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Posts Tagged ‘Country-living’

Yesterday was an amazing day of wildlife sightings.  First, as I was driving out to work, five deer crossed my driveway in front of me.  Of course, I was late to work and had not planned to sit in my driveway at a dead stop while they decided whether or not it was safe to cross, but somehow, I just didn’t mind.  They moved so slowly and cautiously, watching me with those big, brown beautiful eyes, that my heartrate and breathing slowed for a minute while I sat in the silence and watched them back.  We were all there in that moment together, just me and the deer.  For those few moments, I forgot I was late to work.  Afterall, the deer were obviously not late for some appointment or conference call, so how could I be late?

Within the next five minutes, as I was taking the cut-through in a nearby subdivision and was stopped at a stopsign, I looked over to the sidewalk on my left, and sitting there, as calm as could be, was a red-tailed hawk.  Again, he was unconcerned with the passage of time and seemed to have nowhere else to be at that moment.   Just calm and serene, demonstrating all those raptor qualities that made hawking the sport of royalty.  He looked at me from the sidewalk as if to say, No… you are in my neighborhood.

As often as I see the wildlife out where I live, I never, never, get tired of it or too accostumed to it.  Just the sight of tracks left in the ground are enough to make me stop and investigate further.  An owl hooting in the woods will make me stop whatever I’m doing and listen with keen ears to hear his news.  As I’m sure that Bayou Woman can testify, there’s just something about being surrounded by the wild side of nature that speaks to my spirit and makes me think about my place in Creation.

I had planned on writing about my wildlife sightings when I arrived at the office, but alas, students and faculty were running around with their heads on fire and it seemed like I was the only one with a bucket of water….again.  So the moment passed.  And the further I got away from these serene but brief encounters, the less inclined I was to share them with you.  Once the proverbial manure hit the ocillating cooling device of the workplace, the serenity was pushed aside and just seemed too difficult to recall.

But my brush with wildlife for the day was not over!  In the wee hours of the morning, the serenity of nature was instantly replaced with the wildness of nature, and rather than calming me, it awoke primal fears in me that I had forgotten existed in my soul. 

A pack of coyotes started howling outside my bedroom window.

We have coyotes all over Georgia, and I’m used to hearing them in the distance.   As I’ve stated before in this blog, I actually enjoy the calls of the coyotes and consider it a blessing to hear them in the moonlight.  But last night was something completely different.

Alys, who usually sleeps next to me like a warm sack of flour, stood up and arched her back, growling for all her kitty-self was worth.  Abby alerted to the nearby danger and growled and barked menacingly at the bedroom door, lest the wild canines intruded on our inner sanctum.  And I laid there in the bed, frozen and listening to the sound and almost not breathing.  I had never heard the coyotes so close to the house….

Alys’ hackles were up.  Abby’s hackles were up.  My hackles were up.  I didn’t even know I had hackles.

Was Lia in the house?  Were they always that close and had I not noticed? Was Tony asleep?  Did he hear them? 

They stayed for such a long time, it seemed, calling out to their companions, and I could hear their footpads in the pine straw.  Then, one by one, they quieted down.  The howling ceased, and they moved away, back into the woods where I’ve always known they were, but never truly known they were.

Yesterday, Nature revealed Herself in all her glory.  The sun shining brightly.  The cool crisp air.  I experienced the serenity of Nature in the deer, the royalty of Nature in the hawk, and, as if to remind me, the wildness of Nature in the coyotes.  And in my midnight moments she awakened me, not only to the call of the coyotes, but to the wild instinct in me, so similar to the wild instinct in the animals that share my life.

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[I apologize for being so long between posts, but the honest truth is that a) the end of the semester is here, which means extra work and papers for my two classes, and b) because I’m either locked up in the language lab doing extra work or chained to my computer at home writing papers for my two classes, nothing very interesting is happening in my life right now. I’ve been meaning to get this one out for the past four days!  In fact, the very fact that I haven’t been able to write this post is further evidence of just how much I –needed– to write this post.]

What many people may not understand is how incredibly -luxurious- it can be to live in the country.  What we may lack in terms of convenient coffee-shops and ready-made entertainment is more than compensated for by the abundance of peace and the space for reflection.  As my professional life speeds ahead and I get caught up in the urgencies of the end of the semester, I must take account of the many luxuries my life affords me, if for no other reason to be sure that I don’t forget to take advantage of them.  Here are but a few:

Davis RoadQuiet.  It’s so very quiet in the country.  When I step out of my door into the night, I don’t hear cars or trucks, but only rarely the distant sound of a train whistle.  The incessant clatter of the network printer that haunts my workday is far, far away, and the repeated interruptions by students and faculty alike are replaced by undemanding calls of owls and the social-networking of coyotes.  I could take a bath in quiet.  I can feel quiet run down my head and face, filling my ears with the quiet-ness of it, washing away noise and clamour and machines until they run off my fingertips in pools at my feet.  Quiet is a luxury.

