Sunday, August 30, 2009

Georgia On My Mind

It has been a bit since we ventured to Georgia to visit Jules' people. He moved from Georgia up here to the Pacific Northwest a few years ago and now we go back every year to see family. To write about the experience is a difficult thing because of how very dichotomous the state is. The same is true for here. Mindsets run from completely conservative Republican in parts to "bleeding-heart" liberal (as my father says) in others. This dichotomy is not something only true to Georgia, but perhaps due to living here I don't notice it as much.

We always begin at Jules' parents in extremely rural north Georgia. Young Harris has only one stoplight and it is a blinking four way stop. According to the 2000 census 604 people lived in the town, completing 74 families. We are talking tiny!
Set up in mountains filled with National Forest, the area is beautiful in a way that only the Appalachians can be. The green "mountains" are so much more elegant and graceful. Here there are jagged peaks which are stunning and majestic, but not soft in any way. Ours are beautiful in their snow capped regality which demands a form of awe. The awe from the Appalachians is a much more storybook.

With Jules' mother experiencing some health concerns, and the desire from both of us to move into the middle of nowhere, moving to Georgia's mountains became a topic of some serious discussion. For one, the land is cheap. Land there is only about 10-20 thousand dollars an acre. That would be an outhouse here! There is a lot of land which buts up to, or is surrounded by, National Forest where logging isn't an issue and recreation is incredible. For not much we could buy a few acres and homestead with contact to other "back-to-the-landers." Secondly, the land is incredibly arable. The Appalachians are some of the best farmland around. Everywhere you drive out in north Georgia you will see people with farms growing and fruit stands propped up. Lastly, with a couple of Mennonite communities, a few Amish farther North in Tennessee, and the wealth of resources provided by people coming to exhibit at the Georgia Mountain Fair, finding others who are knowledgeable about many of the areas we wish our life to venture into would be easy to find. The Foxfire series we have slowly been accumulating originated in Ruban County. Small pockets of the area still teach old world skills to younger generations. The oral history is beginning to completely die out, but small amounts are being preserved by older generations which are seeing life change in negative ways. Quilting guilds, knitters circles, canning displays and soap making are still common in some places in these rural areas. Most importantly, the desire to teach such skills to younger people who are wanting to learn still seems to be desirable. The Barracuda got to use a corn shucker, watch the water wheel spin to move an old grind stone and transform the corn into grits, meal, and flour. He sat with four other boys on an old cider press as a man explained how he had done the same thing when he was their age and continued to talk to them about apple cider, apple sauce, and apple mash. A teenage boy, in a Bruce Lee T-shirt and designer jeans bashfully answered our questions about shingle making the way his grandfather had taught him. He used a froe and deftly split the wood into exceptionally thin sheets. We flew home with much to think about and a stack of real-estate books.

The problem became three fold: 1) we LOVE our house and the area we live in 2) just as there are pockets of Georgia where it is beautiful and such activity is supported, there are those who live in the same places excited that Wal-Mart, Lowes, and a Chick-fil-A are going to open in less than a month devastating the local small town businesses and 3) The Spicy Barracuda is not normal; sporting a blue mohawk and enjoying rap music, dancing, and sparkly purple are not appropriate boy/child behaviors in a rather judgmental area. Like or not, the cultural acceptance of our son is a primary concern. Jules and I both know the brutality of being different in a small town.

The entire situation was bothering me to a large degree. I am a muller, a planner, and have an obsessive need to begin setting out an orderly route for things even if they are about three to five years in the future. It doesn't matter to me if we necessarily follow the plan laid out, but more that a plan exists should we need one. My mind doesn't like to stop until such a logical, reasonable plan exists. So many a furrowed brow and much befuddlement ensued. This seemed to be a place where there was no win: Great liberal area, no space or Great space, no liberal area. That is until in the middle of making a pizza at work the light dawned in my head! The main reason to move to Georgia would be to have enough land to be able to really grow our food, have small stock (chickens, a goat or two, bees), some wooded areas for firewood collection, and to remove ourselves from the grid. Honestly, the issue with staying was that it didn't seem we would have enough space on our 1/10th of a acre to be able to accomplish what we wished to.

Everything else is amazing. We love the area here. The Barracuda fits right in when you first see him (after a discussion or two he is still not normal, but people find it fun and cool here not something to be ostracized about). Jules has a job in a district with seniority at a school he has found a place. Most importantly, we would get to keep our house that we both adore and might later regret selling.

Eureka! We would just begin to change our perceptions of space! More than anything, we needed to re-think our ideas about space. The average square footage of an American house in 1950 was 983 square feet. Basically the size of our 1950's house. It is more than enough for us, yet to many it seems so tiny. The same might be possible for land, I was just thinking about it in the wrong way.
The city ordinances here declare no more than three chickens, rabbits, or pygmy goats. We could have chickens and we don't want a rooster. Our shed outback now houses an abundance of tools (junk) we really don't need and could easily be converted to a chicken coop. The garden could be doubled without much yard loss if we just utilized the space, and our far corner is perfect for a house of bees. The flat top roof could be converted into a solar dehydrator and is ideal for photovoltaic cells (if we dramatically cut our electricity usage). Next year's tax return will bring a solar water heater which almost pays for itself in state, NGO, and federal rebates.

Our city has also declared no swine, no roosters, no livestock within 50 feet of a residence and that includes goats. So goats are out of the question right now because we are surrounded on all sides by other residences. However, if we don't sell our house, it allows us to increase the amount of land we own around us as the nieghborhood changes. Goats may not be out of the question forever.

It is possible to stay here and still remove ourselves from the grid in a slow methodical fashion. It is possible within the urban setting to do much which I have always been considering "country behavior." When I look around at what we have already accomplished, it is so funny to think I retained prejudices about city life being restrictive. It is true that we cannot own acres of land and wide open spaces in our current status. We will always be surrounded by people by living in an urban area, but this can also be seen as a major plus to staying. Community means support. There are so many organizations and non-profit groups around this area to foster not only knowledge, but helpful monetary incentives to increase our abilities. Not only this, but it provides an area for The Spicy Barracuda to grow up seeing that we are not necessarily weird, un-normal, or isolated. The community outreach and local social support is an aspect of the urban area which we haven't experimented too much with, but will definitely be branching out into this next year.

So, for now, we are staying. The potential for our very own space merely needed to be seen. I will still dabble at looking for land in the middle of nowhere, (who knows I might stumble onto something which just couldn't be passed up) but more so as a fun pastime than anything serious. There will always be greener grass on the other side of the fence, we have decided to stop worrying about it and put our energy into our own lawn.

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