Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Village and its Surroundings

Our Georgia home is in a village that seems to be both hidden and secret. On a hill, visible from my living room window, is the best supermarket in the Atlanta area. Especially on weekends, when the staff parks on our neighborhood streets, hundreds of people visit the market, yet when I tell people where I live, most have never heard of Scottdale at all, let alone the Scottdale Mill Village. Many have been to our market and even those who shop their regularly have no idea, until I tell them, that down the hill from the market is a secret historic neighborhood.

(Maybe I should stop giving away the secret!)

The neighborhood was once a company town for a cotton mill that existed from the turn of the twentieth century until the 1980's, if the information I've been given is correct. When I looked up the public record for our house, it said that the house was built in 1915, the same year as the mansion in which our Portland apartment was located. I mentioned this to a neighbor who told me no, 1915 is just when the houses got entered into the tax records, but they are much older. I think she said some were built in the 1890's! but I could be wrong. In any case, our house is about a hundred years old. The owner of the mill built the homes for employees and their families. Ours was a "three-room" house, and if you don't count the bathroom, it is three rooms--a kitchen, a living room, and a bedroom. The three-room house, my neighbor told me, was for a family of four.

Many of our neighbors were born in one of the houses in the neighborhood, although they live in different houses now. These are the neighbors who are able to tell us stories and history.

Between our neighborhood and the market is a barrier of forest. The forest was much larger until a few months ago, when seemingly overnight, it was cut down to make way for an expansion of the market. Opinion on this issue throughout the village is varied and in some cases, passionate. I am just glad that the little forest barrier we have still exists, and I hope it stays. It makes my daily walks varied and interesting. There are always new birds and flowers to see.

Besides a collection of historic homes, trees and birds, and an amazing place to buy food, our neighborhood has some less idyllic surroundings.

Our neighborhood sits between the market and a busy street, one of the main roads of the Atlanta/Decatur area. The road bends, forming a semi-circle (sort of), and our neighborhood sits in that sort-of-semi-circle. The hill keeps out most highway noise. However, very, very close, just on the other side of that main road, are train tracks, so occasionally, a train will come by with its loud, blaring horn. Near the train tracks is the steel mill, from which the smell of varnish occasionally drifts into the neighborhood, but usually, it causes no disturbance other than some strange noises. Late at night, the high-pitched mechanical noises sound like something from a science-fiction movie. HM can't hear as high of pitches or as distant of sounds as I can, and so until I met someone else who'd heard them, I questioned my sanity.

Driving to our neighborhood from the Emory area or from downtown Decatur, an industrial area is all there is to see, making the existence of a quaint neighborhood seem even more unlikely. If one were to leave downtown Decatur, for example, and head in our direction, the sights would include a lot of car repair places with old cars out front, a huge strip club, some large lots shielded by chain-link fences, some secondhand stores, more car-related businesses, some property owned by MARTA, a bus depot, and finally, the market.

On our first day in the neighborhood, HM and I went for a few walks to explore and to buy food. Most of our belongings, including cookware, were still on a moving truck, so we didn't have much to do besides walk around; this was partly also because we needed to find something to eat. In one direction we walked, with no sidewalks and mostly dirt paths very close to the road, to Kroger and to the Last Chance Thrift Store. (I think this might have been the day I found a suit there for $18!) In the other direction, we walked up the hill, most likely with a plan to go to the market. We saw a sign that piqued our interest, however. It said Scottdale Bakery Outlet. I don't think we noticed that in the lot behind the building were large Egyptian-style statues, unceremoniously stored next to some unglamorous trailers. We turned toward the small strip mall where we hoped to find a bakery outlet. In my experience growing up, a bakery outlet was a store that had stuff that food companies for some reason didn't want to or couldn't sell at regular grocery stores and the outlets would sell them for really cheap. When I was a kid, I'd get brownies and blondies and discontinued Celestial Seasonings tea at an Arnold Bakery Outlet.

We may not have noticed the Egyptian statues in the back, but as we approached the store, we noticed the Egyptian statues decorating the front of it. "Maybe it's an Egyptian bakery outlet! Maybe they'll have pita!!!!!!" I exclaimed happily.

But as we continued, the storefront facing us looked nothing like a bakery. I'm writing this from a memory that could be inaccurate, and I won't be going back to confirm these details for reasons I'll explain further down. Behind the big glass window was a velvet curtain, I think dark red or dark purple, and a paper-and-Sharpie'd sign about a bookstore, or something. The building looked closed. We may have even tried the door, so determined to find discounted pita. It was locked. As we later learned, despite the misleading bakery sign, it is actually a religious building, a meeting place or a temple or something for the Nuwaupians.

