Wednesday, January 31, 2007

My town is so small...

How small is it?

Small town life in rural Georgia is all it’s cracked up to be. My former town was Gray, Maine which at pop, 7,500, locals there dubbed a small town. That town is quite different from my small town here, which has a population of 400. Even in the unincorporated section of town the population still barely reaches 1,000. Cumberland County Maine has a quarter of a million people. Our entire county of five towns and miles of land is only 25,000. It's small.

It’s so small that: the parking spaces in front of the Post office on the main drag are vertical, not parallel. When you leave, you have to back out into the main street. It’s not a problem.

It’s so small that: On the Post Office’s Christmas busiest mailing day of the year, there was no line at the counter.

It is so small that: when you pass a vehicle on a rural road, the other driver waves.

It’s so small that the hardware store guy stands outside to chat with a buddy while you shop, and just holler when you’re ready to pay.

It’s small and it’s great. Now, usually when people move in from the ‘city’ to a small town they want the rural aspects but they also bring big-city wants with them, like sewer service, trash service, foreign films, delis, cappuccino. Then they complain when the taxes go up. Or when a charming someplace or there gets paved over. I don’t want any of that and I don’t miss it.

I was driving to an adjacent county I hadn’t visited before and in that county is a small city. Its main drag had the usual array of stores and restaurants. And there, forgotten by me for many months, was a McDonald’s! I thought back, where is the closest McD’s to where I live? This one, 30 miles away, and on the other side of the county 30 miles in the other direction. That’s it! It’s nice to move to a place where you can forget about fast food. Fast food means fast living and I guess I moved to the right place to slow down.

Friday, January 26, 2007

I have to be organized to create. Is that an oxymoron?

This week I counted among my successes the final placement of my art materials in their organizational shelves and drawers. Don’t laugh. I’ve lived in small spaces for the last 17 years, all 850 square feet or less. One place I lived for a longer time than I wanted was only 210 square feet. It’s definitely a challenge to store it all.

But you have to live and when you live you have hobbies. Mine are bookbinding and painting. They involve using paper, and handmade paper comes in sheets of 3’X2’. They are best stored flat, presenting a space challenge. Paints take storage space, too, as do brushes, magazines for collage, glues, and all the other supplies I need to recreate with my hobby.

Any guy who’s eyed the garage or the basement knows what I’m talking about. What heaven it would be to have everything in one spot, open to the eye! All my tools hung up and ready to grab. Just having everything in one room is a victory. In one place I lived, my papers were laid under the couch, the hard materials were in the bedroom closet and the paints were in the spare room, which you had to climb over the folded up cot to get to. It’s not so conducive to hobbying when it takes half an hour just to get it all out.

I thought and I thought and I thought. Even though I am in a two-room studio now it’s spacious. With a plan in mind, I managed to score the last deep clearanced bookcase at Target yesterday and then I spent the evening putting my thoughts into action. For the first time my large papers are laid flat, a real help when making books because then time isn’t spent flattening the paper or ironing out the crinkles. Everything is off the floor, also a real help because papers get dusty. Everything is in one room and within 4 feet of each other. I can fling open my closet, open a few drawers and it’s all there. I am very lucky.

It’s taken ten years to scrounge or slowly acquire my supplies. Anyone who has the challenge of a budget feels happy when some money is left over for a couple of $6 glazes or a large jar of Mod Podge. I’ve spent a great deal of time haunting library book sales, yard sales, and the popular transfer station at my former hometown, where people leave usable items in “the good pile.” Once I found fifty small bottles of acrylic paints, many more than half full. At $1 a bottle you can say I left very happy that day.

It’s been about ten years of slow accumulation and at least that many years in struggling with how to store it all so it’s out of the way but accessible. Last night I found the balance. Now, what’s on the project list this weekend?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Taking the time

There are some places in the world I’ve lived and I wouldn’t want to live there again. There are other places I’ve visited and I don’t know how people can live there. I now live in Georgia and every day I wake up I’m grateful. I can’t help but feel that way, with the view from my bedroom.

My former town in Maine is home to the state’s busiest intersection, designated by the Department of Transportation as a Level F (failed) because of the gridlock and danger. My office was in the middle of all that noise and congestion. If I kept the window open, I couldn’t hear the person on the other end of the phone. The trucks rumbling by shook the walls and no picture would hang straight. Drywall dust covered my desk in a fine silt. The noise and un-pretty sights wear you down, not to mention the sirens the almost daily fender benders caused.

A few years ago I traveled to Quito, Ecuador. The city was noisy, polluted, and suffered from unbelievable traffic. One day, as we were driving to another town, we passed a native Indian family. They had made their home on the median strip. A small fire was burning and the children were sitting cross legged, watching their mom sell mangoes to the vehicles caught in the gridlock. Their eyes caught mine as the car inched by, their eyes dully staring even as their fingers held a grimy teddy bear and a blanket.

