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Tag: rural living

Country Paranoia

Do you lock your doors at home? What about your car? Do you secure it every time you get out of it? Boy, I’ve been doing that for years. What about you?

Well, I recently was smacked in the face with another country-living realization. We went out of town for several days and a friend agreed to feed the dogs while we were gone. My husband also requested she move the truck around the yard to make it look like we were still there. It’s a standard security precaution.

You should have seen her face when I handed her our house keys and relayed Tommy’s request. She laughed and said, “My husband doesn’t even own a house key—we don’t lock our doors.” She thought we were being paranoid, I guess!

I did realize that folks out here still leave their keys in their cars and weren’t necessarily diligent about locking up their houses, but my friend’s reaction (laughing, indulgent, a bit sheepish and a bit condescending) cued me into the fact that we have brought our “big city” ways out to the country.

After all we’ve had our car broken into, a house burglarized, my son’s house burglarized, (all in “the big city”—not out here); I’ve caught shoplifters, been physically threatened on jobs by customers, spent major amounts of time worrying about work safety in retail settings, delivered newspapers in housing projects in the wee hours of the morning (no, none of out here); I’ve traveled the world, met a lot of bizarre folks, seen a lot of troublesome things; my husband’s been a cop and a 911 dispatcher (he thinks he’s seen everything).

My “paranoia” isn’t unnatural: it’s earned! I’ve always locked the car doors when I get out, no matter where I am—like even at the gas station when pumping gas. We always lock the house when we leave home. My husband has always driven me nuts because he locks the doors when inside. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone out the back door and tried to come in the front a few minutes later, only to find it locked when I least expect it!

My husband prefers covering every window with blinds, shades or curtains. (I think he kept a record of the numbers of peeping toms while at 911.) Once he started working every night and I started eating out in the evenings, he even told me he didn’t want me out after dark. (Yeah, sure!)

I mean after all, right after I opened my store, a Christian bookstore in the same shopping center got robbed in broad daylight. Women do get abducted by men slipping into their cars while at the gas station. Houses get robbed, people get mugged, and violent arguments can erupt any where, right?

On further reflection, I can truthfully say I really admire my neighbors’ feelings of safety. It must be nice to feel that comfortable, that secure.

I have to tell you though—my habits are changing out here in the country. When you don’t ever see anyone walking your road, when the only vehicles you see either are folks that live or work out here, when you can’t even hear people most of the time, one does tend to relax a little.

Nowadays we still lock the doors but now we leave the windows open when away though I probably wouldn’t do that if it weren’t for the three noisy (and, of course, “vicious”) dogs. In the city, I wouldn’t at all. Tommy has quit keeping all the doors locked all the time. (What a relief!) I’ve put sheers on the living room windows and there aren’t any window coverings at all in the kitchen.

The bathroom blinds on the window above the toilet stay up and/or open. (I think he gets a kick watching our rabbits cavort in the back yard!)

I never lock my car doors at home anymore. Well, almost never. I occasionally forget and lock them. It’s just not a habit I want to break actually.

I just realized recently, however, that I’m gaining new habits that I wasn’t expecting. Now when someone drives up in the yard, I leap to the window to check them out before they even get out of the car. If I’m by myself, I find myself tensing, worrying once again about my safety.

I do know in parts of this country, folks “hello” the house before approaching. I understand today’s Indians in the southwest still practice the custom of “helloing” the house and waiting for an invitation before approaching. I can see where this might be necessary living in isolated areas. One could get shot by being too forward out there.

I guess I can’t expect my guests to “hello” my house; there’s too many city folk running around. They wouldn’t understand why it should be necessary. I think I’m going to start discretely “packing” a pistol instead.

Yep, my paranoia is changing: it now has a country style to it!

Aaah, Nuts!

Aaaah, nuts! Let’s see: that could be an exclamation of disgust akin to “Rats!” or “Darn!” or it could be lovingly moaned upon receiving a gift of the same. Which one is it, you ask?

Well, at this point in the year I’m not sure which way I mean it! Even though this is the second fall for us out here on our 2 acre “homestead”, it was the first for the pecans. We had noticed a slew of them on the ground when we moved in January of 2000 but they were small and we had better things to do that month getting settled in.

Last year we didn’t see any which didn’t seem unusual to this city girl. I’ve had pecan trees before but had never seen any nuts. I always figured they must need special spraying or city pollution was a killer.

