Thursday, May 12, 2011

Country Mouse/City Mouse

Here we are in the city. We have a small front and a back balcony, two bedrooms on the second floor of a small apartment building, a sidewalk with no end visible in either direction and a modest shared back courtyard that’s primarily for obese junk-fed city squirrels, urban birds who nest in third-floor eaves and dog-owners following behind their companions with disposal bags.

When we moved to our home in rural North Carolina three years ago, we had grand plans for self-sustenance. We set up a makeshift greenhouse and grew our own veggies from heirloom seeds – often picked and crunched right off the vine by our toddlers. We built a coop from salvaged materials and populated it with a few buff orpington and barred rock hens who supplied us with lovely eggs. We lived in our kitchen – something I’ve come to believe is almost a redundant claim.

But as much as we loved everything about our home, we were never completely self-contained. It was a personal thing, a personality thing – we’re very social people. So we would drive to our closest city several times a week for dinner or drinks with friends; for playdates at parks; for live music.

Gradually, we seemed to be making our small country footprint more of a carbon drain than a green living dream. And we began to wonder: Are we country mice or city mice?

Now in Richmond’s thick museum district, I’m walking much more than I did in all the time we lived on our one acre 20 minutes into North Carolina country, where busy country roads without sidewalks made it impossible to even walk the short distance to the grocery store with young children.

Every city block is an explorative adventure – hidden bars, bodegas, florists, bike shops, sidewalls peppered with curious graffiti. The light posts are pierced and littered with fresh flyers and old ones on their way back to becoming pulp. Parks and playgrounds creak to be discovered. Artistic events happen close enough to leave the car at home.

Gardening has definitely become a challenge in minimalism. Our 25’ x 40’ plot has been condensed to a cluster of hanging tomatoes and a handful of peppers in planters. As we figure out what works, we’ll add an herb garden and a barrel of salad greens and attempt to trellis vining vegetables.

We can’t legally keep chickens in the city, and don’t have the space even if we could, but we’re lending our voices to the petition for our city neighbors at CHICKUNZ who do.

I’m still undecided on the country vs. city mouse issue…why does it have to be one or the other?

Thursday, April 14, 2011


This is something I wrote in September as the reality of losing our lives in North Carolina began to balloon.

The photo of Siri and Bella happily exhausted after play on our red comforter at the duplex is in storage. So is the folder packed with growth milestones and tiny hospital footprints and leftover shower invitations. Our tiny Buddy Christ action figure. My still muddy wedding dress. The envelopes containing the girls first cut locks of white blonde hair.

I walk the quiet hallway, surrounded by freshly painted off-white walls and bright white trim. Chuckle because Chris can’t help but be tickled every time we use that word: trim.

Our shampoos and toothbrushes are neatly hidden in caddies on bedroom closet shelf. All the other closets in our home are empty, except for a handful of toys, the girls’ play kitchen in their closet.

Our life is transitory.

We are mid-move from this cobbled North Carolina beach town, the only home our children have ever known, back to Richmond, a question, a city that lives mainly in our best memories of it and the people we love who call it home.

No job or freshly-cut keys await us at the end of the caravan. – Just a maybe, a small confidence.

This is my eulogy to Wilmington, to the life we worked so hard to build here. To the tiny loggerhead turtles Chris and I watched boil from the Wrightsville sand and trickle to the ocean at dusk.

To the dog park we built with a few committed people. To the tropical storm tussled pines and delicate altheas at the house where we believed might not fuck up parenting any more than the next hopeful couple. To Tess. To the one bedroom garage apartment whose stairs I climbed each day as my belly swelled to make my steps heavier and my balance more precarious. To pork tenderloin on the grill and the bacon-egg-and-cheese bagels Chris had waiting for me after so many overnight shifts. To the quilt that Chris’s grandma pieced – the one we spread out on the living room floor and peppered with bright, musical objects, coaxing our tiny twins to lift their heads, strengthen their arms, and roll their baby bodies over. To our patio garden with the lemon cucumbers that snaked down the backyard banister.
To that day Chris and I floated out beyond the breakers in the most perfect stillness. To stars raining over the south end. To all the women who helped me become a mother and keep myself. To Sunday coffee and vomit with Christa. To wine walks with Katy. To breastfeeding among the tall cool pines at Hugh Macrae. To giving Herbie a place to stretch his toes. To desodding our garden plot by flashlight. To our repurposed chicken coop. To cooking and conversation at our bar. To Siri and her soccer ball. To many beers at many fires with a handful of true friends.

It’s a eulogy because I feel the painful tug of the people I love in this place on my soul. This time is past. And the next has not become yet.

When I think of Richmond, I think of Belle Island on our bikes in the rain, and of Bella and Siri chasing bubbles in the James. I know we left for a reason, but that we’re going back for so many others. It will be a different place than the one we left, or we are other people than those who drove away, as are those we left behind.

I don’t yet know how this will be. We hope to sell this house, in a poor market, at a dismal time. I plan to give my employer adequate notice, and trust for her understanding when I leave. The self-imposed hush is distressing. If we must leave under foreclosure, without positive job reference, we will figure it out, as we always have.

Into the car our rag-tag crew: three sweet dogs, three anxious cats, two excited little girls, my best friend and me, and the car door will latch with a thud.