Love Where You Are Planted

Our Backyard Garden

I got sent off to boarding school at the ripe old age of fourteen. It was six hours from home and was a military school. I was pretty miserable for a few months. Then it dawned on me that there will be times in your life that you will have little control of where you are. What you can control is how you choose to react that the situation and your location.
Four years later when I got in my car and drove the twelve hours by myself to Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I was determined to make the best of it. I had never been there, but I planned to push my limits.
As a married adult, I have lived in eight different homes in two provinces and three states. At least one was a little insular but we managed to find good people in all places.
From 2006 until 2021, we had a home on the North Carolina coast. It was on the water and had stunning views. I am a photographer so I was in paradise with all the water and big birds. I had a wonderful time. When we got ready to move, our friends started asking what beauty could we possibly find to compare all the scenery at the coast.
I simply smiled and said I am confident that there will be lots of things to capture with my cameras. That has turned out to be the cast.
When you have lived in a lot of places, you probably figure out quickly that there are no perfect places for those us not in the ranks of the super rich. We bought our current house during the pandemic-fueled housing boom. We are very pleased that it has turned out even better than we expected.
While I don’t have great egrets, great blue herons and otters at my beck and call, I do have beautiful forest and fields that remind me of where I grew up.
That is no real surprise because we moved back to the area near where my mother’s family settled in 1790. When I was wandering the hills and forests of the area in the fifties, I was living on Styers Street not far from Styers Ferry Road which happened to be named for my great grandfather who ran a ferry across the Yadkin River. So this is home, but it is more than that.
This is one of few rural areas in North Carolina where you have modern services and are within a few minutes of about everything that your consumer heart can imagine. On top of that we are blessed with farmers’ markets all through the summer.
After years of tolerating faux beach grass, we are now living where our yards don’t feel squishy when you step in them. We have a real backyard that is unlikely to ever flood. It is big enough for us to have a small garden.
Settling into an area which was not far from where I grew up is one of the most pleasant moves that I have ever made. I am just a few minutes from one of my grade school fishing buddies.
I laugh when some of my northern friends talk about North Carolina’s humidity. The thing is when we moved from the coast to the Piedmont, we took a serious step down in humidity. Summer humidity is very real across the South, but there are degrees of it and the marshes along the coast can feel like you’re being swallowed by the humidity.
Here in the Piedmont there is fall and spring. If you have ever lived on the coast, you know that both fall and spring are very subtle. Here in the Piedmont they are a riot of colors.
I wonder if I have enough time left to try living in the desert?

Not Enough Wilderness To Save Us

Sunset on White Oak River Near Swansboro, NC

Towns are magnets and they suck people from the countryside, especially the young and talented. We noticed this happening when we returned to New Brunswick in 2012.We farmed there in the seventies and early eighties. Since our trip, what remained of the three churches in our old town disappeared. The community store closed. Yet the provincial capital, Fredericton, is thriving as the small towns wither.  It is a story repeated time and again in Canada and the United States.

I still worry that some of those wild places like the North Carolina coast will become too populated. I sometimes think that what we call the Northern Outer Banks from Corolla to Cape Hatteras will sink into the seas just from the weight of all those beach castles. I offer up my profound thanks for those who created the National Seashores. Beyond nourishing our souls places like coastal Carteret County and hilly Davie County where we now live grow a lot of food that North Carolina cities need.

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The Five Shirt Day

My Work Shirt

An overlooked challenge of the pandemic is that it has been very hard on clothing, specifically shirts. I have never been easy on clothing. I have a long history of getting dirty.  When we lived on the farm, my wife, Glenda, was known to sometimes hose me down and make me take my dirty clothes off in the woodshed before I could come into the house. Back in my lawn mowing days on the North Carolina coast, not only did I come in encrusted in dirt from a yard that was more dust than grass at times but I also ended up fishing, walking on the beach, gardening and working at my desk. It all required a lot of different clothes, but I am not sure that I ever had a five shirt day.

The pandemic has made it more challenging to do almost everything except work from home. The statement that clothes make the man or woman has changed to shirts make the man or woman.  With Zoom and Team conference calls, how you look on video is what matters these days and our video cameras only show us from us from the face down to our desks.  So we pay attention to the shirts that we wear.

