Saturday, October 1, 2011

North Carolina News

This story won't make it to national news, but I know some of you will be interested.

The Republicans who were ushered into the state legislature as a result of the 2010 midterm elections lost no time reviving the same-sex marriage issue. They have scheduled a state-wide referendum on a constitutional amendment which declares marriage to be a union between one man and one woman. A majority of North Carolinians, 56%, are against such an amendment; this number has held steady over the past several years. More Republicans than Democrats are in favor of the amendment, however, as might be expected.

The Republican sponsors of the amendment scheduled the vote on this referendum to take place during the May primaries.  Obama is running unopposed.  Guess who will not be showing up at the polls in droves to vote in the primaries?

The majority of the citizens of North Carolina are against this marriage amendment, but the majority will not vote.  The Republicans know this and have cynically rigged the outcome, the will of the majority be damned.

And my Republican friends wonder why I don't join them.....

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


On Saturday, August 27, Irene came to call as promised.  For a week, we had been hearing about this major hurricane that appeared to be following the classic northeasterly path, laying waste to the islands of the Caribbean.  As the days passed, we watched as it drifted substantially eastward, sparing, for once, the Florida coast, but bearing straight down on the Outer Banks, the barrier islands of North Carolina.  Lovely as they are, those unstable sandbars where never serious contenders when we thought of moving to North Carolina.  We settled instead on what is called the “Inner Banks,” the land directly north and west of the Albemarle Sound, off the Little River, which is one of the 5 major rivers that drain northeastern North Carolina and feed the Sound.   (A “sound” is basically a bay.  Chesapeake Bay could be called Chesapeake Sound and it would mean the same thing.  Rehoboth Bay?  Rehoboth Sound.  That’s the easiest way to think of it.  North Carolina's two major sounds, Albemarle and Pamlico, are enormous bodies of water that separate mainland North Carolina from the Outer Banks and the Atlantic Ocean.)  We decided on this inland area because it is inland, relatively protected from the coast-hugging storms that frequent this part of the country at any time of the year.  As unpleasant as Irene turned out to be, it could have been a lot worse, judging from the damage sustained on the Outer Banks themselves.  We definitely made the right choice.

But of course we didn’t know that as we watched Irene approach.  We had already experienced two major storms here: the already-legendary nor’easter of November, 2009, while we were still in the Edenton rental house, and Tropical Storm Nicole in September of 2010.  It was during Nicole that we first witnessed two opposing phenomena:  first our back yard filled with water as Lunker Creek, normally a gentle meander but now swollen with rain and pushed by the wind, crept ever higher into the wetlands that surround the rear of our house and eventually into the back yard; and then, as the eye passed and the wind reversed, the water disappeared from the yard and indeed, from the creek itself.  It was the most graphic illustration imaginable of the wind tides (as opposed to the lunar tides the rest of the world is familiar with) that drive the waters around here. 

Could Irene be any worse?  Well, yes.  For one thing, there’s always Hurricane Isabel to remember.  This 2003 storm is the local benchmark for meteorological devastation, and our more seasoned neighbors always have it in mind when they hear of the approach of another Big One.  We’ve seen the pictures of downed ancient trees and ruined homes; their fear is well-founded.  And then of course there were the frantic reports of the TV talking heads, without which no storm of any consequence is complete.  We hung on to their every word, avidly watching the various modeled storm tracks.  On Friday, the day before the storm hit, we were told that it would make landfall early the next morning on the Outer Banks as a Category 2 storm (with winds of 96-110 mph), and then, strengthened as it made its 13 mph procession northeast over the local intra-coastal waters and got closer to us, momentarily increase to a Category 3 (111-130 mph).  Whew!

By the time we heard that, we had already prepared as much as we could.  We laid in extra food, secured in one way or another anything outside that could move, taped all the floor-to-ceiling glass doors that line the back of our house, and primed the generator (and stocked 25 gallons of gasoline to run it—we could have limped along on lights, fans, the gas cooktop and the TV for weeks).  The thought of leaving never entered our minds--we wanted to be here in case anything untoward did happen so that we could remedy it on the spot.  We’d never have rested easy worrying about our boat, porch furniture, etc., from a distance.  We felt secure in our decision to ride it out for several reasons.  We knew that this house was well-constructed and would weather the storm.  We also knew that it was built high enough off the ground so that for creek water to breach the back deck, much less enter the house, this storm would have to be of truly horror-movie proportions.  As worrisome as all the reports were, they never indicated anything approaching that magnitude. Last, but by no means least, we have a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) here, neighbors who have had specific training to deal with these very eventualities and offer their informed assistance.  (We mean to take that training ourselves; unfortunately the most recent was the day after we’d hosted a big neighborhood party and could barely motivate ourselves out the door. This storm clearly demonstrated the usefulness of the training.  Next time!)  Storms, no matter how big, don’t last forever.  We felt safe.

