Beautiful, downtown Kents Store, Virginia boasts two businesses, a store with snacks and sodas where hunters register the deer they’ve just shot, and a funeral home (not for the deer). Across the road is a post office, a fire hall, a Masonic Temple constructed like a brick ranch house, a brick church and a cemetery.
About a mile from the store, we live on 3.2 acres where our house sits 300 feet back from the road behind an expanse of oak, hickory, beech and loblolly pine. Behind us for an equal distance is a grove of oaks, remnants of an old forest: straight, tall, red and white oaks, and an understory of blueberry, dogwood, holly, poison ivy and various other bushes. The oaks and hickories, aging kings and queens of this dwindling woodland, for almost a century, have been stretching above the canopy for light to survive.
On both sides of our ten year-old yellow split-level house are open pastures with small herds of Black Angus cattle. We, my husband Les and I and our three cats, Alex, Cleo and Lily, moved here four years ago from Richmond, Virginia, and before that we moved from Charlottesville and before that a long list of city residences in our passion as former country kids to enjoy the energy and challenges of city life, and perhaps, to prove to ourselves that we could be urbanized.
But, now, living here in the country stresses our time and energy, especially our finances. The need to find more work as an adjunct college English teacher is ever present for me and Les drives 60 miles round trip daily to teach AP English at a high school in Charlottesville. We are both tired most of the time and live without enough social life. But gradually we are relaxing into the silence and solitude of this landscape. Most days I write for at least a couple of hours.
August 4, 2003
Hard rain late this evening as I read a novel. Even with windows closed, its sound comes through, pounding the roof, snapping against leaves, hitting the ground. When the rain stops, and I crack the window half an inch, the racket of cicadas fills my ears. After an hour or so, I have to close the window in order to sleep. Now, nearly dawn, the rooster next door is crowing and light is filtering into the fog lingering at tree and fence tops. I give up on sleep, and rise to finish preparing several submissions of my poems which will go into the mailbox today.
Just a year after we moved here water from our faucets began to stink, and tested positive for E-Coli. In shocking the contaminated well, (dumping a gallon of chlorine bleach into it) we ran the water too long to clear the pipes and burned out the well pump. The anxiety from having no water, of having to ask neighbors for it, and ration what we could beg and buy, rendered us depressed and extremely frustrated. We decided to drill a new well. Following weeks of negotiating with drillers and the public health department, a skyscraper of a drill arrived and penetrated 519 feet through bedrock to reach good water. The well-drilling and plumbing hook-up cost nearly $5,000. That dashed our hopes for other home improvements and even for recreation for a while.
Five AM, and no sleep yet with thoughts racing through my skull. My body feels weak and slow. Anxiety flourishes and fills the hours. Cicadas chatter rhythmic and constant through the dark. Then, quickly they lessen and subside as dawn pushes the day at us. With the coming of daylight I fall asleep. Les will be up to take care of the world for me. The weight of night is lifted for now.
Summer is unloading its harvest onto the world. Nowhere is this more evident than in our late-planted garden which has given us cucumbers in uncounted numbers, fifteen cantaloupes, four watermelons, green peppers by the bucket, and quarts of green beans. This has astonished us. The garden was not planted until the first week of July and not much was expected.
In the flower bed, the Mexican sunflower is sporting brilliant orange blooms that are covered with monarch and swallowtail butterflies, bumble bees and honey bees. The orange flowers are startling against the deep green stems. Six feet tall and wide and bushy, two of these plants have grown into the best surprise of this summer. But yesterday, after a storm and wind the night before, the largest one broke. In the morning I found the plant on the ground, top heavy with flowers’ faces smushed against the soil, with bees and butterflies fluttering and dipping into its last bits of pollen. But, I remembered, it is almost autumn and the plant was receding anyway. Quickly, I propped up the smaller bush, snipped a handful of flowers and brought them inside to a vase of water. The annuals are already past their peak, and most of the perennials will have to be cut back soon. This is my favorite time of year. The grand transition has begun.
Rain for sixteen hours. I’ve been awake since 3:30am, reading and listening to the rain, nursing persistent thoughts. Not the least of these ruminations is what’s happening with my poetry submissions. I imagine the editorial room of a lit mag. Several staff members sit around in chairs and on a sofa. Someone opens my envelope with the five poems in it. A little sound—my little sound—escapes from the envelope, and barely heard, is absorbed by all the paper in the room, is nullified by the tension of the exhausted staff, overwhelmed by hours of sorting and reading, nullified by the ticking clock, by their bad coffee and their bad hair day. Hope is a thin thread stretching across long weeks of waiting.
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