Tuesday, August 4, 2009

More life in the country


Little by little I'm learning. I uploaded the photo above two days ago in anticipation of today, when I knew I'd have the chance to post. I started uploading the song about a half-hour ago, ran some errands in town, and it was done when I got back. Anymore, if a daily posting depended on two songs (my old pattern and still my preference) and a picture every day within a couple hours' time, it would never get done. It would take my entire allotted two hours just to get the songs. Forget about the picture.

Speaking of the picture, this is of the little cactus that is really spoiled in the warmer (oh, hell--hotter!) weather we have here. For it, the warmer the better--you can see a bumper crop of blooms is on the way. Always a silver lining--our using the deck of an evening is out of the question, but the cacti love it out there in that bright and hot all-day sun.

I have this morning off. Recent rains have made the terrain on the property so muddy that moving the truck and trailer around for the continuing clearing job is impossible, so Steve's using the time to make progress on the equally important garden shed. The sooner the shed is done, the sooner we can get a mower to store in it, and the sooner we can get ahead of vacuum-resistant Mother Nature, who is as I write working very hard to undo all the clearing work we've completed so far. I hate to say it, but a gasoline-powered noise factory is the only thing that can make co-existence possible.

I think I've discovered the essential difference between this place and Delaware, where we almost ended up. In various places I've talked about bigger distances here and the lack of emphasis on seafood and the seeming lack of importance some public eating places seem to place on the quality of any food at all they may serve. The difference is that little Suffolk County, Delaware, is essentially driven by the resort economies of the coast. The beach towns of Rehoboth, Dewey and Bethany have become magnets for the relatively well-off vacationing crowds from DC, Baltimore and Philadelphia and their money. Over the years, many of those visitors have ended up settling there (as we almost did), and their expectations eventually drive an upgrade in goods and services in general. The tourist economy has raised the standards for everyone, native and transplant alike. Add to that the relative smallness and resulting convenience of the place and you have a tourist paradise. You're never more than 30 minutes away by car from a first-class restaurant, or by boat from the ocean.

It's different here. The three counties that make up this inland northeastern tier of North Carolina could swallow in one gulp the entire state of Delaware. The Chowan River, which is the next tributary down from us feeding Albemarle Sound, is a river the world at large has never heard of but which dwarfs the Mississippi in most places--it's literally miles wide. Despite all this water and recreation potential, tourism and its benefits have emerged almost exclusively on the ocean-bound Outer Banks. We who move here looking for water recreation can find it easily--the fish and blue crabs are huge and plentiful (the crabs so much so that they are routinely caught here and then shipped north to be marketed as "Chesapeake Bay crabs"). But the other amenities we may have been looking for are largely missing. This is not a tourist economy; it's mostly a farm economy, a laboring economy. Indeed, for a DC native for whom "work" meant nothing but sitting in a chair an office my entire life, it's a revelation to be surrounded for the first time by people who actually work for a living. No quotes around that noble word. They work, with their hands and their backs, demonstrating the original meaning of the word.

Now, I'm not going all "noble savage" on you, but I like these people. They're simple. They live life where the rubber hits the road, producing things the rest of us either eat or use. The political intrigue of Washington, which I still find fascinating and which does effect their lives directly, means less to them than the bottom line--am I better off now, or worse? The recent Yankee-baiter notwithstanding, I've run into no ideologues who mount soapboxes to spout off their "beliefs"; in fact not much overt political or religious symbolsm at all, in the form of in-your-face bumper stickers or vanity license plates. I'm sure the people with whom I've had the pleasure of passing the time of day do have beliefs, but whatever they may be they haven't gotten in the way of any conversation that I've had. All I've found is common ground and the same concerns as people the world over: they want to be able to feed their families and have a little fun.

So we have to travel a bit to get to a good restaurant. We still get good food. You can't beat the peanuts we buy every week from the very guy who grows and roasts them. He's happy for our business and we're happy to support him. Sounds like a good relationship to me.

10 comments:

Cuidado said...

