As the stones spun underneath the tires of our minivan, I willed a renewed sense of trust in my GPS to safely navigate our way back to the interstate and traces of civilization. The gravel path twisted for about half a mile until it came to a section with three double-wide trailers that were littered with what had to be 50 years’ worth of spare parts, broken down cars and dilapidated dog pens lining the edge of the woods, each decorated with countless Beware of Dog signs and Confederate flags.
We stopped for gas a bit down the road and I marveled at the weathered countenance of all the locals. Each seemed to be following a coordinated dress code of camouflage, cigarettes, pickup truck, and prominent Budweiser logo. “Are we lost?” my eldest called from the relative safety of the minivan’s back row. My wife’s face reflected her concern that Daddy had made a wrong turn that could at any moment bring us face to face with someone who wouldn’t look kindly upon my Jersey plates and might take umbrage with this gang of trespassing Yankees. We drove back up the hill, out to the main road, and meandered our way through windy wooded roads towards home. It reminded me of a lesson learned from my days growing up in rural northern New Jersey – I love visiting the countryside, but am always a bit unnerved by its inhabitants.
We were driving home from a weekend visit to my sister’s family. She and her husband just moved with their 3-year-old little girl and 2-month-old baby boy to a 90-year-old farmhouse situated on 11 beautiful acres of land 40 minutes west of Richmond, Virginia. It came complete with requisite weathered barn, fishing pond, former owners buried on the hillside, and an address in a small town with the unfortunate name of Bumpass (I’ll let you decide the pronunciation). We’d journeyed down I-95 south Friday morning for our first visit to the farm.
The ride down (and back) was filled with several colorful discussions with my wife (kids safely occupied with their DVD and headphones) about the logic of moving to such a remote location and where the best place is for our family to live. We (OK, mostly I) love the rustic charm of an old house – high ceilings, wide window frames and trim and the lure of an open landscape, but could do without the drafty walls, sloping floors and cracks in the walls. I think living near the woods or close to nature would make for a great place for the boys to explore and roam – get a dog. Or, as my mother points out, it could provide fields to get shot by hunters in, ponds to drown in, sharp tools to sever limbs with and barns to fall down in. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective. (Although my sister’s hound broke his leg after only two weeks, so maybe my mother is right after all).
I made it out of bed the first morning at my sister’s just after dawn and trekked around the property with my camera to get some pictures. I found a thick layer of fog floating over the water and a peaceful calm surrounding the fields that you just can’t find back home in the suburbs. The boys took boat rides and fished in the pond, explored the fields and roasted marshmallows after dinner on a campfire. It was great to see my new baby nephew and continue efforts to convince my niece that I’m really not scary.
Where my wife and I tend to disagree is the need/benefit for living in a close knit neighborhood. While I don’t want to be out in the middle of nowhere, experience has shown me that you usually never really get to know (or often like) your immediate neighbors anyway so why not give ourselves room to stretch out and then drive a bit to be with those I choose to spend time with. But then there’s the schools, time on the bus, kids around to play with and more – I’ve found it’s a no-win conversation.
We finally did make it back to the interstate, and nearly 7 hours later of my driving our traveling family circus through the pouring rain, we made it home to good old New Jersey. Our home now is a nice mix of convenience to highways and stores, trains to Manhattan, yet also just around the corner from horse farms, corn fields and quiet woods. Although our interstate discussions about our family’s optimal locale resulted in the usual stalemate, as I went about the routine tasks of unloading the car, getting the mail at the end of the driveway and putting my boys to bed, I came away from our trip with a quiet confidence that for us, right now, we’re exactly where we belong.
(Photos taken in Bumpass, VA)