Archive for May, 2008

Catching Up

Zucchinis

I’m lucky to have very flexible hours on my job. Yesterday, I used that flexibility to stay ahead of the weather and get a few outside tasks completed. I cut grass, weeded and thinned veggie beds and did a couple of laundry loads.

This morning, I am thrilled to be able to get back to the amazing piedmont farmer’s markets. I visited the CRV farmer’s market on all three of it’s open days last week. But except for Saturday there was only one open stall and that was only selling bedding plants. Not that I have anything against bedding plants but I do not spend enough time at the CRV house to manage an outside garden there so they were not much use to me. I did get some nice, hard cheese there on Saturday. And I realize that in the CRV it’s still quite early in the season. I know all that.

However, the experience opened my eyes to the fact that in this little section of the piedmont we have quite an amazing local food scene going on. One of our farmer’s markets has initiated a year-round schedule this year and several new markets have also opened this season. The market closest to me has opened this season in a brand-new covered space built and paid for by our town. That’s what I call my tax dollars at work. My town’s market is open on Saturday mornings and Wednesday afternoons and it’s not only possible but fairly easy to fill the week’s marketing needs primarily from that source. We have vegetables, fruits, bread and baked goods, cheeses, eggs, pasture-raised beef, chicken, pork, lamb, goat, and buffalo. There are stalls selling goat’s milk soap, pottery, honey, preserves and even local wines.

It’s not exactly that I haven’t noticed the growing diversity of offerings at market. Only two or three years ago, my town’s market had only a dozen stalls selling a few standard vegetables and that’s it. Then eggs started appearing on offer. More fruit showed up. We welcomed the most amazing cheese-maker to our town. Folks started baking and selling their bread. Finally, coolers filled with a variety of pastured meats began appearing. It has been gradual and yet it also feels like the momentum has truly been building around here in the last year or so.

The thing I like best about gardening is the hope and faith involved in placing a seed — a small dried bit — into the earth with the expectation that this will eventually turn into a sprout, a plant, dinner. That transition never ceases to amaze me and I hope it never will.

When I read and listen to the news things seem fairly dismal. But when I tour the colorful, bustling farmer’s market on Saturday morning, it feels like an insistent sprout pushing it’s way through the mulch. It feels like hope.

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May 31, 2008 at 11:13 am Leave a comment

Urban and Rural

Besides allowing me to compare growing conditions in two separate USDA hardiness zones, the CRV house and the piedmont house have given me the opportunity to reflect on the differences between urban and rural life.

The CRV house is a generous two-story home — with a finished basement and attic so effectively four story — built around the turn of the twentieth century on a nice-sized lot. It’s only three blocks from the town center which puts it in very easy walking distance of a Whole Foods market, a chain drug store, bank, post office, and a farmer’s market that operates three days a week in season. The next door neighbors have kids who play outside in almost any weather and our two households are both on the relaxed side of the line drying question. This past weekend when a few children were debating the proper backdrop for some group photo shoot they were planning, I heard the suggestion to “go stand over by the underwear” loft over the fence. It’s a pleasant neighborhood.

Still, the house borders a major town thoroughfare and the din of traffic is more or less a constant background hum. We can’t keep a casual outdoors compost pile on account of the certainty of attracting rats. And the annual property taxes on the place total more than the sum of the yearly mortgage payments on the piedmont house.

The piedmont house is a pretty undistinguished one-story suburban ranch with an 800 sq. ft. “great room” tacked on. It is sited on a 1.6 acre lot bordered by a privately-held forest on one side and a rail road right-of-way on the other. The lot is mostly grown up in pine morphing into the oak-hickory hardwood mix characteristic to this part of the country. There’s a small patch in back of the house that I work to keep clear enough to grow a few vegetables and dry my clothes. Garden predation by munching animals is very common but we have no issues with rats in the compost. There’s a very, very, very casual three-bin system set up on the firm principle that if one waits long enough “compost happens.” There is a major interstate close enough that the whine of tractor trailers can usually be distinguished. When the train comes by it’s an event. But mostly the background noise around the piedmont house is birdsong. There are hawks and owls. The neighbors up the road have chickens and someone on the other side of the railroad tracks raises goats. It’s a pleasant neighborhood.

The main drawback is that it’s several miles from the nearest shopping center — biking distance but barely. And it’s about a ten-mile commute for me from home to office. Since I’ve established the precedent of telecommuting to make my nomadism work, I can also work from home when I’m in the piedmont and I do as frequently as I can manage. Still, it’s a fact of piedmont house life that the idyll of the country is tied to the gas-powered automobile.