Green.  Even in the late fall, green is a luxury.  Moss glows brightly green against the clay of the earth, and with the loss of the hardwood leaves, the green of the pines stands out in stark contrast to the grey of the wood’s skeletons and the sweeping grey of a wintery sky.  In the city where I work, the token trees have also lost their leaves and the unrelieved grey of concrete and asphalt reach upwards into the grey of the clouds, but at home, in the country, green needles tickle the sky on the breeze and remind me that winter is but a pause.

Air.  The air in the country is crisp and cool and clean, and it transforms the mundane of breathing in and out, in and out, to a luxurious act of living purposefully.  The air is so fresh that you can smell the smoke from a winter hearth far off in the distance and imagine the warmth. 

Reflection.  Time slows once I get home to my place here in the woods, and with it, my heart can slow, and my thoughts can slow so that I can turn one thought over and over until it is smooth like a river stone, the sharp edges ground away and polished into reflection.  And with reflection comes humility, in which I can see my life as a small thread in the vast fabric of the universe, and thankfulness, so that I can be thankful for things that might have passed unnoticed.  Like a gravel road that’s just been graded, like a rainfall that washed away the dust of the drought, like a quiet country night, when the air is still, and the stars are bright, and the coyote pups sing me to sleep.

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There’s no doubt about it, Georgia is in the grips of a devastating drought.  When you see it on the news, and translated into inches-below-average rainfall measurements, it can seem rather distant and unimpressive.  But on a human level, we’ve seen job loss on an individual basis, well-established nursery businesses filing bankruptcy, property values decline, and dramatic impacts on everyday lifestyles. 

In Georgia, there’s a sense of there being two states, urban and rural, or as is eluded to, Atlanta and everywhere else.  But this time around, the drought is affecting all of us.  Agriculture has suffered on a scale that, hopefully, we’ll never become accustomed to, and cattlemen are culling their herds due to a shortage of available hayin the Southeast.  Meanwhile, in the urban and suburban areas, water restrictions are the tightest they’ve ever been, with carefully-designed landscaping dying and drying in the sunshine.  Grim predictions of a dire shortage of drinking water persist, with rumors circulating about the prospect of rationing.  Grocery stores are seeing a run on bottled water in the same way that they experience shortages of bread and milk before a winter storm. In all, the lack of rain has come home to Atlanta.

So how could a drought like this bring anything other than misery? 

Just look at the trees……..we’ve never had a fall this colorful, this beautiful for this long.  Even the old folks, picking greens in the garden, can’t help but pause and comment.  Our normal pattern in the fall is, just as the trees start to turn colors, the windy thunderstorms strike and denude the trees of their leaves with nary a glimpse of fall color.  We’re used to verdant summer cascading in a torrent  into the grey nakedness of winter; you can hear it in the way we wistfully talk about driving north to “see the trees” as if we didn’t have trees in our area.  What we mean, of course, is that we long to go north see the trees that still have their fall foliage, to breathe in crisp autumn air, and experience for an afternoon or, luxuriently, a whole weekend, the passage of the seasons.

Not so this year.  October and November ushered in no torrents of rain to wash away the color, and even driving into work along Sandy Creek road, I can inhale deeply and savor the collage of brilliant oranges, yellows and golds set against a perfect, blue, cloudless the sky.  A canopy of old oaks and maples lines the road and drapes me in autumn splendor.  White fences shine brightly in the sunlight and stand in contrast to the array of colors, framing fields and gardens in a raucus display of seasons.

I can’t help but feel thankful for the gift of this fall, and maybe that makes me duplicitous.  I pray for rain, for great waterfalls of rain that will heal the parched land around me, and yet every morning I allow myself the guilty pleasure of being thankful for the beautiful fall this year.  For the cool dry nights, for  the bright sunny days, for the brilliant array of colors, and for being allowed to drive down a country road on my way to and from the city.  And if I am duplicitous in my enjoyment of the beauty that this tragic drought has brought us, how much more duplicitous is the drought, for making a landscape so dry, and so breathtakingly beautiful?

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On my way into the big city every morning, I drive through some of the most beautiful rural countryside in Fayette County, and as time progresses, I watch more and more of it disappear. 

No, land doesn’t actually disappear.  In fact, as Gerald O’Hara states in that epic of romantic Southern fiction, Gone With the Wind, “Why, land is the only thing in the world worth workin’ for, worth fightin’ for, worth dyin’ for, because it’s the only thing that lasts. ” 

Well, okay, I don’t quite hold with that sentiment, because I happen to think that people are the only the only thing worth all that, but there’s no denying that this Southern girl has a deep bond to the rich red soil of Georgia.  Maybe it’s because I spent so much time away from it, growing up in the military, and yet my soul has a spiritual umbilical running back to my mother’s agricultural heritage.  Either way, it moves me.

But the rural characteristics of the land around me, the land-ness of it, is rapidly disappearing beneath the manicured landscaping and cookie-cutter predictability of over-priced subdivisions as Metro Atlanta creeps ever farther outward, towards the rural heart of Georgia.  When I soak in the autumn morning sun on vast fields of hay grown to sustain cattle over the wintering, when I gaze on relics of country homes still surrounded by towering oaks and pecan trees, I cannot help but wonder how long they can maintain their stoic eloquence in the dauntless advance of suburban development.