Saturday morning dawned blustery and very rainy.  Our weather station, which measures conditions at the end of our dock, had collected about 3 inches of rain overnight, but the water at that time had not yet gotten into our yard.  We lost electric power at about 9 AM, but the generator kept us going, and phone and internet service were so far uninterrupted.  I spent much of the morning taking pictures and posting up-to-the-minute progress reports to our far-flung friends and family on Facebook.  (Steve donned in his yellow slicker suit and took movies outside.)  Internet and phone service went down at about noon, and then our only connection with the outside was the TV and very spotty cellphone service.  (Up to then, I had been so prompt with my Facebook updates that I really became more concerned about our friends worrying about us than about anything in our immediate situation.) 

The storm continued glacially upon its path and the hours rolled by.  It had weakened to Category 1 (74-95 mph) by landfall (which occurred almost exactly where predicted) and never gained strength over the Sound, but the wind and rain were still steady and ferocious.  The one bit of excitement for the rest of the day was around food (of course):  I had planned on roasting a chicken for dinner but we discovered right away that the generator couldn’t support the draw of the electric oven.  The generator conked out and it seemed to take forever to figure out how to make it work again.  (We were neglecting a pivotal circuit breaker.)  I ended up frying a 6 lb. bird.  (Today’s chickens are regular Dolly Partons—it’s a mystery to me how they can stand on their spindly chicken legs carrying all that breast meat.)

Between 4 and 5 PM the eye passed us, over the Sound to the southeast of Elizabeth City.  That’s quite near us but we did not have that other-worldly experience of seeing the clear blue sky and utter calm of the eye when it is directly upon you.  The rain subsided a bit and the sky lightened, but we remained in storm conditions.  We finally tired of the incessant yakking of the weather people on TV, so we watched a movie.  By the time night fell, we knew that the wind had reversed and the storm was moving on.  Steve suited up and took a flashlight to the end of the dock, and came back to report that the creek was emptying.  That was the best news of the day, a sure sign that the worst was over.  At around 9 PM, the house was still feeling clammy and too warm, and we were wondering how sleeping would be without air conditioning.  As if on cue, the humidity and the temperature dropped as the strong back winds of the storm came in from the northwest.  Sleeping was wonderful. 

Sunday dawned gray but relatively dry, and with the normalization of the wind, the creek had filled up again, temporarily rain-swollen.  (Our weather station had collected a total of 6.5 inches of rain.)  Water was about 4 feet into our back yard at 7 AM; by the end of the day it had mostly receded and now, Tuesday, everything is where it’s supposed to be.

We came through pretty much unscathed, with one skinny, already-dead tree down in the wooded area of the front, and another tree and a couple of large wax myrtles fallen in the wetland on the south side of the house.  The cleanup still feels massive, however, what with all the downed limbs and pine tails littering everywhere the eye falls.  We got half of the front cleaned yesterday; today’s rain gives us a rest from all that stooping and loading.  We’ll get back to work tomorrow and by the time we’re done it will be looking like nothing ever happened.  (We are creating the mother of all burn piles, however!)  The neighborhood as a whole came through well, and luckily Isabel remains a benchmark as yet unmatched.  There are some downed trees here and there, and a couple large ones actually uprooted in the common area near the community boat ramp.  But all the houses are undamaged and the main thoroughfare was never impassable due to downed trees. 

We are all safe and sound, thanks to the vagaries of Mother Nature’s steering currents, and to the planning inspired and advised by our ever-wonderful neighbors.  The wisdom, born of hard experience, of our “pioneers,” (anyone who’s been here longer than us!), and their willingness to share it, is priceless.  We never want to go through something like Hurricane Irene again, but of course, we will, and there’s no doubt some future storm will be worse.  We chose to live in this storm-prone region.  How lucky we are to be in such a community.

