On the edge

We get an early start at the farmer’s market. Okra, scarce at $4 a pound last week, is now $2 in abundance. Tomatoes are plentiful and cheap. They are even giving away sandwiches. There is a make-your-own table set up with sliced tomatoes, bags of white bread, squeeze mayo, salt and pepper shakers. One of the Amish farmers is there in a brown dress and starched white apron and cap.

Last week a shopper whispered to me over the squash, “What does Amish Vegetables mean? Does that mean they were grown by the Amish, or is it Something Else?”

From there, we have to collect our younger daughter from a sleepover east of town in time to get out to the pig farm to the west, where we have ordered free range pork. The friend lives out in this vast, swanky development with big stone houses and a golf course, where the nice Wal-Mart is. We arrive early so we drive past the entrance to see what comes next. We pass through more subdivisions, still being advertised on billboards, until we hit a no through access sign, which is where I take the photo, above.

Look carefully and you can see the subdivision pushing up against the edges. At the end of that street is an old farmhouse with a porch. A porch these days is merely decorative. Why would anyone want to sit outside? What would you do? A mother and daughter are working in the yard. All else around them is modern and landscaped. No other people visible. No cars. Emptiness.

Some houses in the subdivisions are still under construction. At the friend’s one, the landscaping is mature; a waterfall cascades down the main entrance way, weeping willows skim the surface of aerated ponds, golfers abound, but out here they are still laying down pipe work in the red dirt. There is a stretch of semis and then a more expensive development. One house has three stories of bay windows, another is a medieval-style castle, with arched windows winding up the keep, but mostly they are unremarkable, big, brick houses with enormous roofs, set closely together.

The little village we went to in the South of France was building a subdivision the last time we were there. It was down the road, walking distance, from the cave cooperative and where the communal recycling station shimmered in a pool of shattered glass. We noticed it the day we were out on our walk, the time the farmer mistook us for Belgians. They were just at the foundation stage, but you could see the shape of the houses and the change to come. Small, but each would provide more space, privacy and light than was available within the village proper, built inside medieval walls.

Within the walls was the church, the bell tower of which was used to broadcast midday and late afternoon news «allo, allo, come see the taureau in the piscine», or something to that effect, and tiny streets of terraced houses, the hard echo of television on ancient stone, the sound of meals being eaten or prepared behind shutters or curtains of wooden beads, the jittery song of a budgie. We’d say hello to the old ladies, wearing aprons over dresses, setting out bowls of cat food on the street as we passed through on our way to the bakery or to the small grocery store which sold rotisserie chickens and a small selection of produce, but not milk. For fresh milk, one must go to the Hyper-U. The back walls of the fortification are long gone and so the village opens onto a road where the school and the tambourin field are and devolves into vineyards and up hills where the hunters will be on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Because it is more interesting, more my idea of how France should be, should I wish them to stay inside the walls? Who I am, an American, to talk to them about a sense of history, or tradition, or sense of place? But who will stay in the walled village if they have these convenient little houses to move into? And if they move yet a little further into the fields, they can have bigger houses, bigger yards, swimming pools. And if they are living out there, it might be too long of a walk back into the village, so they will drive.

In 10 years, perhaps it will all be English people or vacationing Americans, the fools, loading their plates into toy-sized dishwashers and climbing the tiny stone staircases and banging on about authenticity while secretly wishing there was proper air conditioning and a bit more space.

As in France, so it is in Alabama. People want what people want. We stop at the edge of the no-access road and consider the silos amid this new crop of structures. For one friend, living in such a development, she will tell you the flies can be a problem. Cows, while picturesque, attract them. The farm where we collect our heirloom, free-range, organic pork, is the holdout, the family having sold a great swathe of land to a developer. Now they face across the road from a little grid of terraced houses. One of the tenants has told the farmer’s wife, “You got to do something about the pigs! They smell!”

Meanwhile back at the suburban ranch, we want to grow our own vegtables. An urban backyard chicken coop craze sweeps the nation. Schools create outdoor classrooms. We are going back to the land. Everyone is a farmer, even, maybe, me. I am hoping to grow Brussels sprouts for Christmas.

We go to the feed & seed for vegetable seeds, to Lowe’s for fencing, to Justice to spend allowance, to the groovy converted mill for bread and to spend allowance. We go to the bad Wal-Mart for ziploc freezer bags for the pork.

The bacon from the farm is well worth the drive and the extra dollar per pound. We get the girls to eat BLTs. Yes, that’s mayonnaise and, yes, you do have to have it with lettuce. We’re a long way from gizzards, though gizzards, at least for now, are not such a long way from us.


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