Boy, was I wrong! I just counted recently and discovered we actually have 15 pecans of varying ages on our small plot and guess what? They all produced some nuts this year!

Now when I realized we were going to have a crop, I got really excited. I thought “Hey, why don’t I put some easy effort into gathering nuts to give for Christmas presents? I got the time to fool with it.”

Oops.

Talking about famous last words. Brother!

I started taking long lunch breaks that accomplished 2 purposes: first, it got me outside and physically moving around (a good thing for this computer worker) and second, I could harvest “my crop”.

Now, of course, I had more questions than answers when I first started this “harvesting”. Like, how do I store them until I sell or crack them? And do I separate out the smaller ones? And do I need to clean off the hulls? And, and, and…

In a daze, I would daily search out those boogers. There’s one there and there and there, oh, and under that bush and in that hollow. It was like a treasure hunt, a mesmerizing, captivating treasure hunt.

I started cleaning up the nuts, removing hulls and eventually separating sizes. As usual I didn’t use gloves. I hate gloves because I always prefer actually touching in anything. I even stain wood without them.

Oops.

Let me say that I will never clean pecans without gloves. My hands turned black and it didn’t wash. Wood stain will at least wear off pretty quickly. I resorted to sticking my dark thumbs in bleach in order to lighten the color.

Gathering became a challenge. I would show those trees how smart, how industrious I was. THEY weren’t going to allowed to keep those nuts. They were mine.

Ha.

Days went by and less nuts were dropping every time I went out. But I could see the trees had plenty up there. Okay, now of course I know that commercial orchards shake the trees. So we got out there with implements: a hoe to catch the limb and shake it (exhausting and only works on the very low limbs), a hoe or pole to throw into the trees (getting the hoe stuck way above our heads was very irritating), the truck and ladder to raise us up to get to another 3 more limbs (not enough).

Not only that but the leaves fell, too. I swear to you I think mother nature plans such things to keep her own. Those dang nuts would invariably roll underneath the leaves even when there was a 4 foot square clean spot next to it!

So, I raked. I raked before the next shaking session. That helped. It was amazing how many nuts were hiding.

Then I realized that I should rake underneath the bushes as well. Yup, there were quite a few hiding where I hadn’t even looked.

That led to another Aha! I had been planning to clear out those flower beds and prune those bushes anyway. I dug in. With gloves. In shorts.

Poison ivy. The third time this year. The good news is that I didn’t have to resort to steroids like the first 2 times. I weathered it for three weeks and still show red marks over 6 weeks later. As boss Ralph said, you would think I would learn.
120 pounds of pecans and I was off to get them cracked. Actually, I was gonna have half cracked and sell half to pay for the cracking.

Oops.

120 pounds cracked pecans later I found myself watching tv and cleaning up pecans. The dust was so bad that it aggravated my asthma and stopped up my nose badly. But I had an awful lot of pretty pecans. But way too much to give away as presents.

I bagged them. Immediately I sold $10 worth. I said, aha, I’ll put an ad in the paper.

Oops.

No calls. Everybody seems to have pecan trees out here.

In the meantime I’m still gathering nuts. And then Thanksgiving. And rain.

They fell!!!!

There I was out in the rain picking up nuts. Talking about excited!

Well, since then I have weathered the weather. Glad to see more rain this week and excited to find the ground littered with pecans. I’ve sold more pecans. I’ve paid for the cracking finally and made a smidge of profit. Even if I had sold them all, I would only be making about 50 cents an hour.

I stand in silent salute to our farmers. Depending on the weather is chancy, stressful and ain’t the way I want to spend my life.

I’ve got another 50 or so pounds gathered and was going to sell them instead of having them cracked. I’m seriously considering not even fooling with pecans the next time.

But wait. I just took an inventory.

Oops.

I think I sold too many. I may not have enough left for presents and for me. Aaaah, nuts!

Doggie Adaptations

In all of the adaptations we’ve had to make here in our country home, the most subtle one has affected our dogs. It’s subtle because its full import has taken this entire year to become obvious.

We have three dogs-city dogs, of course. The most citified is the little one, a six-pound toy with long hair. When we gained her from my son in late 1999, she wasn’t fond of investigating the back yard and her coat dictated frequent grooming. The other 2 dogs are actually hunting breeds, one, a beagle mix and the other, a golden retriever-basset hound mix (yes, I know that’s weird).