Monday, July 18, 2011

My Comment to Congress

On Wednesday July 20, Congress will be reconsidering DOMA (the "Defense of Marriage Act," one of Bill Clinton's most disastrous "third-way" compromises) for the first time since it was enactted 15 years ago.  The Human Rights Campaign asked for comments from those whom this inhumane law affects directly.  Here's what I said:

I am a 65-year-old federal retiree in a same-sex domestic partnership of 32 years.  Because of DOMA, my partner is not eligible for any survivor benefits from me, nor can I add him to my health insurance.  In order to ensure that he is looked after if I should die first, I have been forced by this situation to take out a life insurance policy.  As to health benefits:  He has a chronic health issue which we must cover in the individual insurance market at exorbitant rates; in fact, as I write, he is in severe pain which we cannot treat because on the individual market he cannot get coverage for the condition for a year.  Members of congress:  I am on the exact same FEHBP as you; imagine yourselves in this ridiculous position to know my frustration.  The federal government is shooting itself in the foot with this outdated law, discouraging talented potential civil servants from applying for employment because they happen to be gay and can get humane treatment for their family members in the private sector.  For heaven's sake drag yourselves into the 21st century.

Friday, July 15, 2011

What a trip!

This promises to be a long read, so sit back.  I've italicized some place names in case you want to scroll through to things that interest you more, and I've also linked the places either to a corresponding Picasa album, or to websites about them.  Click on anything underlined to find some kind of link.

We returned from our big road trip this past Tuesday, July 12.  We put 2500 miles on my little 2001 Prizm and it's still running like a top.  First, we traveled from here, in the extreme northeast corner of North Carolina, to Raleigh, in the middle of the state, and from there to Asheville and Hendersonville in the far west.  (If we were to go directly from here to Asheville, it would be the equivalent in miles to the distance between here and New York City.  That's how long North Carolina is.)  And we went on from there.

We visited our friend Ann in Raleigh who, even after all the times we'd been there, managed to come up with new things to show us.  The North Carolina Museum of Art there is a cutting-edge design second to none, affording me, at least, one of the most satisfying museum experiences of any kind I've ever had.  The stark white, rectangular simplicity of its exterior almost hides the fact that its sides are actually a series of louvers, set to open and close automatically depending on the intensity of the sun.  The interior is also full of subtle but cutting-edge technological advances, all in exclusive service, like the space itself, to the art on display; there is nothing to draw the eye elsewhere.  The collection is big and representative of every art form or era you can think of, from Egyptian sarcophagi to Greek sculpture to Roman glass, on through Meso-American, all the stages of Eurpoean, and on and on.  If you are ever in Raleigh, visit this museum.  You won't be disappointed; I've merely skimmed the surface of its features.  Also in Raleigh, we visited the arboretum at NC State--useful for us to see what grows best here.

We had several revelations on this trip.  The next was Asheville, North Carolina.  If it were nearer the coast, and despite all the love and hard work we've put into where we are now, we'd move there in a heartbeat.  What a fun, funky place!  A mid-sized city of about 70,000, it's nestled beautifully in various valleys of the Blue Ridge and has as many fun things to look at and do as cities twice its size, only it's better, precisely because it is smaller and very accessible.  Our hosts were Frank and Rick, old friends from Arlington--the guys who were the surrogate parents for our cats and kept us looking decent with good haircuts--who up and decided to move to North Carolina (but too far away!) about a year after we did.  Features:  restaurants, restaurants and more restaurants.  We counted three Thai restaurants in as many blocks on one street.  Architecture:  Asheville crashed hard in 1929, after being home to the Vanderbilts and their ilk.  It could never afford urban renewal; as a result, it is a city where, architecturally, time stood still.  It has one of the highest concentrations of authentic art deco design in the country, buildings have been restored to their original luster, and are not mere museum pieces but are full of bustling life.  Street life:  the Friday night drumming circle must be experienced.  It starts out simply enough in the main park downtown.  As the evening progresses, it becomes more and more crowded, until towards midnight people are grooving shoulder-to-shoulder to the constantly-evolving beat.  Sheer joy.  On top of all that general grooviness, there are street musicians and performance artists on every corner.  It's New York, it's New Orleans, and it's in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  What a place!  (And I dare not forget to mention The Grove Park Inn, a fabulous stone-faced structure built into the side of a mountain in 1913 and serving only the most elite clientele ever since.  We were allowed in to avail ourselves of the buffet there--our first major pig-out of the trip.  You simply couldn't stop yourself from going back for more, the dishes were so varied and so well-prepared.)