I moved here, to a second floor apartment, and the windows opposite my bed face rolling hills covered with horse pastures. At dawn, the pink eastern sky mirrors the pink clay of the ground under the horses’ feet. Feeling frisky in the morning air, the horses cavort, nuzzling each other, running, raising on back legs, front legs wheeling in the air. The moon sets opposite, illuminating the light frost and making the grass sparkle brightly. I never hear a siren, instead, birdsong wafts through my window.

When I get up, that’s what see. Every day, I can’t help but stop and be stunned by the beauty. Standing in front of the window, I look out and I’m always humbled by the fact that I can live among such magnificence. I breathe in, taking a few moments to absorb the colors, the sounds, around me. It helps to stop for a minute, and take the time. Creating a peaceful interlude with gratitude at its center grounds me for the rest of the day. It’s a long way from the unlivable median strip in Quito to the rolling hills of Georgia. No matter how rushed I feel, I take the time to appreciate the beauty around me, because it’s not everywhere, and it’s the beautiful moments I want to remember at the end, and my reaction to them.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Things that make you go 'huh'

I read in this week's New Yorker, that:

Cockroaches can live a month or so without their heads.

We're doomed.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The story of Quackers the Goose

My landlord, a horse rancher, has property over on the next road as well as the property I live on. I don’t know where it is but apparently it’s not far. A while ago a goose made friends with one of her horses. They were a pair, like you see in children’s books, except it’s real! They even slept together. Well my landlord sold that horse and got another horse which was not too friendly. Poor little Quackers followed the bad horse around but unfortunately just before Christmas Quackers got trampled. The ranch intern arrived one day to feed the wild-acting horse and saw Quackers all splayed out. In a panic she called my landlord to see what to do. The two of them rescued Quackers and brought him over to this property. They set up a heated hospital room in the barn and they take care of Quackers, feeding, cleaning, even wiping his goosy bottom.

A few days ago they got a blue kiddie pool and filled it with three inches with water to see if Quackers could move. He could kind of, he floated and used his bill to pull himself forward. Seeing the pathetic prognosis, the landlord said, “Uummm, maybe…” but the intern begged to try and rehabilitate Quackers more. See, she is a pre-vet student at the U. Sighing, the landlord said “OK, one more week.”

Yesterday they filled the pool higher and set Quackers afloat. Encouragingly, he moved one of his little webbed feet a little. I had met up with her in the driveway, she and I chatted for a while, telling me all this. After about 15 minutes of talking, looking at the setting sun and feeling the falling temps, she said, “I gotta go, we put Quackers in the sun and now the sun is going down so it’s time to get him back to bed.” And she took off in the truck to go take care of the goose.

It’s not every rancher who would be physical therapist to Quackers the Goose.

Ed note: Photo not of the real Quackers.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Reporter No More

I'm developing a following with my weekly columns in the local paper and someone asked me if I was planning to go back to reporting. I said it was a negative business and I wanted to get out. Over the 7 years of running a small-town weekly paper, I had to learn and know things that I normally would never have wanted to know, the dirtiness, dishonesty, things about peoples’ lives, government sausage making. Ick.

I was so looking forward to my last day of work, August 9, 2006. The company that had bought my paper had already closed the Gray office and I had been commuting 10 miles to to my new office, shared with the editor of one of the other papers they own. I was not fond of the commute, parts of it were dangerous. It was early, 5:30 a.m., so I could get packing.

I came upon a crash scene. Officials were diverting traffic, which a normal person would be happy to go around but I was a reporter, if for 8 more hours. I told the Officer that I was a journalist and I needed to get some shots. He waved me ahead and told me to stay 200 feet away from the workers. “It’s a bad one,” he said.

Two television channels were already shooting video. I had to jockey for position. At 4:30 a.m. conditions had been foggy, the tv guys told me, and an 18 year old girl had been zooming to work. She lost control of her small car, it skidded and flew and flipped then wrapped around a tree 100 feet into the woods. She was thrown from the vehicle and killed instantly. Rescue had a very hard time extracting the car and a very hard time extracting her from the woods.

We stood around for an hour, the tv guys and me, waiting for the shots we knew we had to get. The white sheeted body being pulled from the trees, stretcher being loaded into the ambulance, close ups of the wreckage. The car was so shattered there was nothing for the tow truck to hook onto and it took a long time. It was boring so when it got close to when things emerged from the woods, we couldn’t help but get excited. We scuttled forward, trying to get the money shot. Ick.

The whole time I kept thinking about the morning's quietude, how the girl was probably singing and driving and planning about her day. And how suddenly her life was gone, and all that was left was a crushed car and three media journalists trying to get a shot that would represent her last moments by a bloody sheet and a hanging fender. My final shot was of long strands of grass hanging off the inside mangled wheel well as it was slowly winched on the truck bed. I left then.

When I got to the office the other editor had heard the scanner and was about to send someone out. I told him I got the whole thing already, including shots and quotes. He's ghoulish and kind of likes car crashes. He likes them better if someone dies. He jumped up and pumped his hand in the air. “Yes! That’s great!” He looked at me sideways, and asked “Do you want to call the family?” We had to get a quote from them. I looked hard at the guy and I said “I’ve gone 7 years without having to make the call to a grieving family and I really don’t want to go out with one on my last day.”

