Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Tough Time for Farmhouses

 All hail Venus Cloacina, and welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" I'm Anne Johnson, school teacher, and I got observed today. What an ordeal! I hope you don't ever have to endure such an indignity yourself.

But the subject of the sermon today isn't observations. I always get a C+, nothing better. I'm used to it.

Today's sermon is yet another rumination on the evils of modern capitalism.

My grandparents lived up in the mountains, but my family and I lived in the Cumberland Valley, which is nestled between the Blue Ridge and the Allegheny mountains. It's a lovely, fertile area with rolling hills and limestone outcroppings (technical name, Karst topography). The Antietam Creek meanders through. So perhaps you have heard of this place.

When I was a kid, there were a few factories north of Hagerstown, and a few more within the city limits. But the major industry in the Hagerstown area was farming. There were cows everywhere. Corn everywhere.

You think I'm kidding? Look at this vintage photo from August 23, 1984. That there is vintage Cumberland Valley. It was so pretty.


Two scourges have descended on the Hagerstown vicinity. The first is bedroom suburb sprawl. Thousands and thousands and thousands of acres of farmland have disappeared under the onslaught of ugly subdivisions. And as those eyesores multiplied, the grand old farmhouses on the land got ripped down.

It gets worse.

Lately Hagerstown has revived its reputation as the "Hub City." Two major freeways intersect there, Interstates 81 and 70.

You know what you really don't want? You really don't want to live near a freeway.

Have you seen those big, ugly Amazon warehouses? Guess what they need to be near? Ding ding ding ding! Yes! A freeway!

And so there is now a new building boom going on where I grew up. Thousands and thousands and thousands of acres of farmland are being bulldozed and turned into HUGE GODDAMN WAREHOUSES. Folks, we are talking about the razing of farmhouses that were there during the Civil War. In favor of Carvana auto storage facilities and Amazon and Walmart warehouses.

Of course there's a hue and cry when yet another venerable farmhouse (often crafted with native stone) becomes the target of the greedy corporate barbarians. So you know what the barbarians do? They deliberately knock the house down and leave a pile of rubble just to make a point. Sometimes they pull down the house months before any construction begins. Because they can.

I always loved the Cumberland Valley. And it is large enough that portions of it won't be maimed. But the scenic areas where I grew up, near the major highways, well. They are now either crammed with ugly housing or ruined with mile-wide warehouses.

My poor sister still lives there. She spends her days driving around the counties, taking photos of the farmhouses that are about to be torn down. More power to her. I can't imagine doing that. It's easier to stay away.

The moral of this sermon is simple. If you live near a highway, move now! You could wind up staring at an Amazon warehouse and the trucks that move its goods. As opposed to that quaint antebellum farmhouse with its outbuildings and barns. Put your home on the market now, before it's too late. You don't want to watch concrete smother your beloved valley.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

The Deed Is Done

 All three of my readers are saying, "For the love of fruit flies, Anne! Enough about buying land in the mountains! When are you going to start interviewing bored gods again and ranting about Republicans?"

Okay, okay, okay. I hear you. It's dull as dirt, reading about someone else's dreams coming true.

So today I'll just record the fact that the deed to 322 Mountain Road came in the mail. (The land is on Mountain Road, but I just made up the address. No house, no number. Sheesh! Go figure!)

Isn't it weird how these pieces of paper confer stuff to us? I have a title to my Subaru. A piece of paper that says I own the car. Gives the paper a lot of power, don't you think?

I don't have a deed to my house in Haterville, and I never will. It's mortgaged to the gills. Some bank has the paper for this house. I wonder where that paper is? In some file cabinet, I suppose. 

Sheafs of paper. Dang! Who thought this up? Shouldn't I just be able to go out there into the mountains and say, "THIS IS THE LAND OF MY PEOPLE, YOU JUST HAVE TO BELIEVE ME?"

My confidence in this pronouncement was so profound that I went the traditional route and sought out the proper papers.

I'm sure you've noticed this whole paper dodge. You go to the eye doctor, you get a little slip of paper with some weird markings on it, you take it to a store where they sell glasses, and by Gods, you can see again! How does this work?

And do you do any shopping at CVS? You go in for a pot of lip balm, give them some plastic card, and a strip of paper long enough to wrap up a mummy comes spitting out at you from the checkout. Why? Why do I need a piece of paper to get three bucks off the shampoo? Why don't you just price the shampoo three dollars less to begin with?

I guess I can blame my ancestors for this. They made their way up Town Creek until they didn't see any signs of life, then they started notching their initials or some kind of marking on the trees. Well, after all, trees are just raw, unprocessed paper. They raw-papered a complete landscape.

