Monday, March 21, 2011

A night on the town

Friday night we went out with our new friends Gene and Steve to see the Belvidere Wagon Train.  This historical observance, interesting in its own right, had the feel of a country fair, with happy crowds strolling among musicians and food vendors.  It was a beautiful, warm evening that served as a great excuse for us to get together and to know each other better. 

It's stretching things a bit to call Belvidere a "town"--it's more a collection of houses with a store, a restaurant, and a post office.  But what a store and what a restaurant! The grocery carries all the staples you would expect in a country store and is unremarkable until you work your way back to where the meats are kept.  There, your eyes suddenly feast upon hanging rows of hams, pork bellies, poultry and sausages smoked on the premises, and a cold-case full of beautiful steaks, cuts of pork, and home-made sausage.  We didn't buy anything but I was reminded of the old joke about the lady standing in line at a fast food restaurant who says, pointing at the menu posted on the wall,  "I'll just have side orders--that side and that side."  I wanted it all!

The restaurant is in a converted historic home and serves excellent, homemade southern-style cooking at low prices, a good place to go for a simple, well-prepared meal if we don't feel like cooking.  (And as for that post office:  it serves all the people dotted in farms and homesteads within a radius of many square miles, so it is consequential despite its smallness.  Its closure, if that ever happened for misguided reasons of economy, would create hardship for many.) 

Both Gene and Steve are locals born and bred, with roots that go all the way back to the original English settlers in the region.  Steve is, among many other things, a history buff, and has become the go-to person for anyone doing research on the area. (I joke with him that he is the local historical society, but for all intents and purposes he is precisely that, since the actual institution does not yet exist in the county.)   He has traced real estate records and family trees deep into history; a drive with him along the back roads of this rural county--roads and scenery where the uninitiated would see nothing but endless fields dotted with occasional houses in various states of liveability--becomes as fascinating as a tour of any city. 

The evening also had its share of big laughs, thanks in part to the fact that Steve has so many aunts and uncles.  Practically everyone he passes, it seems, is a cousin.  Once, as we passed some antique artifact, Steve said, "My cousin made that."  He forgave me for observing that he seems to be related not only to every person in the county, but every thing.

The guys are in the middle of a project Steve and I know only too well:  the re-creation and customization of a very old house into something that will be completely their own.  As they walked us through the rambling old place, showing us rooms both original and added on, and walls that were put in to create new spaces, we felt we were in very familiar territory.  They still have a way to go, but they have plenty of time, and the finished parts are on their way to being a comfortable place they can be proud of.

Of course, for all the familiarity, there are some differences from what we had in Arlington.  Our old place just had a small yard with bird feeders in the back.  Steve and Gene have a collection of peacocks, some chickens, a horse and a jackass--which they've tried to mate to get a mule, but the mare is so far having none of that--in addition to the usual dogs and cats.  The closest we ever got to anything that exotic was the neighbor's pot-bellied pig, who occasionally escaped his back yard enclosure for forays into our petunia patch.  When we called Animal Control, we had to repeat the story a couple of times before anybody would believe us.  Here, Animal Control wouldn't even be involved--heck, I'm not sure it even exists.  The critters belong where they are and nobody bats an eye.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Making sense

This coming Saturday, the 19th of March, we will be in this house for one year.  We mentioned this milestone to one of our neighbors the other day, and she said, "it seemed it took you forever to get here, and now it seems you've been here forever."

She was right.  Those of you who accompanied us on the roller-coaster that brought us here know only too well what that "forever" was like.  And now, since neither Steve nor I can stand to live in situations that seem only temporary, it does feel like we've been here forever.  The house has that lived-in look.  We were quick to fill the walls with our favorite things, from pictures to shelves of art glass that we have collected over the years--old friends which, for as long as we're both alive, belong nowhere else.  The outside is still a work in progress (as it always will be), but the dreamed-of sweep of green in the front is now a reality, the splashes of color we wanted dotting the landscape are appearing, and the incredible natural diversity of the waterfront--a diversity made visible by the work we put into clearing out the invasive wax myrtle--is an endless pleasure.  These early spring days are, in a word, delicious.  We've had a few 70-degree days, when the breezes are perfect and the views in every direction are stunning, and we pinch ourselves to make sure this beauty is actually our reality.

We visited our old house in Arlington a few weeks ago. The new owners are wonderful, so respectful of the work we left behind, careful to remain true to our design, while looking to put on their own stamp, as well they should.  They've done well by it.  The place looks beautiful, but we were both struck by how small it is.  The front and back yards combined would fit into our back yard alone here, and the house itself seemed tiny, like a dollhouse, a miniature.  Without our realizing it, our personal horizons have broadened.  As big a space as 2.5 acres is, it seems normal now.  Driving 15 miles to the grocery store, the idea of which was once daunting--even irritating--is as nothing now.  I do it nearly every day.  We do still miss the compactness of the waterways in Delaware, where we could hop in our boat and actually go somewhere, to Lewes for lunch or out to Rehoboth Bay and be joined by hoards of others enjoying the water just like us, but the wilderness of the upper reaches of the Little River here, with its countless osprey nests, its wildlife sightings, and the seasonal changes in the landscape, more than compensates. 

And yet there is more on my mind these days than mere rhapsody.  Life in all of its chaos is upon us.  Even as I revel in my own surroundings, horror, both man-made and natural, dominates the news.  Events in the Middle East started out with such hope.  Hope still exists, but at the same time Libya reminds us of the cruelty humans can visit upon each other.  As I write, parts of Japan seem to be at a previously unimagined precipice, a possible nuclear holocaust even worse than the bombs we dropped on them 65 years ago.  In our own country, events in Wisconsin and Michigan are distressing, and our national congress--the people we elected to represent our interests--are forever mired in grandstanding, constant electioneering, tossing red meat to "the base," interested, it seems, only in their own short-term survival as politicians instead of the welfare of the nation.  We long for the "good old days," as if they ever existed.....

Like Candide, I cultivate my own garden.  If I can create beauty for myself perhaps my example will influence others.  It's all I can do;  I am otherwise powerless over the Qaddafis of the world, the earthquakes, the nuclear meltdowns, the craven ignorance of the powerful.  Beauty and its opposite have always existed simultaneously.  "How can this be?" is a useless question--it just is.  The best we can do is make our own sense of the senseless.