While in Asheville, we also took two major tours of Biltmore, the summer retreat built by George Vanderbilt.  It's a beautiful place worth the time (and considerable expense to get in).  Not only is it architecturally interesting, the reforestation of the surrounding land required post-construction gave birth to the American forestry movement.  The "Cradle of Forestry" museum is nearby.

From Asheville we traveled about 20 miles down I-26 to the small city of Hendersonville, NC, where Peace Corps buddy Chuck and his wife Sandy hosted us in their gorgeous log home high on a wooded hill, and gave us a big dose of the mountains we had only looked at while in Asheville.  We hiked to various waterfalls and peaks (in particular Chimney Rock) and got the workouts we were beginning to need after that Grove Park Inn orgy.  All in all these two stops gave us a welcome megadose of Western North Carolina, causing us to marvel at the diversity of this state, from the flat, hot coastal plain we call home to the beautiful, green and rolling countryside out west.

Next stop:  five hours west to Nashville.  We fell in love with the place.  It has great energy, almost entirely devoted to show business.  We did the obligatory tours of the Country Music Hall of Fame and the home of the Grand Ole Opry, Ryman Auditorium.  (Even if you aren't a country music fan, these places are iconic parts of the American cultural landscape and deserve attention.  And some of the huge names associated with them--Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, Conway Twitty--really transcend genre and are simply great in their own right.)  Both these places were amazingly tourist-friendly, with photographs allowed everywhere, even inside the Ryman.  The Hall of Fame tour included RCA's Studio B, where Elvis and other pop music legends created the sound tracks of most of our lives.  The very Steinway grand on which Floyd Cramer played "Last Date" stands there in the middle of the room, and anyone is free to sit at it and doodle.  There's no telling how many times the strings on that baby have been replaced, but the warm sound was familiar.

Aside from the expected tourist haunts we were also lucky enough to have had a real, live honky-tonk recommended to us in the beating heart of the city, on Broadway.  Broadway in Nashville is a combination of Bourbon Street and Times Square, crammed by night with rowdy people rubbing shoulders as they snake up and down the sidewalks lined with storefronts.  From every one of these doorways pours the sound of the best of the young musicians who've made their way to this music mecca, reaching for the brass ring, singing and playing their hearts out.  We found our way to Robert's Western World, where the Don Kelley Band and an incredible 24-year-old guitarist, JD Simo, play.  (The last song in the set in the linked video features him playing a "Ghost Riders in the Sky" the likes of which you won't see anywhere else.)  Without question, Simo is the current generation's answer to Clapton, Richards and Hendrix.  He is mesmerizing; we'll be hearing much more from him.  Robert's Western World charges no minimum and provides free refills of non-alcoholic drinks.  They serve burgers and fries; the bands make money there literally by passing the tip jar.  (They all have regular, paying jobs in music--they just come to Robert's to keep their performing mojo in shape.)   Our only complaint about Robert's was the volume.  It's a tiny room but it is amped for an arena.  The musicians were wearing ear plugs; they should have been provided for the audience, too.  For a while there I was half expecting my ears to start bleeding, but they didn't, and we stayed because the band, and especially JD, was so damn good!

We loved Nashville and will be back, but July 4 beckoned, so we headed north to Cincinnati, to be with still more dear friends, Michele and John   John's the cook; Michele, who was a Peace Corps volunteer with me in the same city in Ghana, is the hostess with the mostess.  We had a relaxing and well-fed sojourn there, with just a couple of outings.  One day was spent on a drive in the countryside along the Ohio River, where we saw Ulysses Grant's birthplace (it was closed) and then took a ferry across the river into Kentucky and the quaint waterfront town of Augusta, where a shrine to Rosemary Clooney has been erected.  Clooney was originally from down the road in Maysville, but toward the end of her life she used this little house in Augusta as a retreat.  Sad to say that aside from being able to say we've seen it, there isn't much to recommend this place.  The house is entirely filled with Clooney's career memorabilia, with no attempt at all to re-create how it looked when she was in it.  There are some rather yummy pictures of nephew Georgie as a very young man, and the docent has some interesting stories to tell.   But in our opinion this attraction is not all it could be and would take second place to any other diversion you may have in mind.