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Dirt On My Hands

Our first off-the-farm garden in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Spring 1986

I farmed for over ten years, but I did not grow up on a farm. I graduated from college in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as those of us who went to Harvard in sixties and seventies are fond of saying. The closest I got to farming there was my focus on colonial American History. My family did have a rich history of being close to the land and my grandfather was a miller and then a dairy farmer. I never knew him.

I grew up with a mother who spent most of her free time digging in the dirt. She loved flowers and they responded to her love. Roses grew for her in places no one else could get them to grow. Tomatoes were the only vegetable that we had room for at my childhood home, but they did incredibly well.

Growing up, the only digging in the dirt that I did was to get worms so I could go fishing. I was completely uninterested in growing anything. That certainly continued through my college years. The change and how it came about are something of a mystery even to me. When it happened is easier. The change happened sometime between August 1971 and January 1972 when I started ordering seeds from a catalog. (Read More)

Finally a Backyard

Our Backyard in the North Carolina Foothills

It seems since my childhood that I have spent much of my life searching for a backyard. I have had hayfields and marshes as backyard but until this last move none were close to the one where I played ball with friends when I was in elementary school. I could plow up part of it for a huge garden but I have been there and enjoyed that when I was a lot younger. Read more.

Not the Last Farmer’s Market

Mocksville, NC Farmer’s Market, November 3, 2021

We actually started going to farmer’s markets as a couple when we were living north of Fredericton, New Brunswick. We went to see people and to pick up a few things that we did not grow on our own farm. Even more so than most farmer’s markets, there were homemade items interspersed with farm produce. There were no food items that we really needed but I think we went home with baskets to use with our own garden produce. Still we enjoyed the market especially the people.

Maybe it was because we had dirt under our fingernails and a close connection to producing food but for whatever reason, visiting farmer’s market became a life-long passion. Read More

The First Snow

Our former Roanoke, Virginia home after a good snow in 2009

I have seen a lot of first snows. I have also gone through a lot of years when there was never a first snow. Snow is an unusual thing. How it impacts your life depends a lot on where you live. We have lived in lots of places so our snow memories span everything from flurries to blizzards just as you might imagine.

Back in 1960 when I was in elementary school in Lewisville, North Carolina, I had my first serious experience with snow. In March 1960, it started on my birthday and snowed three straight Wednesdays. We hardly went to school that month. Those storms must have created a powerful pull on me. It took me at least twenty-seven years before I had enough snow to move back from Canada and end my sixteen years north of the border. Read more

Summer ’21 Update for the Crystal Coast

The beach at the Point on Emerald Isle
The beach at the Point in the town of Emerald Isle, NC

While we have moved from North Carolina’s Crystal Coast, that area of Carteret County that stretches from Swansboro to Beaufort, I continue to pay attention to the area. We lived there for sixteen years and would still be there if we had not wanted to be closer to our grandchildren.

My biggest worry is that the area which is one of the last beach areas with small towns at its heart is developing too fast in mainland Carteret County. While development is slow along the shoreline, across the bridge from Emerald Isle/Bogue Banks, it accelerating just across the bridges from the beaches. It is time to visit before it is gone, but that might be easier said than done this summer. Read my full update here.

A Safe Warm Spot for a Challenging Fall

The view from our small deck

We have spent fourteen years here along Raymond’s Gut just off the White Oak River north of Swansboro. I managed to learn enough about the White Oak River from my kayaking and boating to know Ed was right. Many times, I fished a cove just off the river when the main River had whitecaps on it. Then there were times you could be in the middle of the river with hardly a ripple. Sometimes it is blowing on the river but quiet on the backside of Bear Island.

Ed, a good friend of mine who died a few years ago, used to say that if you were willing to look a little, most of the time you could find a place on the water in Carteret County where the wind wasn’t blowing. Ed grew up here and knew the area’s waters better than anyone I have ever known.

It turns out Ed’s wisdom also applies to our house. If you look a little, you can almost always find a cozy spot out of the wind. It is one of the reasons we love our home. The side of our house with the most windows faces the South. That and the protection provided by pines just across the water from us makes our home a delightful place as the air turns cooler in the fall. It also creates a great microclimate for gardening. Living on Raymond’s  Gut just off the White Oak River turned out to be a lucky decision for us. Read the full article