Once we moved out to the back of nowhere, the silence was wonderfully deafening at first. The dogs were quieter—there was less to bark at. No passing folks on foot, little motor traffic, no other dogs close by, no visitors to the door. I was thrilled but as time has gone on, they have adjusted and now find barking to be a great activity. Let one of us slam a door in the house or let the wind blow and all three dogs jump up ready to fend off intruders!

Other long dormant traits have made themselves known in the months since our move. One of the most shocking was what I call “the murder.” I had actually planned on writing a column about the incident without mentioning until the end that the perpetrator was a female dog, but along came the discovery of a body in the area and the subsequent arrest of a female suspect. Oh, well.

The tale involves an early morning altercation in the yard just after I let the dogs out. The noise was at first raucous and then I heard the high pitched shriek of what I thought might be one the hawks that dive bomb our yard rabbits. I looked outside and saw the big dog, the basset mix, hovering over something. Now you have to understand, Micky has the smallest brain and the largest heart of any dog either of us have ever owned. She hasn’t a mean bone in her body—she just wants to be loved

Well, my sweet, lovably dumb animal had a rabbit. It wasn’t dead so I removed it out of the pen in hopes it would hop away. It died.

I went back inside and immediately heard another outcry. Looking out again, I saw nothing. Later we found dead rabbit number 2, now sporting only 3 legs. I was astonished and slightly appalled.

My reaction was that of the usual response on TV to discovering one’s neighbor has been arrested: “She just couldn’t have done it, Mr. Reporter; she’s seemed to be such a nice person.” Micky has continued on being her sweet self and has never repeated her crime.

Just recently I discovered one of the reasons for the barking. I caught sight of a domesticated animal taunting our animals—my closest neighbor’s Maine coon cat. He was haughtily pacing in front of the pen. He must have been laughing at the foolishness of the idiot dogs barking away. He also sprayed my porch that week just under my living room windows. Whew! I like cats, but he better look out; I own a killer basset hound I could turn loose.

Our latest dog escapade has kept us amused and bemused for weeks now. The former owner of this house kept Labradors who have left us with man-sized holes. Our dogs, however, have never been diggers before now, so we have watched with great interest the sudden excavations taking place in our back yard.

Both the beagle and basset have dedicated much time and effort to tracking down whatever they thought was underneath the ground. We figured there was probably a mole or they were just bored and getting dumber. We’ve had to endure dirty noses, dirt clods between doggie toes and all the accompanying ick and litter involved. The beagle (smart alpha dog named Dusty) has been insisting on staying outside in all sorts of weather and she does like her creature comforts due to her arthritis.

Finally, she showed up at the door with a prize. We’ve had her bring in pecans and bury them and bones in the sofa or chair. This time she was waiting patiently to “bury” that which she would not eat—a mole! A very dead, cold, frozen mole. We relieved her of her prize immediately. The vet’s office tells me dogs and cats refuse to eat moles, that they aren’t considered palatable. Is that a relief? Danged if I know.

Hopefully, that is the end of the digging for this year. Hopefully, the crime level will remain low. Now, I just gotta figure out what to do about the little one, the princess, who has decided that the call of the wild (backyard) is the ultimate thrill and who keeps returning to the warmth and comfort of house and (our) bed, dragging smelly dirt and straw.

Oh, yes, we’re all adapting quite nicely to our country home. Does that mean I can revert to a simpler rusticity and quit housecleaning?

Boy, I hope so!

Fire!

Yep, here’s one more fire story: my personal saga with fire.

Sunday, July 16, 11:30 pm: we smelled smoke outside as we are getting ready for bed and then saw a haze of smoke around the house. I promptly called 911 and hopped into the car. We determined the smoke was centered around our house only. Another call to 911 gained the news that there had been a fire in the area that weekend, but that our brave volunteer fire department has been notified. Feeling guilty for probably getting neighbors out of bed, I watched until I saw someone drive by. We then uneasily went to bed.

Monday, July 17, 3:30 pm: heading home I spotted a cloud of whirling smoke to the west of Maxeys. When I stopped at the post office to check, William Dawkins knew nothing. He called the forest service who said there was a controlled burn in the area. I decided to go by on my way home since something didn’t look right.

After turning off Macedonia Church Road onto to dirt path, I found the fire. I thought about it for a moment. “Shouldn’t a controlled burn have someone nearby controlling it?” I drove past, thinking the road would continue on through towards my house where I could call the forest service myself.