Our next took stop took us across Ohio and just over the Pennsylvania line to Pittsburgh, and the nearby, iconic attraction of the Frank Lloyd Wright house, Fallingwater.  Pittsburgh itself was another revelation, with hilltop views to rival those of San Francisco, looking down on gleaming, adventurous new architecture along its three rivers.  Andy Warhol was from Pittsburgh, and the museum there devoted to his life and work is definitely worth the time it takes to explore its seven easily-navigated floors.  And you must take the Monongahela Incline, a tram that carries you up the side of Mount Washington to Grandview Avenue and a series of breathtaking views of the city.  It's hard to believe that with its smoke and coal dust (the U.S. bituminous coal industry got its start here) Pittsburgh was until recently one of the darkest and most unhealthy places in the country; those Grandview Avenue sights were barely visible. 

And then there is Fallingwater.  Brilliantly conceived and engineered outside, it is downright uncomfortable inside for anyone over 5'10" tall, and dark, to boot.  Wright was 5'8" on a good day and built to his own scale (which he modestly referred to as "human"), right down to installing permanent benches in the great room that are so low to the floor they would present difficulties climbing off of for anyone of average height.  He liked rooms to be havens of space and light, so he constructed the hallways between them to resemble caves, creating rooms that would seem to burst open as they were entered.  In the guest room, my 6'4" frame literally could not extend itself to its full height.  Fallingwater is far off the usually trodden path, a good hour southeast of Pittsburgh, beautifully situated in rhododendron-strewn hills.  Despite this remoteness, its fame and the Wright mystique draw thousands yearly; we experienced it as a very busy place.  Reservations are required; children under 6 years of age are not allowed.  We were disappointed--Wright's hubris is evident throughout--but still recommend it as a destination, if only to see it in person and, if you are of a certain limited stature, actually enjoy being inside it.

Our next stop was a short hop from western Pennsylvania to Reading, in the east-central part of the state, to visit a nephew of Steve's.  Reading is on the fringes of Pennsylvania Dutch country, and one of the main attractions we looked forward to was the Kutztown Folk Festival, hoping to find a Penn-Dutch hex sign to add a splash of color to our house.  We need a big one--3 feet across--and didn't see any in that size that caught our fancy, so we'll end up buying one online anyway.  The festival itself was fun, though, the biggest county fair you've ever seen, on steroids.  It was definitely worth the trip.  The big surprise for us about the Reading area is that it is a haven for antiques.  We stumbled upon the city of Adamstown, which has more antique malls than we'd ever seen in one place.  And that is "malls," not mere single stores.  We did two of these malls and it took us 4 hours to look at everything.  We found a jewel, too:  a beautiful Murano glass bird for only $48.  (But we found another one even cheaper--see below!)

Adamstown and its antique malls must be copying its bigger neighbor, Reading, when it comes to shopping, however.  Reading, in case you didn't know, is the place where outlet malls got their start.  The Vanity Fair Outlet Village sits atop a long rise in Reading, dominating the town like some Acropolis of the commercial.  It must be seen to be believed.

From central Pennsylvania we headed off to our last stop, a very short drive into Sussex County, Delaware, where we visited another dear Peace Corps buddy, Marilyn, and her husband Wayne.  We had a chance to visit our old haunts there, including two favorite antique shops in Millsboro, and the now-vacant lot, part of somebody's front yard, that was once our beloved little postage stamp with its trailer, where we spent 4 glorious summers.  We took a day trip down to Berlin, MD, where we visited yet another couple of antique shops (and we found another Murano bird--this one for only $18!) and had lunch at the Atlantic Hotel--all old, friendly favorites ready for a visit.  Marilyn and Wayne were the perfect hosts, great, relaxing, funny company.  We walked the boardwalk at Bethany, and they sent us off with a wonderful picnic breakfast on the beach.  It was the perfect ending to a perfect trip.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


