiquitous warehouses, floodplains now threaded with boulevards and highways, freeways and offramps, stitched together with wires, wires and more wires on poles, poles and more poles.
The large hill—or small mountain—is forested on its steep slopes with fine oaks and hickories, tulip poplars, sweet gums, and dogwoods. It is more or less flat on top, and on its pinnacle sits a little township, with its own grocery, post office, diner, firehouse, and water tower. The slopes are steep-shouldered and bouldered. A paved serpentine road leads up the east side from the creekbottom to the hilltop, and is the only ingress or egress for vehicles.
The road levels out and to the right is the post office, to the left the firehouse, next to that the diner, and the grocery across the street. Lining the street beyond on both sides were homes of various sizes and shapes—Arts & Craft bungalows, Tudors, California Spanish Revival, the odd Victorian gingerbread and even a few modest cottages and a single split-level brick ranch. Their back yards walk up to the bluffs to overlook the river valley to the north and south, and at one time, the nighttime view from the patios and decks was of a carpet of glittering diamond streetlights and houselights, with neon rubies, sapphires, and citrines.
On the west end of the street, facing east with a view of the length of the avenue, is a large, rambling Art Deco mansion, stuccoed and roofed with an unusual green glazed ceramic tile. Within the rambling structure are enclosed courtyards and rooftop verandas. Descending the western bluff from an iron gate in the back wall is a stone stair, nearly hidden by English ivy, Virginia creeper, and poison ivy, leading down to a spring near the bottom that feeds a stream that leads to the creek.
The township has no school, for the children—when there were children—attended the private academy; there was no church, for the faithful—when there were faithful—attended the big moneyed church downtown, a downtown whose glass and steel edifices are yet visible from this hilltop during the daylight hours.
If you were to stand now, well after sunset, on the upper veranda of the mansion—once the home of a textile king—under the green tile eaves and face west toward the river at night, you would see no neon jewels. You would see no glowing skyscrapers or white steeples. You would see only black velvet, perhaps mist rising from the pearlescent river, and the silhouette of the plateau marking the western boundary of the river valley.
You would hear no horns or sirens, no susurration of cars on the highways sounding like water flowing over rocks. You would hear, perhaps, the sound of the waterfall at the plunge pool down at the creek. You would hear tree frogs, crickets, and katydids; owls of the barred and screech variety, and whippoorwills; the tittering of bats; and the mewling of cats.
You would most certainly hear the cats.
[Title edit to reflect that this is Part I of a planned series.]