If you ask me, there's nowhere that this paper obsession seems more absurd than in paintings. Have you seen the ridiculous amounts some people are paying for paintings? Like, excuse me, it's a piece of paper with some color applied? You might look at it a few times, and then what? There it sits.

This is not really a sermon or a rant, it's just kind of me wondering how the whole paper thing got started. It's not what I would call a brilliant idea. You know what would work so much better? If you saw something you liked, and the person who had it just said, "Okay, here. You take it." And out of gratitude you might give that person something in exchange -- like a hearty handshake or a pizza or something.

So much better. But anyway, I got my papers. If my file cabinet catches fire, will I still own the land?

Friday, March 11, 2022

Another Year, Another Yawn

 All hail Venus Cloacina! Today's my birthday. Gonna have a party tonight!

Here's the guest list:

1. Mr. J (doing the cooking)

2. Heir and significant other

3. Fair and significant other

4. Gamma

The menu is Chicken francaise served on a bed of linguine with a lemon white wine butter sauce, and a salad with strawberries and feta cheese.

And of course let us not forget dessert, a fabulous Smith Island cake!

Best thing about the cake is, there will be plenty for any bored deity who drops in, even Gods with appetites like Zeus! 

At the age I have come to be, one appreciates a pain-free existence and the company of family. And the weekend. Always the weekend.

Blessed be,

Pisces Anne

Tuesday, March 08, 2022

On Teenagers and Masks

 Masks became optional at my school on Monday, March 7.

I figured I would walk in and finally see all the dewy young faces that have been partially obscured since September.

Guess what? The masks are all firmly in place! The only kids not wearing them are kids who wouldn't comply with the mandate. Those kids are unmasked. Everyone else didn't skip a beat. It's wall-to-wall masks, about 93 percent of everyone!

I never expected this, but now that I think about it, well. Teenagers. You know? They all want to hide their faces. Or to do what their friends are doing. If the cool kids keep wearing their masks, everyone else will.

Now I'm wondering if the principal will have to decree an end to mask wearing at some point. Until he does, I'm quite content to reside behind a sheath of cloth.

Saturday, March 05, 2022

My Plans

 All hail Venus Cloacina, and welcome to "The Gods Are Bored!" Wow, what mayhem. First we had Donald Trump, then we had a deadly pandemic, and now we have World War III. It's like the 1960s all over again. What can I do except go along with the flow and hope for the best?

For those of you just hopping aboard, I am an Appalachian American, living ex patrium for most of my life. Up until 2011 I had a hold on the old sod as part owner of my grandfather's farm, but then it was sold, and I was truly bereft.

Now I have land again, praise Cloacina, and only about a mile and a half from my grandfather's farm. At four acres it's small by mountain standards, but oh boy it has some qualities.

Probably the best thing about it is how flat it is. This is the mountains, after all. And it's shady! Lots and lots and lots of trees. You can feel them talking to each other underground. On top there's leaf litter and moss and fallen branches. The ground is springy, soft on your feet, from all the years of undisturbed leaf fall.

The ink is dry on the transaction. The seller has been paid. And everyone is asking: Anne, what are you going to do with it? The land, they mean. Tiny house? Big house? Vacation house? Gonna move there?


When those trees talk to one another, I don't want them saying, "OH SHIT, CHAUNCY, SHE'S CUTTING ME DOWN!" Nor do I want to plow in a driveway, or sink a septic system, or try to persuade the state of Pennsylvania to run an electrical line up through the woods.

I don't want to start a trash heap (though it's a time-honored Appalachian tradition). I don't want to build a fire ring in all that leaf litter. I don't want to hang fairy garlands from the tree limbs or build some monument (though there is already a nice cairn there probably made by some farmer 100 years ago).

I've had ten long years to think through what I would do if I got a little bit of land in the mountains. And what I decided some years ago was that I didn't want a parcel with a house on it. Why do I need something more to worry about? Or a place I'll feel obliged to go just to "keep it up?" Phooey on that!

I want this land to look just like it does now. Worst I'll do is snip down a few pine seedlings to make myself a place where I can view the sunset and the meteor showers.

Some people think it's ridiculous to purchase a property while having no plans to alter it in any way. Those people aren't Druids.

See, the way I look at it, I bought a church. I'm going there to worship, and when I leave there will be no trace that I visited at all. This I consider to be bliss.

I'll close today's sermon by thanking my dear Yellowdog Granny for the bear spray. When your new next door neighbor is the state game lands, it's better safe than sorry. Hope I never, ever need it!