The neighborhood suits us perfectly. It is secluded, not isolated, but downtown and the law school are easily accessible. We have the benefits of being near a city, but we have a large yard that we are converting into a microfarm. Everyone is friendly, yet everyone also seems to maintain a healthy level of privacy; everyone waves at whomever they see (even contractors and strangers) on the street, but unlike in other places I've lived, no one's ever looking in or knocking on my window. The neighborhood has many impressive gardens, but the attitude is tolerant of works-in-progress, bug-eaten or weedy chaos, and gardens decorated with yard art that is made out of garbage. For example, when we tore up much of the lawn to put in raised beds with vegetables, everyone had kind things to say. No one has commented on the in-progress patches that I'm working on, and before my perennials and sunflowers started to get established, it was either bare dirt or sale papers I could barely keep covered by mulch. In progress is a post about our garden. Or probably a series of posts. I have been documenting it with pictures pretty regularly. I've also been documenting the forest barrier and how it's been changing. When I started my walks in the winter, I took a lot of pictures of sunsets. After awhile, I started capturing the land, as it was being cleared, and sometimes the construction equipment in the pictures. So now I have a purpose, to target the market expansion as it happens, especially at sunset, from the point of view of the village.

Overlap of past and present

When I was little, my family would drive to Florida about once a year. It was not until I was a teenager that I traveled by plane. A 21-hour drive, not a 2-hour flight, was my normal.

This was how I saw so much of the South. Many hours and many miles, but much of it only from I-95. Cars with different license plates, gas stations, Shoney's breakfast buffets, South of the Border billboards, and rest areas distinguished by something special in the vending machines (strawberry soda, mostly like Crush, or once, an event so special I sought to recreate it for much of the 90's--a Milkshake candy bar) or palm trees (which I might later learn were actually palmettos) planted near the Welcome sign.

Very often, we wouldn't get a hotel between New Jersey and Florida; we would drive straight through the night. My mom would sleep, my dad would drive, and sometimes, I would be awake, too, listening to music and talking with Dad. I loved the car ride, if not as much as Disney World, at least as a part of the vacation, an event without which the yearly vacation just wouldn't seem right. I loved being awake in the middle of the night, in a place I didn't live, looking out the window and staring at what seemed like thousands of stars. I felt like an explorer. And I especially loved being awake in the last hours of night and the first hours of morning, and that little bit of time in between when the sky would start to lighten and change colors.

When I began looking at and applying to law schools based on my advisor's suggestions, I noticed that many of them--Vanderbilt, Duke, UVA, and Emory, where I am now--were in the Southeast. The Southeast wasn't where I'd immediately planned the Jersey-to-Portland-to-???? path to take me, but I thought about these road trips and it seemed alright. Those road trips created most of my frame of reference for the Southeast as a place to move and live for my first year of law school and marriage; when I thought the place to which I'd be uprooting my husband, a place and possibly a region where he'd never been, I pictured Shoney's breakfast buffets, palmettos at rest areas, and misty sunrises over I-95. Even the day we drove from New Jersey to Atlanta, that image comprised much of my vision of our new life.

New images have filled my mind since we moved to Georgia. Also, here in the Piedmont*, with Appalachian geology, botany, and ecology, my surroundings more closely resemble the rural northwest New Jersey where I grew up than the Coastal Plain stretches of I-95 I saw as a kid in a car on the way to Disney World.

Over winter break, I started a routine where, if I didn't get exercise in some other way, I'd walk around my neighborhood four times. According to my smartphone, it's half a mile around, so four laps is two miles. At first I felt self-conscious about it, like people might be thinking, "Why is that woman passing our house for a fourth time?" but then I noticed that I wasn't the only person in the neighborhood walking in circles every day. Now that it's summer and it's hot and humid by 9am, I'm trying to walk in circles in the morning. Unless it's just rained, evenings are still hot and humid. One night last week, it was so hot that just the first half-mile lap made me tired! So, I try to get out before 8am. There's enough to see here that even walking the same route four times, I notice something new at every turn. It is in these early mornings that I've started to see something that reminds me my I-95 road trips in the South. Just one corner of my route looks out to the main road, and there, across the main road, by the train tracks and the traffic light, over the trucks and 7-11, is the sky, fringed with mimosa trees. The trees are now bedecked with sunrise-colored blooms. Mist hangs over the scene; the pink mimosa-colored sky and the pink sunrise-colored flowers above the trucks and the train tracks and the traffic light and the 7-11 behind a thin screen of mist are the image that merges this moment right now, the life I live today, with middle-of-the-night watching stars over the highway fade and brighten into a sunrise over I-95.

So far, I haven't been able to get a camera-phone picture to capture it successfully.