Things like this affected me too much, but equally I was afraid of the day that they wouldn’t affect me, that I’d become like that other editor and it was just another day at the office.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Dijon Life

I was watching the “Best Commercials Ever” show the other day. Such memories. I had forgotten all about the two guys in separate limos, one asked the other through rolled down window, “Do you have any Grey Poupon?” It reminded me of the time…

…My former husband and I were live-aboard boaters, cruising the US coast and Bahamas. We were anchored in Inner Baltimore Harbor on a hot, hot Memorial Day morning. Baltimore is a nice little harbor but nearly 300 years of active marine use, combined with oozy, light Chesapeake mud, made for a very tenuous holding ground. We’d spent hours sweating and setting the anchor just right amid the crowd. There was no breeze and the no-see-ums were eating us up. Safety, first, though. We finally got situated the way we wanted, appropriately distant from other boats and holding solidly. We went ashore to explore. I looked back one last time. “Who’s that on our boat!?” A drunk houseboat driver had run over our anchor line and his prop was now snarled. He’d dislodged the anchor and now our two boats were drifting. He had boarded our boat to try and untangle. It took us many hours to get things right, which included negotiating with an angry drunk, walking a long way to the boat store in 100 degree heat to buy another anchor line, and going through the re-anchoring process all over again, made harder since the harbor was more crowded now.

The harbor was afloat with many vessels, yachts, large and small power boats, jetskis, and those double seater paddle boats you can rent. It was festive, but busy. Finally we settled down with an ice tea under the sunshade. We breathed out and looked at each other, ready to declare this the most difficult and annoying anchorage ever. Then, THUNK. Jangled by our hard day, we scrambled to the bow where the noise came from. Looking over the railing we saw a rental paddleboat with two teenage boys stuck fast between the bow and our just re-set anchor line. Innocently, they looked up at us and we looked back down at them. For a moment there was complete silence and held breaths. They broke the silence first, laughing, “Do you have any Grey Poupon?”

My husband didn’t think that was funny. But I did.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

My new photo blog

I made a new photo blog. This one's for my writing. The other is for my photos. Feel free to visit, and thanks!

Overheard conversations

Scene: Dollar General. Mom with two small kids at checkout.

As mom puts three full baskets atop the counter, the kids browse nearby goodies. The boy picks up scissors with neon handles that have glitter inside.

Can I have these?
I want them!!
No, you’ll cut everything up.
But I want them! [Starts to cry.]
No. Put them back.
[Boy folds his arms and hides his head inside the crook and cries heartbreakingly]
You can’t take them on the bus, you know that.
Boy sobs louder.
Sister says to brother, Shhh. There’s someone behind you.
I do-nt ca-re!!!!
Mom: All right, I’ll buy the scissors but I will take them to school. You can't take them on the bus.
That’s IT.
[Boy perks up. Family heads to door, the boy, who has skipped ahead, spies a cell-phone display.]
Ma! I need a cell phone for Christmas!!

Scene: Book Warehouse. Going out of business sale. Mom with two teens walks in.
Mom, look! Parenting books.
It's too late. I messed you up already.

Scene: post office in little Georgia town. Beat up old car pulls in. As driver gets out, two guys in a phone truck toot and wave her over.

Your tire's flat.
Oh, my, it is!
Don't worry, it's only flat on the bottom.
Then she gets it. They all crack up.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Then and Now

Winter Then
How about that? A buried car. A few years ago my former husband and I went away over Christmas week. Three big storms came, and with no one to shovel it out, my car looked like an igloo. We got home to Gray, Maine on New Year’s Day to piles and miles of snow. I remembered that my office keys were in the car, and so began the shoveling out. What you see here is him leaning over the drivers seat to grab the keys.

Winter Now
Now I am in rural Georgia. Yesterday I had to use my laminated grocery store card to scrape some frost from one of my car windows. As I drove out I couldn’t miss this hawk was sleeping on a low branch near my driveway. I got two photos shot before he flew away. I love that winter here doesn’t mean life hibernates.

Commute then
I keep journals and art books and date books. Last January my date book was filled with Gray, Maine council meetings to cover and dates to photograph soccer games for my newspaper.

Commute now
This January I am researching writing sites, editorial submission guidelines and developing writing contacts from my home office on a horse farm in rural Georgia. Amazing what a year will bring!

A moment from Now
New Years Eve day came with pounding rains occasionally letting up to drizzle and fog before cycling back to rain again. During one of the foggy misty moments, I took a walk. It was quiet, except for a few drips from wet leaves hitting the pavement. Out of the fog came the drone of a tractor, and a second later, a young man atop a huge John Deere, dressed in cammo and baseball cap whose rim was dripping droplets onto his nose. He gave me a shy wave, raising two fingers from his steering wheel and just as suddenly he disappeared back into the fog.

Do you look back and forward on New Years? Take stock? What was your 2006 like?