I love the history and solid feel of the CRV house. I love being able to leave the car in the driveway once I get it there. I enjoy the neighborhood and the easy feeling of community. But I have to admit that when I walk out of an evening to empty the kitchen compost into the larger bin I heave a sigh of relief when the unkempt grass slides between my bare toes. The city has clear advantages, but the country is home.

May 30, 2008 at 11:21 am Leave a comment

Home in the Piedmont

The driving day went fairly well. An accident on the highway just south of DC stretched my normal 11.5 hour commute to 13 hours and left me with a very trapped feeling surrounded on all sides by cars that wouldn’t move. It was a real blessing to have an engrossing book on the CD player.

But apparently being stuck in traffic saved me from driving through a storm. When I got to the piedmont house, the air was fresh and cool — filled with the scent of a rain I didn’t have to drive. The dog was glad to see me. I was tired and hungry but I was able to pull together a quick dinner from leftovers I had brought back with me. I unloaded the car, unpacked the cooler, settled the herbs on their piedmont windowsill and dropped an email to DP to let her know I’d arrived safely. Then I called it a night. Although I generally sleep very soundly on the firmer mattress in the CRV house, I will say that the pillowtop mattress leftover from a more indulgent past felt pretty good last night.

This morning I’ll spend in the office. I have to arrive smart early to set up some demonstration software for the recruiting system on the boss’s boss’s computer. Then I have to leave around noon to stop by the grocery and get over to pick up the kid at school. I’m looking forward to seeing him.

May 29, 2008 at 10:35 am Leave a comment

Traveling Day

It’s a crisp and cool early Spring morning here in the CRV and I’m not overly enthused over the prospect of venturing south into the beginning of Summer today.

One of the striking and interesting side benefits of this slightly nomadic lifestyle is the ability to visit and re-visit seasons. A year ago March, I spent the morning digging my car out of a 15 inch snowfall and ended it listening to spring peepers filter in on the balmy spring air outside my bedroom window. That was not a bad transition. I don’t hold out the same hopes for today.

But today I am much less stressed about the process. I have a running list that I keep in a word document on my laptop to help me remember what I’ve carried and what needs to return with me. It has sections for clothes, books & needlework projects, kitchen gear, dry goods, gardening supplies, food for the cooler, and miscellaneous items like the llbean boots I use to hop out at rest stops and the old pair of moosehide slippers that I use for driving…and my herbs.

Lately, I’ve discovered books on CD borrowed from a piedmont library. That makes the tedium of driving a little less.

But most of all this morning I’m grateful for the yawning ordinariness of this day to me. Instead of feeling sad to be leaving the CRV or urgently thrilled to be returning to the piedmont, I’m content to focus on my driving day and make a good day of that.

May 28, 2008 at 11:12 am Leave a comment

Introduction

Right off the bat, there is one thing you should know about me. I commute…..far.

I split my time between a home in the piedmont of North Carolina and a home in the Connecticut River valley. I spend a week to ten days every 4-6 weeks in the CRV and the remainder of the time in the piedmont. I do this because my relationships and my family are the central value in my life and this is what needs to happen in order to sustain them. The other thing you need to know — right off the bat — is that this part of my life is not open for debate or critique. It’s the basis that makes the rest of my life happen and make sense.

For awhile now it’s been a challenge to me to understand how I could live a sustainable (or more sustainable) life given this reality of traveling on a very frequent basis. Moving away from airplanes and into a car was one step. That reduced cost, possibly reduced my carbon footprint, but most importantly gave me space. I began bringing more and more stuff with me with every trip. Still, the packing was pretty random until I made the conceptual leap away from the idea that I needed to pack up and shut down one home in order to travel to the other.

What I came to understand finally was that living a sustainable life is a system and a system can’t be shut down and started up over and over — at least not with any degree of grace and efficiency. The next piece was understanding that while a system couldn’t handily be started and stopped it could, with foresight and planning, be moved around. Except, of course, the garden.

Then I considered the idea of containers. While I have a modest, raised bed vegetable patch in the piedmont I thought it was important — perhaps symbolically but also tangibly — to have green growing produce with me at all times. So, I placed an order with Seed Savers Exchange for the seeds of my three favorite and most used culinary herbs (oregano, rosemary, and basil). I planted my seeds in three re-purposed individual yogurt containers and when the time came to migrate north, I nestled the three containers in a plastic dishpan and placed that on the floor in the back of the car. These three herbs signify to me the hope and the commitment to maintaining my system, my life, my home as one continuous unit.

If you’d like to be a part of that journey, welcome.

May 27, 2008 at 11:21 am Leave a comment


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