Oops. A dead end. I turned around to retrace my route.

Oops. Smoke and fire has covered the road. I can’t see. Without hesitation, I hit the accelerator and dove into the smoke, emerging relieved on the other side.

Feeling stupid, I returned to the post office. William called the forest service again to insist this was no controlled burn. Someone was to come check it out.

Minutes later, after another 4 or 5 folks have stopped to tell us about the fire, a forest service truck passes. I left and decided to pass by again. (So I was a little excited by that time!) I found a pickup truck with stuff on the back parked at the fire. It was one of the guys from the controlled burn who exclaimed, “I came to find out who the competition was!”

Forest service guy was looking agitated. He tells me to move my car since the bulldozers were coming. I moved but once again, stupidly, not far enough and I hold up progress and fire fighting while trying to decide what to do. I left.

When I got home–less than a mile and half away—I called my editor. “Do you want pictures?” After ascertaining that I probably can’t get decent, usable photos with my equipment, he tells me, “If your house catches fire, be sure to take pictures then!” Thanks, boss.

Out of all the things I’ve worried about here in my new country home, forest fire had never occurred to me. Now I’m feeling uneasy after having to convince the forest service Monday was no controlled burn. I now know our local volunteer fire department is hurting for members. I am worried.

Wednesday, July 19, 10:30 am: I called the forest service to get some information about the drought, fires and what can we do. Ranger Tracey Graham invited me up the station for a sit down interview.

He provided me with the information I requested. He stated that the folks in Oglethorpe County were a responsible group of folk. I left feeling much more secure about my country (forest) homeplace.

Instead of writing up the article, I went home and took a nap, so my planned article doesn’t make the paper. (The ways of the world are mysterious indeed!)

Thursday, July 20, 6:45 pm: Leaving Athens at the end of the four lane just past Wal-Mart, I spot an enormous pink balloon cloud in the sky. My fears from earlier in the week come rushing back.

I pointed the car towards the cloud and sped towards home. I’ve always thought fire was the worst way to die and now I realize that there is a reason for this particular fear. My grandfather’s factory burned when I was eight. After it was all over, I found out my father was one of the last employees to leave the building. The terror and the shock of 40 years ago wash over me.

My frenzied ride takes me past Arnoldsville, past Crawford, around Lexington, past the forest service—the garage doors were closed. It looked abandoned. After cutting over to highway 77, I stopped at a friend’s. “Come with me,” I request. He does. 5 miles later we find a wildfire.

The fire was marching across 77 and also down to our left towards us. It was too close and too scary. We only stayed a few minutes. I dropped my friend off at his house, called my editor (yes, he had already been there) and headed back.

EMS had arrived by the time I got back and was greeted by Mary Pat Provost who I had babysat for as a toddler and hadn’t seen since. We caught up on the last near twenty years and recent family business all the while staring at the largest fire either of us had ever seen.

I finally admitted to her, “I’m supposed to be a reporter; I should thinking about what I can write about this. But I’m blank.”

All I can do is stand there muttering, “Oh, my God!”

Our Natural Country Neighbors

The past 18 months have been a time for learning for me between my work with the newspaper, the planning commission, no full time job and living in the country. All of a sudden I’ve had enough revelations about living and life to write many columns!

First, I have to return to my recurrent theme-living in the country. Spring has sprung and the birds and bees (and all sorts of other beasties) have returned.

What I have realized recently is the inevitability of nature. I’m still fighting the weeds, honeysuckle, privet and poison ivy out in the yard. I am taming some of it but my last bout of poison ivy on my face and subsequent emergency use of oral steroids once again has definitely affected my approach to the yard. At this rate, I’ll spend the next 40 years just trying to beat back the unwanted growth! So much for my idea of 2 acres of decorative garden.

The difference between city life and country life that truly has surprised me and upset some of my long-standing assumptions. For instance, one can get rid of mice and insects inside of a home.

Well, the mud daubers really enjoy our attic space and the outside eaves and crevices. They are too many to conquer. Removing the ceiling to the front porch only revealed the dozens of nests that I couldn’t see before. Maybe by being able to see them, we can keep the numbers down. Yeah, right.

We’ve also gained some new flying pests on the back porch. Don’t know what they are. They look kind of like wasps and they gather around a particular knot in the ceiling wood but don’t seem to be building a nest. Wasp and hornet spray didn’t seem to diminish their numbers or drive them away.