Sandy Creek Road is one of those places, and last week I observed with pain that a large swath of pastureland had suddenly been cleared and tilled over. It was only a matter of time, I supposed, before this too would be covered in the “McMansions” of the New South.  But today, as I was driving along, a sight so comforting and reassuring stopped me, and made me turn around, go back, and take a second look. 

IH TractorThere it was, in all its dusty splendor, the International Harvester Farmall 1066, manufactured prior to 1976.  Now, there’s no logical reason why old farm equipment should be comforting; afterall, it’s machinery, a tool for working, not for giving comfort to the soul.  But I, having expected on any day to see a herd of heavy industrial earth-moving machines preparing the landscape for half-million dollar homes, found much comfort in that one old tractor resting in that tilled field.  It was not the equipment of a large construction crew.  It was the tool of one lone man, the only evidence of him being the barncoat draped carelessless over the tractor seat.

And in that brief moment, I drank in the morning air, felt the softened ground beneath my boots, and savored the thought that maybe, just maybe, he was preparing the field for winter grazing crops, or for an early spring planting, and not for suburban architecture.  I could be wrong, of course, and I probably am, but the sun on my face, the autumn breeze in my hair, and that tractor in my camera frame stopped the progress of development for just that one moment.

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Last week, middle Georgia got it’s first frost of the season, when the temperatures dipped down to the high-20’s and all the plants shuddered and drooped in the chill. This was my first experience with the seasonal urgency to get in as much produce from the garden as possible before the sun set. Grandpa had three 150-ft rows planted of the prettiest peppers you ever did see: sweet peppers, hot peppers, and hurt-you-where-you-live hot-hot-hottest peppers. But the frost coming would be a killing cold, and so we picked for two days in a row, right up until the sun set and we couldn’t see to pick anymore. In the end, we salvaged about 12 bushel-baskets of peppers.

Now, peppers, once picked, don’t last long on the counter top, but they are too good to waste. I took a bushel home with me, and proceeded to (once-again) make pepper-jelly. This time, I used one cup of bell peppers, and a half-cup of hungarian wax with a half-cup of jalapenos, attempting a bit more heat than the last batch. I am happy to report that all went well, now that the Great Pectin-mystery of ’07 is put to rest.

So, on Saturday, I set out 6 jars of fresh and perfect jelly on my grandfather’s vegetable stand. And they all sold! In fact, folks were calling others on their cell phones to tell them that they’d found homemade pepper-jelly and would they like some, too! I couldn’t believe they were selling, especially at my ridiculous asking price of $4 per 8 oz jar.

After figuring out my expenses, I’ve determined that the first three jars covered my initial investment in jars, pectin, and sugar, but the last three jars were PURE PROFIT. Yep, that’s $12 in pepper-jelly profit that I don’t have to report to the IRS.

Shoot…..when you add that to the $10 I made in green bean sales this summer, I’m fairly rolling in the garden money!

[See, if I put an exclamation point after saying something silly like that, it gives it emphasis, and hence, credibility, right?]

So buckle-up, Drummer Boy! We’re cruising along on the high-finance highway of home-produced……..produce. Where will this take us next: Pepper sauce? Pepper relish? Pickled peppers? The plethora of pepper possibilities pose potential profit!

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No, it’s not a euphemism for something your mom told you not to do before marriage.

Unfortunately.

It’s what you sometimes get to do when you live in the country. Tonight, at about 11pm, Tony and I were walking Abby for the last time before going to bed, as we always do. Abby was sniffing at things and enjoying the night air, nosing around in the pinestraw lining the driveway and looking for frogs, when suddenly she jumped straight up and back, growling and barking. When I shined my light over in that direction to see what had startled her, there was a snake, about 24 inches long and coiled up to strike. We weren’t sure whether Abby had been bitten or not, so we thought it safest if we went ahead and killed the snake in case we needed to identify it for the emergency vet.

So Tony took off up the hill for the hoe, and I stood there, in the dark, with a squirmy dog in one hand and a squirmy snake in the beam of my flashlight. Creepy. Very creepy. The wind was blowing, water droplets were being shaken from the pine trees overhead, and I stood there staring at a snake. Or…two! Sure enough, another snake, about the same size, sidled up and started getting “romantic” with the first. It was just like a Wild Kingdom episode, right there in our pine island.

Okay, maybe it was more like Wild Kingdom Meets Halloween, as Tony approached with a garden implement and proceded to hack both snakes into oblivion. My hero!

Being a peaceful person, I felt kind of guilty about being a party to their death, but upon closer inspection (yeah, I don’t like to get close to live snakes, only dead ones) they were positively identified as copperheads.

So much for getting to bed at 11. Here it is, 12:53 pm, and I’m still awake, waiting for the adreneline surge to abate so I can go to bed. But I’m happy to report that Abby wasn’t bitten, and in the end, that was most important to me.

P.S. We put the snakes in a tupperwear container. I can’t WAIT to show my mom and hear her shriek! Sometimes, my inner ten-year-old is hard to suppress.

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