A Change of Worlds: From L.A. to AL

It’s been nearly two years since I’ve posted here. Since then, we’ve survived Covid so far, my husband retired, and we left California to find a home and some land on which to put down roots. At first, we thought this place would be in eastern Tennessee, near Knoxville, an area Joe researched and he determined it was a place where we could find a house and some land while still being close to some culture and teaching opportunities for me. By the time we sold our house in CA, moved cross country with 3 cats, and established ourselves in a rented house in a crowded housing development outside Knoxville (one of many popping up all over the area), the real estate market in TN went nuts. Though we looked from Kingsport to Chattanooga, we didn’t find anything that spoke to us that wasn’t grossly overpriced or being fought over in a bidding war. Once there, we discovered that native Tennesseans weren’t all that welcoming in our area, feeling like they were being overrun by us western libtards clogging up the infrastructure, jacking up property taxes, and muddying the color of politics. So we expanded our search to include northern Georgia and northeastern Alabama. We finally found a house and acreage in central, eastern Alabama on the outskirts of a small town called Alexander City. And while we swore our neighbors in the taupe-ridden “Shady Glen” development in TN were all in the witness protection program (we hardly saw them and rarely talked to them even though the houses were separated by only 8 feet), our neighbors in Alabama, being about a half a mile away from us in either direction, have been more warm and welcoming than we ever expected. They’ve brought us fresh eggs and homegrown vegetables. Joe shares a bourbon on the screened-in porch with one neighbor whose cattle we can occasionally hear across the way and who gifted us with one of the biggest heads of cabbage I’ve ever seen. The fact that Joe grew up in northern Alabama and graduated from Auburn University gives him some street cred around here that we might not have gotten as readily, particularly since we moved here from CA by way of TN, or maybe I’m just a bit jaded by my experience in TN.

Regardless, we have traded droughts, earthquakes, and wildfires for a verdant piece of land overlooking a huge pond, rolling pastures, and the kind of privacy we only dreamed about after living cheek to jowl with neighbors outside Los Angeles. Our vocabulary now includes words like “Bush Hog” and “Kubota.” We’ve made friends with Stella and Jake, our cattle-owning neighbor’s cattle dogs, who ride along with him when he drives his Kubota over from his land to ours. We wave to Miss Fancy and Butters, our other neighbors’ horses who are sometimes in the pasture that abuts part of our quarter-mile driveway. We enjoy the family of deer that live on our land in the woods beside the pasture. We’ll be harvesting blueberries from the enormous bushes in the garden area. We also witness phenomenal thunderstorms with strobe-like light shows and thunder that rolls on continuously for twenty seconds or longer. After a storm, we have to be careful not to run over any of the turtles in our driveway or on the road, turtles that have crawled to higher ground in advance of the storm.

“Broken Pane,” Cades Cove, TN

But along with our appreciation of this new pastoral splendor, we must also acknowledge this is an area steeped in a dark history. Most of our neighbors have been on this land for generations when much of what surrounds us was part of a plantation. Even though our road name bears the name of a chapel, the name of a little predominantly white attended chapel, I wonder why it doesn’t bear the name of the black church that’s also located on this road that has been here since before emancipation. Its cemetery’s gravestones are worn and some bear no markings, or the markings have long since been erased by weather and time. A half a mile away from this chapel, you can see a Confederate flag waving atop a run-down trailer. There are still Trump/Pence 2020 signs staked into front yards. One of the employees at the local hardware store has a swastika tattooed on his arm. We know that if we had moved here with non-white skin, we may have been received much differently. Nevertheless, we chose to be here, closer to Joe’s folks who live three hours farther south in AL.

So, the next adventure begins. We’ve been so busy there’s been little time to get behind a camera. I need to see how the light lays against surfaces here. I hope to connect with this place and let it reveal itself to me because I still believe, as Annie Dillard says, “‚Ķbeauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” I try to be there with a camera in hand.

Thanks to Scott Baker, a photographer who grew up here, but who photographs landscapes, people, and commercial projects all over the world, whose article in the NY Times about returning to Alexander City during the pandemic gave me a terrific introduction to this place that I am now calling home.