I don’t even want to discuss the swarming termites inside the house.

The carpenter bees have literally been driving me crazy. (Dumb me thought they were bumble bees and wasn’t worrying about them.) The incessant drone from these creatures was getting on my nerves but the killing didn’t start until I found holes in my front porch furniture. They haven’t all gone away but at least the noise level has diminished.

We’ve got many mice. My beagle dog is a good ratter-she’s quick to let me know when she’s spotted one. One that we caught inside got loose and hid under the cedar wardrobe. My husband’s effort to remove it put it within reach of the basset/golden retriever who had a blast playing with it – inside the house of course.

My husband’s making a study of mouse trap improvement at this point. A truly macabre occupation I must say.

Occasionally even the birds can become somewhat of an irritation. Between the whippoorwill and the bobwhite it just plain gets noisy around here!!! I can’t believe how loud they are. But it is nice to hear birdsong even if closing the window to hear the TV is sometimes necessary!

Another inevitable face of nature was the bird nest on the side porch. We tore down the old next when we moved in last winter. It was rebuilt.

We tore it down again. It was rebuilt. We tore it down again. Not only was it rebuilt this spring but this weekend my husband discovered several sets of eyes peering down at him. We initially counted 4 babies crowded into a tiny nest, but realized the next day there were actually 5 piled into the space. I took pictures of the totally immobile birdies and commented that they looked full grown. They didn’t flinch through all the picture taking and our discussion. We literally got within a foot or so of them.

Today when he returned from an errand, my husband approached the porch to check on them and they all flew away.

I can’t decide whether to leave the nest this year or not. We just keep making work for the mama bird when all she’s trying to do is give us some more birdsong out here. I won’t quit trying to protect that which is mine: nibbling rodents and dive bombing stingers just have to be controlled. Otherwise, I guess, we had just better relax and learn to live with our country neighbors!

Summer Vacation

One unanticipated benefit of living in the country is a feeling of permanent summer vacation. This I just realized today as I was picking the wild blackberries that line one side of our property.

As a youngster, I did spend time in country with relatives that owned farms years ago. I can even recall picking cotton at my great grandmother’s though I don’t really remember her. I can’t even remember actually picking berries as a child though I must have. Surely I picked berries during those years as well as cotton.

Now I’m spending my free time slowly picking berries, liberating my peach tree from its heavy burden/bounty and putting some walls and windows in that decrepit shed behind the house. All these tasks performed in the muggy, hot weather speak to me of long ago summer days when the world seemed so full of opportunity.

I can forget the pressing issues of grownup life out here. I can forget the necessity for making a living; I can forget the marks of time on my body; I can forget the hallmarks of that cruel (faraway) world. Time has slowed around me as I have adapted to the rhythms of country life.

We did some planting earlier in the spring: some Leyland cypresses for privacy, some azaleas for beauty, some morning glories for memory (Daddy used to wake me whispering “morning, morning glory”), and some caladiums for spot color in my “garden”. I’ve never been much a one for growing stuff. I’ve even insisted for many years that I had a brown thumb, that I would kill it if it couldn’t remind me to water it like my dogs do when they get really thirsty. (Beagles can really give you a stare that communicates!)

But now, I have found myself watering, watching and worrying. Seeing those sprouts come up from the morning glory seeds was a triumph quickly diminished when the deer decided they were tasty enough for breakfast. The caladiums have finally made an appearance without any special care or watering-a miracle in itself. The azaleas might last the summer. We’ve lost some of the cypresses as the drought has progressed due to less watering (we are trying to do our part to preserve the water table).

Our “grass” in the meadow that is our front yard bloomed beautifully white in the spring with some sort of ground cover but it all turned brown in May. It’s now looking greener with the recent rains we’ve had and we are grateful for the reduced growth since the riding lawn mower isn’t running.

I never imagined that sky watching would become a habit, that rain would be an occasion for porch sitting. I never imagined that I could care so much about the weather.

Especially in the summer. Although I was raised in North Georgia, I’ve always hated summers as an adult. Asthma doesn’t mix well with heat and I hate sweating. I spent many summers as a child in the swimming pool or lake: that’s a reasonable activity for a southern summer. Without a pool or lake, I’ve been huddling in my air conditioning since the mid-eighties until last year.

