Here on the Middle
Peninsula of Virginia, it was the potential for wildness, for the opportunity
encounter nature relatively (a key word!) untouched by humans, that first lured
me to the marsh. But it was the human, not animal neighbors, who persuaded us,
especially my husband, to build and settle here.
encounters here in the country have proven quite different from those in the city
and suburbs. Though we are "come heres," we have never really felt that
we were strangers. We may be miles from any town, but we have found a special
sense of community here, one increasingly hard to find in the city.
first noticed this community with the "country salute." That's the nod
and lifting of the index finger or hand on the steering wheel-sometimes with a
smile-when two vehicles pass on a narrow country road. This is only one example
of how you don't need to exchange names to say "Howdy, neighbor" here.
transaction has become a personal encounter between people of good will, often
with a little personal story to share. Names are not required; respect and friendliness
are. No one ever seems to be in too big a rush to chat a bit. We're on country
One thing we have noticed is that
racial and class tensions so often evident in the city seem much less here. Maybe
it's the good old Southern friendliness that's so often lacking in the city today,
but I think it goes beyond that, to long-standing friendships and tolerance.
Wal-Mart and fast-food restaurants offer a more human experience in the country,
even if it means you are stuck in line a bit longer while the cashier and the
person in front at chatting. I confess, eavesdropping has become one of our greatest
pleasures, and sometimes we are welcomed into conversations with strangers.
don't need yellow pages-we just ask the guy at the local hardware store, the librarian,
the waitress, or a neighbor, and we get trustworthy personal information and recommendations
whenever something needs to be done. Sometimes the best workers don't advertise
anywhere, but they aren't so hard to fine-just ask around.
choose to live here for many reasons-the beauty of land and water, family ties,
privacy-but convenience is rarely the draw, as it is in the city. Few people live
close to their work unless they farm. They have deliberately chosen to live in
this place, and that makes a difference.
evening, at a Christmas party with neighbors, I mentioned a spectacular sunrise
I had seen several mornings earlier. Half the people there said they had also
watched it. Imagine-five families up at 6 a.m., looking to the east to watch the
sun rise over our shared creek! Then we started comparing notes on what kinds
of unexpected visitations of wildlife we'd had recently. It was a lively party.
The human life in the country is every
bit as interesting and unpredictable as the wildlife. Nice weather often sends
us down the road to explore one of the towns within a half hour or so. Each town
has its own special character, shops, and restaurants, as walking around and chatting
with folks soon reveals. West Point, Urbanna, Deltaville, White Stone, Gloucester
courthouse, Williamsburg-each is a different world, and the drive is almost as
interesting as the destination.
we must work a bit harder to know just what is going on or where we might like
to visit. This is an area of many counties and small towns, and each has its own
little newspaper, perhaps a weekly, where the distinctive heart and pace of that
place is revealed. One must be diligent to know just what is going on. Local television
news won't tell you about the concert at the new West Point arts center, or how
you can join the orchestra (string-players particularly desired). It won't even
tell you about decisions being made about your county taxes, or-blessed denial-details
about the most recent crimes in the area (no daily body count!), unless they are
Once a friend with
a weekend river house told me that when he crossed the Mattaponi River into the
Middle Peninsula, he felt a wave of physical and psychological relief, a restoration
of human wholeness lacking in the city. Of course, he was a bit of a romantic,
and the present West Point bridge construction has complicated this experience,
but he had a point.
After more than a
decade here, I say, "so far, so good, friends. I may not know many of you
by name, but I have come to know your spirit and friendliness, and you rarely
disappoint me. Please don't lose that."
Living Magazine, May/June 2006