This started out as a rare day, one with absolutely nothing planned.  I got the idea to take a lot of pictures of the front yard and post them for you.  I've been telling everybody about all the hard work we've been doing; might as well show the fruits of that labor.  So I took the pictures early this morning, uploaded them, and posted them everywhere to my non-blog friends.  Then came the wonderful responses, then came lunch, and then came something unexpected:  the owner of the lot next door, whom we've never met, is having his land cleared.  The sound of such industry drew us out to see what was happening, and what this heretofore heavily wooded expanse would give in the way of construction possibilities.  (So far it appears to be a lovely piece of land.)  And now here we are, it's 1:30 PM, several hours after I meant to sit down and do what I'm doing now.  See why I haven't been writing much?  Even when nothing is planned, life happens.  And no matter what else you may think of that, it must be admitted it's much better state of affairs than the alternative.

*      *       *

Next day:  OK, I'm back.  Got waylaid with a trip to town, then dinner, etc., etc...

I want to thank all of you for your gently applied but steady pressure on me to keep writing.  It makes me believe that all that stuff I wrote in the years before this big life change must have meant something to quite a few someones, and for that I am flattered and humbled.  I wish I were a more dedicated writer and could just shut the rest of life off for an hour or two each day to produce something.  If I were single (or had all those hours alone during the day, as I did before we moved here) there's no doubt these pages would be fuller.  But what I call "F&B life" (for "flesh-and-blood") goes on relentlessly in this partnership, and it appears to have more compelling calls than this does, when calls there are.  And so I write less.  I've never been one to say "never"; I will not simply end the blog, because that would be as much of a promise to keep to as any other, and I know I will always want a place to write when the spirit moves.  So I will slog along, even if my readers dwindle down to a mere two or three.  

The discovery of a "gay scene" here in one of the notches of the Bible Belt has been gradual and very interesting for us.  While we are perfectly happy with each others' company and that of the everyday people with whom we come in contact, it's still nice to have a stable of friends with similar life experiences, whatever they may be, to call upon.  I've often remarked upon the kind helpfulness of the people we've met here.  What I haven't mentioned is the fact that that helpfulness even extends all the way to helping us find other gay people (though the word "gay" is never uttered).  First, our cross-creek neighbors made it their mission to introduce us to the guys who run  The Onley Place  up in Belvidere--the former square dance caller and his partner who now own and operate this wonderful, well-attended performance venue.  We have had a couple of fun, laughter-filled evenings with them and see the possibility of a good friendship.  Another time a painter, contracted by our builder to do some touch-up work, asked us, in the course of general conversation while he was here, if we "got around" much.  Not knowing where he was going with that question, we answered that yes, we'd been here a while and had explored up and down the Albemarle, etc., etc., but he said, "No, I mean have you gotten to know any people, you know, folks you guys could hang out with."  The light came on.  It was amazing. This kind man, a total stranger, apparently saw us from a mile away and wanted to help us.  He told us about another couple who live right up in Hertford.  One of them is the main hairdresser for the ladies--and some men--of the county (wouldn't you know???  But stereotypes do have factual basis!); his partner is a mail man.  The painter told them about us--gave them a call while he was here, as a matter of fact (big news!!)--and we eventually got around to making a haircut appointment and met them.  So not only did we get the best haircuts we've had since we've lived here, but we've expanded our circle of gay friends by two, thanks to this kindness of a stranger. (We actually have haircuts scheduled for late this afternoon and then will go out to dinner with the guys. Blanche Dubois must be smiling from wherever she resides between Streetcar productions.)  

I have had a pipe dream of gathering enough gay people here to have a good dinner party like the ones we used to have in Arlington.  I envisioned myself as the keeper of a sort of salon, introducing interesting people to each other.  Of course, it took very few conversations to realize that, this being a relatively small community, most of the gay people around here already know each other.  Not only that, but they have definite opinions about each other, too, so you have to be careful about who sits with whom. I'd been naively thinking that in my big-city way I could create a network of gay people in this place, so benighted before our arrival.  But no.  We are entering a community already well established, and we'll have to learn to fit in with them, not they with each other.  Lessons in humility are never out of date.

We are expecting our share of the big storms that have been marching across the South this week. Right now it's only partly overcast, but the wind is strong and it's clear something is on its way.  We dodged a few bullets two weeks ago when tornado warnings were issued for a line very close to us.  So far no dire warnings, but you never know....

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.