That summer I started working in the yard up there in at my last house. I love buying old houses because they usually come with automatic landscaping. There does come a point though when the yard starts taking over. Because of my decorating interests, I have been exposed to many magazine articles about gardens. I’m talking about decorative gardens, not the eating kind. It finally has started affecting me.

My first efforts at taming the overgrown views from my front porch were not incredibly successful. First, though I didn’t spend much money, I did manage to kill off some dollars planting in the heat of August. Secondly, I proved that I really couldn’t recognize poison oak. Of course, I did get my Girl Scout merit badge for plants; I used to be able to point out many things to be avoided. Since I’ve never broken out from poison anything, however, that knowledge has totally disappeared from my citified brain. Those tiny red spots on my ankle last year were a warning I managed to forget.

This year in an effort to start taming this new yard, I kept rooting around in hedges and flowerbeds before everything bloomed. I would spend 15 minutes here or there on the way to or from the mailbox. After one day when I had spent a fair amount of time pulling vines, I suddenly had a thought. “What if there was poison oak or ivy in those bushes? Did I even notice?” Well, the answer quickly appeared on my legs and arms. I am so grateful that I really am not very allergic!

I had my husband walk the yard with me that week and I was horrified to find I had been wallowing in all sorts of unhealthy stuff. That thought has effectively curtailed my weeding tendencies since then.

Besides a thorough coating of sweat (ick), I only gained a few scratches today gathering my juicy blackberries, ha, ha. I spent the time thinking about writing another column. It’s so easy to wax philosophic out here while listening to the birds, frogs and crickets. The country quiet is definitely tempered with a wide range of natural, soothing noise, once again awakening in me memories of long ago summer days.

Oh no. What if there were poison oak or ivy in amongst the blackberry thorns? Did I really forget to look again? Well, I think it’s time I quit writing now. Perhaps next on my summer agenda will be a thorough shower and a change of clothing. Oh, dear, now I’m itching!

Ah, Peace and Quiet!

Everyone talks about the peace and quiet of the country. All of our visitors have commented on the serenity of our “estate”; both my husband and I fell in love with this place simply because of the quiet.

How quiet is it? Well, quiet enough to discover a few new things about our world. It’s so quiet that I am able to hear all that air traffic.–all that air traffic that one does not normally notice amidst the noise of city life. I am truly amazed at how much noise comes from the sky.

Now, I have it on good authority that the helicopters are there for one thing and one thing only, to search out all those nefarious marijuana plots nestled in our back country. We must not have any of those type plots anymore because the helicopter traffic is constant. Prevention or discovery? I would like to know.

There’s a lot of small aircraft as well as jets up there and they’re pretty noisy since they are so low flying. I can, however, hear those jets even when I can’t see them and I’m not even used to hearing them. I figure that the air traffic controllers must send ‘em out here so that a crash will not hit largely populated areas—just my house instead.

Another modern intrusion has become apparent recently. I knew parts of this area were being logged, but it was only this week that I’ve been hearing big trucks and machinery in the distance. I had been more concerned about the traffic from the loggers but the passing trucks don’t bother me. I don’t really like meeting one of them on the road, but we’ve already discovered an advantage.

Last Saturday during all that wind a pine tree fell across the road up a ways. Tommy said he had to go into the ditch to keep traveling. We were about to gear up and get it moved when a visitor arrived and told us it had been cut already. I had noticed a lot of logging traffic in the meantime, so I guess the guys just took care of it for us. Thank you, sirs! (I’ll try harder to ignore all that machinery noise.)

Another heretofore unnoticed noise is the wind. One day last week I thought I heard a train approaching and was amused to realize it was only the wind. When the wind is blowing, it gets incredibly noisy around here. I can also swear the wind is fiercer out here as well with no buildings to block or divert it. I feel buffeted by both the movement and the noise. (I’ve never had the opportunity to use that word, ‘buffeted’, before; I just couldn’t resist!) Ain’t nature grand!

I heard our resident turkey this morning—the first time I have ever heard and identified a turkey gobble! (Tommy is planning to go turkey hunting this year.) I hear even more bird calls than ever before, even more than my husband. Tommy’s slight hearing loss makes him think this place is quieter than it really is. He’s no help in identifying some of those birds since he can’t hear what I’m asking about. Oh, well!