Albizia julibrissin, Persian silk tree, in the Fabaceae family, like mimosa, but apparently technically not a true mimosa.**

*Some geology, based on Wikipedia, Google searching, and what I remember from a land use planning internship in 2007: Atlanta and therefore, my home in unincorporated DeKalb County, lies in the Piedmont physiographic province, which is part of a larger Appalachian geologic something (region? I don't know the proper terminology!). Much of New Jersey also lies in the Piedmont region, but the part where I grew up lies in the Appalachian Ridge and Valley physiographic province. The parts of North Georgia where I've (so far) gone apple picking and hiking are either also in that Ridge and Valley province or they are in the Blue Ridge province. North Georgia especially feels familiar; when we are there, I am constantly exclaiming that some view from a hill looks IDENTICAL to suchandsuch in soandso place in Sussex County, NJ. Picking apples at Mercier Orchards is like picking apples at Pochuck Valley Farms, etc etc.

**I only buried this in the footnotes because it makes me a little sad; Albizia julibrissin is now classified as an invasive species in Georgia.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

A cat story


Artemisia the cat chases her tail. She catches it with her claws and teeth, and almost immediately becomes angry at whatever has made her hurt. Not understanding that it is her own face that did it, she resumes chasing that monster, her tail, with enhanced fervor. She attacks it with enthusiasm, and, shocked, she stops. She looks up, surprised at the pain, and in that time the tail monster has escaped. Artemisia regards it with renewed hatred and chases it again. She catches her tail and attacks it again, chases and attacks it again and again, with increasing savagery each time.

I intervene! I worry what will be the outcome of this series; I picture a trip to the vet, a bandaged tail, and a cone collar.

But sometimes I'm not quick enough, and I've been able to see the end of Artemisia's chase-bite-chase cycle.

Artemisia will jump up and tear across the house, bouncing off walls, running from room to room, eyes filled with terror.

Artemisia will run away from her tail.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

My Quarterly Update

I'm afraid I set too high of a standard for myself with my last post. After that, I felt compelled to only publish stories, and not the meandering rambles so typical of this blog. In the past I have written stories on this blog interspersed with the rambles. I've written narratives with a beginning, a middle, an end; a crisis, a conflict, a resolution; but feeling like I must do so made adapting my experiences to fit within that framework seem like an insurmountable challenge. These are a lot of words to express the thought most people would succinctly sum up as, "overthinking it."

Handsome Man and I have lived in Georgia for almost a year. I see that I have not written (although have probably drafted) a post about where in Georgia we live. Our neighborhood and our house seem like a good place to start - the beginning, the foundation, the home.

We agreed to move into our home without having seen it in person. The landlord seemed nice but also organized, responsible, and normal, from his ad and from phone and email conversations. We got a good vibe.

We were both completely aware of how dangerous it can be to make a decision on something administrative and important, like a house, based on a "vibe." A vibe combined with concepts such as "cute," "historic," and "space for a garden." That vibe can quickly turn into such realities as flaky landlord, irresponsible landlord, landlord with improper sense of boundaries who sneaks into the home while you are out to snoop and you'll discover to your surprise that a stranger has used your toilet while you were gone. (See the following here.) "Historic" and "room for a garden" can suddenly turn into "falling apart...cute...but perhaps a charming way...but bordering on ramshackle nonetheless," coupled with "one small raised bed in the backyard, which is deep shade, and a lawn you're not allowed to turn into garden but you also have to mow, but I guess you could put some flower pots on the (partially covered and therefore shady) porch if you want."

We left New Jersey, about ten days after our wedding, on the morning of move-in day. Thanks to some traffic jams and one extraordinarily drawn out stop at a Dunkin Donuts (a story for another time), we arrived at our new home at close to midnight. Our new landlord was waiting for us with the keys and a few rolls of toilet paper and paper towels, because it occurred to his wife and him that it might not have occurred to us to pack such essentials. During another visit that same week, they both individually and separately said we could do what we wanted with the yard, that while we were paying rent it was our home to do with whatever we want except "just don't burn it down."

So, in short, taking a chance, choosing a home, and putting down a deposit without an in-person visit, based on some photos and a "vibe," worked out very well. Our apartment in Portland was lovely, but at least once a day, since August 1st, I comment to myself how fortunate I feel to be here, in a house, small but still a house, with no upstairs or downstairs neighbors, no one sharing the laundry machine except my husband, no one to be bothered by my noisy heavy walk or loud Jersey phone voice, no way that a stranger can fill my house with cigarette smoke; lucky to also be in a large yard, a shady backyard that I can and am allowed to turn into the woodland garden of my dreams, and a sunny front yard where I have the same permission to plant all of the herbs and vegetables and perennials and cutting garden annuals which have accumulated over the years (since roughly 2007) on my dream plants list and in my seed collection.

I have more topics to cover just to tell you about my home. I would like to tell you about the secret historic neighborhood where my tiny dream home is located, the wonderful food market visible from my living room window, and some of the other surroundings that are less idyllic than those I've described so far. I'd also like to switch scale to the small contents and surroundings of our home and life in Georgia. Its critters and bugs are plentiful and interesting enough to fill a post on their own.