Since you like cooking and fresh food is available you could be in heaven. It makes that longer drive to an expensive restaurant all that much more special. I'd choose to be nearer the fresh food and the fresh food economy.

Kemp said...

Roasted peanuts, in eastern North Carolina? You better ask that guy you're buying them from to boil some for you. If you fall in love with those, then I'll know you've become a North Carolinian.

Ralph said...

The fresh food definitely one of the delicious perks, Cuidado. I get tired of too much restaurant food, but occasionally it's a treat to get something I'd never cook myself in a first class joint. I'll never give that up.

Ralph said...

The guy's local, Kemp, and he travels to his stand with his boiler. But if I have to eat boiled peanuts to be a North Carolinian, I'll pass. Had 'em years ago on the train going to Ouagadougou from
Abidjan. That was enough.

Anonymous said...

Ralph - my big failure my years in Charlotte was my aversion to the boiled peanut which it seemed was reason enough for a party and my NC friends loved them. I thought they smelled of dirty socks and just could not see the point in ruining a perfectly good peanut. The parties were fun - that little treat was not fun nor a treat!

Linda - SE PA said...

I sense a new rhythm developing in your commentaries on your new home.

Food, other than the obvious, is an assistant to social. Consider, that you may have started a friendship with the peanut man or the person who grows your corn. Once, the conversation opens further - taken step by step - who knows what surprise may open itself to you. Restaurants are a treat and living further makes it more so. I am doing much better having cut back on eating out. I miss it a lot - who doesn't like the idea of a menu - ordering, and then having someone serve you. With the right mix of person/people and conversation - memories get born. Yet, the same comes through our ordinary moments - although with our daily concerns hanging like clouds, our meals often become other than what we may think they could be.

Currently, I live very close to the mall, several "big box" stores and anything I need is reachable. I have a friend who has to drive, much like you do to reach what I have - often, more than in one direction because outer rural development isn't quite like suburban mall development. There is a positive and a negative to this. Yet, as I age on, I realize I need less of visiting these stores and I am not a shopper unless I need to be, I would not miss the convenience too much. The new flip of the coin is the choice of ordering online - saving time and gas money.

Anyways, I am glad to hear about the adjustment and hope that you are printing out these commentaries. It will make a wonderful history to re-read further down the road.

Ralph said...

Bev (I assume you're the anonymous one), I couldn't agree more and I hope we don't end up invited to a peanut party!

Ralph said...

Linda, I love your observation about h0w one thing can lead to another. You really do never know or to what sort of relationship a spontaneous conversation can lead.

Neither of us are shoppers at all except in the case of the most dire need--our jeans have to be nearly threadbare before we'll brave a mall for new pairs. Most of our everyday wardrobe--t-shirts and shorts in the summer and t-shirts and jeans in the winter--is actually purchased once a year in the beach shops when we catch the end-of-season specials at Nags Head. All of our t-shirts have some form of the "Outer Banks" legend on them! Most other things we purchase online to avoid the crowds and general atmosphere of shopping malls. Oh no, shoppers we most definitely are not.

You're right that things are evolving for us here, and they will continue to do so until well after the house is built, I'd wager. Once all the immediate tasks of this big move are done, we'll see what kind of still another routine we fall into. That's far in the future at this point, though...

Zoey and Me said...

I found people in the farmland of the Carolinas to be mean natured. "Oh just stab me in the back, why don't cha"? I didn't like my stay there at all back in hte 70's. I enjoyed the outer banks mostly for what you wrote, people from D.C. and NY and Philly owned beach homes there and were very nice. Even the Philipino family was accepted and a part of the community we shared. But the red necks inland were a problem. Maybe times have changed. I watch TV and think probably not, see the townhall meetings there on health care. I'm glad I'm here in Florida where we have a melting pot and the red neck crazies are in designated areas like trailer parks.

Ralph said...

My antennae are ever outm Z&M, but so far so good. Not sure we'll ever get close enough to any of the locals to feel stabbed in the back. Our superficial conversations, though, are fine, and nobody looks at us like we have 4 heads among us or anything like that.