My first warm Saturday after we moved here was also an eye opener. I was working on something outside and enjoying my first really peaceful day when suddenly I didn’t feel so isolated anymore. I heard dogs and hunters and firearms on the land behind us: obviously, the hunting club was out in full force that day. I just had to laugh at my preconceptions of how quiet the country is.

How quiet it is? Oh, my heavens, not quiet enough! I felt so crowded while on Okinawa, Japan, and was so glad to get back to less populated area here in north Georgia. Now I understand what Tommy means by “away from people”. Do you believe that? Delia, the city girl, is starting to complain about crowding! I must be getting used to living out in the “boonies”.

Deer Tales

I’ve had to accustom myself to many things since my move to Oglethorpe County, but one of the newest learning experiences has been the deer. Now deer is something that I have history with—starting early in Gainesville with my dad. He used to go on “hunting trips” to the mountains with friends. Since he never bagged anything besides a hangover, I decided as a child that deer hunting was just a way for the guys to have a weekend for fun.

My only other deer encounter had been my first movie, Bambi. Mother said I cried so much that she had to take me out of the theater. As I got older, like many city-raised young women, I decided I didn’t like the idea of hunters killing any of those Bambi’s out there.

I did spot a few deer while living in Carlton and then some while tooling around on early morning paper routes back in the 80’s; but after Tommy and I married, deer became a part of life—our inexhaustible freezer meat. I had no desire to go hunting myself, but he seemed to get such joy out of it that I couldn’t complain too much about the time involved.

Then something happened that changed my “deer views” forever. Early one morning as I came up to the beginning of the four lane right before the new Wal-Mart, I became intimately involved with a deer–so intimately that it took $4500 to put the front of the pickup truck back together.

The deer? Well, he got up and ran away. Deer – 1, truck – 0.

I became deer paranoid.

I knew that Tommy could spot a deer any time day or night while in the car, so I started listening to him. I learned that deer are more likely to travel in a group than singly, so I should never assume I’m safe when only one crosses in front of me. I learned that I should always drive with my high beams on—something I didn’t usually do on roads that I knew well. I learned to spot deer and I learned that alertness and knowledge is enough. Paranoia isn’t necessary.

And now, now that we are off the traveled roads, this has become more important than ever. I’m learning the usual deer routes out here; I drive slower than I used to on the dirt roads; I’ve met the same confused deer in the same place several times…I’m getting accustomed to my deer neighbors.

Now when I drive up to my house, I keep an eye out for “my” deer that graze in my front yard after dark. And, while I’m at it, I also enjoy the sights of the raccoons, possums and rabbits that dash out of the glare of my headlights near my front door. Once again, I am surprised and delighted to find that it’s really hard to get lonely out here in the “isolated” countryside!

Country Greetings

Every time I don’t write a column, somebody is sure to complain about it that next week.  I really appreciate such a reaction because it is so flattering, but I resolved recently to avoid such complaints which are at times delivered in a scolding tone. Thank you, my fans (!), I’m really trying but some weeks I have no thoughts besides the usual drudgery of housework, computer work, miscellaneous physical complaints and other run-of-the-mill stuff.

When I was writing on Okinawa, I discovered quickly that keen observation and a sense of humor was enough to get me by every week.  And there was so much new to see there!  A never-ending source of fun, amazement and great topics.  Here everything is becoming old hat, 7 months after my move to the country.

When I first starting writing this column, someone suggested that I write on a custom  that she, a big city girl, was still getting used to out here:  the greetings from other drivers.  This phenomenon is not new to me; I was first introduced to it back in the early ‘80’s while living in another small town.  Every since Susan mentioned it,  that seed of an idea has been rolling around in my brain and it finally did some growing last week.

I’ll never forget the first time someone raised their index finger off the steering wheel as an acknowledgement, a greeting.  I was 30 and had lived overseas and was raised in north Georgia.  To discover such a custom was truly a revelation.  I had just spent 3 years in Japan and was glad to get home to Georgia, yet I was immediately faced with a “foreign” custom.  I didn’t know what to make of it.

In the years since it has become familiar to me, but I have been reintroduced to it local-style.  I have observed some interesting things out here in my quiet “neighborhood”.  Of course, there are some folks who simply lift that finger while staring straight ahead. It is an acknowledgement, nothing more, that says “Yup, I see you.”

Others lift all 4 fingers which is a friendlier, more personal greeting.  Others still actually lift the hand Indian-style (how, kemo sabe!).  It looks like a “Howdy!”, not a hello.

These gestures can be delivered with no eye contact, no smiles, and very little personal interest, almost in a big city way.  I thought for years that was the way it was supposed to be done.  You know, to avoid seeming personally interested in someone who you really didn’t know. When Susan suggested this topic, she also mentioned how such activity could be construed by one’s husband as personal knowledge.  “Like, who was that man you waved to?”  Jealousy had never entered my mind.

In the months since though, I have tried to adopt a new way of looking at life out here, working on becoming more observant, and I am now more experienced in the ways of country greetings.  So, now, some new thoughts!  (mom would be so proud of me!  I sure am!)

One of the more interesting things I’ve noticed recently has been the messages also being delivered by these country drivers around here. No longer do I see just an impersonal finger lift.  There’s more and it’s infecting me, too, since I’m now comfortably settled into my country home.

Now I see folks waving and craning their necks.  I now see the curiosity in their eyes:  they’re wondering who I am.  I recognize that now.  Why?  Well, because I am wondering, too!  There’s simply not much traffic back here, though lots of folks use my road as a cut through to neighboring counties.  This I didn’t realize until recently when someone told me you can get there from here without going south down the highway.

Up until I found that out, I wanted to know who those folks were that traveled my road.  On Sundays, the church folk are obvious—they jaunt along in their finery with a sense of purpose about them.  The loggers are identifiable as well in their big trucks and pickups, bristling with implements and official airs.

I now wonder who the others are. I’ve talked to some of my neighbors on the phone, but I’ve not met them in person.  So I wonder, “Is that Mrs. So and so?  Is that car full of a neighboring family of 5 kids or a carpool?”

So now I know, curiosity has a lot to do with those country greetings.  But that’s only what it looks like to me.

I asked my husband, who is simply naturally at home out here,  how did this custom of automobile greetings get started?  He wasn’t sure of the origin but he did have another thought.  It’s not just about wondering who someone is. It’s about a different mind set as well.

He says that folks simply expect to know who you are. “If you’re here on this road, you must be somebody I know or know of.  But, wait, I don’t recognize you.  But I must know you!  I’ve lived here for 30 years.  I know everybody. I must know you, too.”  Assumptions that I am now tapping into.  Assumptions that are really starting to make sense to me here in my country home.

Who do you know?

Once years ago I was walking through the mall in North Charleston, SC, and spoke to someone I knew in passing. A few feet down the corridor I realized I hadn’t seen him since Okinawa, Japan! I chuckled and thought, “yes, the Air Force really is a small community!”

In light of that, why do I find it hard sometimes to adjust to small town life in this area? Eleven years ago when I met my husband, Tommy, we both marveled at the synchronicity of our lives. We had had the same dentist for nearly 20 years; we had mutual friends in common; we bought new vehicles at the same dealership 2 weeks apart only a few months before; our first marriages took place only 2 weeks apart here in the Athens area in 1970; and yet we had never crossed paths before a singles ad, of all things, brought us together. We decided this match just had to be!

Then why did it feel so strange when my electrician, Billy Gabriel, and his grandson mention we had the same chiropractor? And why did it seem so amazing that the chimney sweep’s recommended brick mason turned out to be a relative of Tommy’s by marriage?

I’ve lived in the Athens area continuously since 1983 and I have finally gotten used to the fact that it is common that Tommy and I run across someone one of us knows whenever we go to the grocery store or Home Depot or a restaurant. I had lived in Athens for over 5 years before I ever ran into anyone I knew, even though I actually graduated from Athens High School, and my parents lived here for over 20 years.

Now I’ve moved into an isolated spot in the country with not a neighbor in sight. But I was lonelier in Athens, more cut off from people in the “city”. Here, I mention a name, such as Donna Disque, in a column. She reported to me that everyone reads the Echo—she knows because they all told her they saw her name!

There’s a vast community out here in Oglethorpe County that I had heard about. My husband even has history here—he was the county ranger back in the late 1960’s/early 1970’s. But as I finally meet that community, I’m still constantly surprised how connected we all are, and, that for the first time as an adult, I am becoming part of an established community. I have so long accepted my presence as an outsider, that discovering what it’s like on the inside is truly one surprise after another. What is truly amazing is my husband’s reaction to this, which is probably your reaction: “But, Delia, this is normal! Boy, are you weird!”