The Creek Don’t Rise

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Rain fell this morning.

 

I have a buddy named Vic. I haven’t seen him since about 2001, but never mind that– Vic is one of those friendly people that you count your pal despite the decades that may intervene between your visits. I can’t say that I’ve had many occasions to think about Vic in the back and forth of my day to day life, but this week he’s been a constant companion, whispering in my ear every time I look out the windows off the back of my house.

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Vic is from Georgia, down to the very marrow in his bones. He’s prone to phrases like “knee high to a grasshopper,” so when he whispers in your ear it’s a voice that is distinct and immediately recognizable.
One of Vic’s favorite phrases back in the early 90’s was “Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.” It was applicable to any situation, and so it rolled off his tongue the way dice roll smoothly, but purposefully, from a gambler’s fingers. And it always seemed to hit its target: truly, our best laid plans are all contingent on factors beyond our control to some degree. So that’s how it punctuated his speech—everything you were doing, might do, or had very nearly clinched had this element of unpredictability to it. Perhaps it just wasn’t meant to be (“Good Lord willing,” it was), or there was always the possibility of unforeseen occurrences or disasters (sometimes the creek rises a little, sometimes the roads become rivers).


In the balance of things the good Lord is willing more often than the creek rises. Thank goodness.
But what does this have to do with me?
My friend Victor has been a chatterbox lately for a very good reason. I’ve just moved into a house that sits by a creek. Not really a creek, but more of a canal-shaped pond, and not so much by the pond as on the pond. It was a bold move on our part.
Two years ago, I wrote a post in this blog called “House Hunting at a Distance, aka Mission Impossible.” The post aired my frustrations with trying to find a house in Germany before we were actually in Germany. This year, we found ourselves faced with mission impossible once again, as we moved from Germany to Florida. But, this time, we chose to accept that mission.
With very little rental housing available for us to consider, and what was there today was snapped up by tomorrow (I kid you not, there was an absolute feeding frenzy around rental houses in this area in early May), we took the dive on one appealing house, despite realizing that it had some pitfalls. Some great selling points, yes, but great pitfalls too. (Do you remember that scene in Harry Potter when Harry is in Ollivander’s Wand Shop? Ollivander notes that Voldemort, whose wand is Harry’s twin, did great things. “Terrible, yes. But great.” This scene absolutely gave me chills. There is a complex, but undeniable truth to that logic. But I digress. . .)   
So now we’ve moved into our beachy bungalow, and I am living with the terrible and the great all wrapped up in one package. Namely, the creek-that-shall-not-be-named, which happens to sit a few feet out my back door.

446bd3e7473c38f5ae19e56ee447e400l-m15xd-w1020_h770_q80It makes for a beautiful view as you sip morning coffee or take your evening tea. It’s really an extraordinary landscape. We’ve only been here a few days, but already we’ve seen herons, turtles, cardinals, and rabbits all cavorting across our back lawn and in the water. In the evening, the sound of frogs is like nothing I’ve ever heard before—not the run of the mill “ribbets,” but like there’s a whole orchestra of croaks and duck-calls and trills. It’s so dark out, you can’t see the vocal rascals, but I go to sleep imagining a virtual “Wind in the Willows” of dapper little frogs in ascots tuning up their instruments.

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And alligators? Well, yes. We’ve asked neighbors about alligators and they do occasionally show up too. It’s not so much a worry as a reality to be aware of.
At least, that was the story two days ago.
Today, they caught a six footer in the next pond down (that’s about eight houses down, to put it in perspective). My doggy won’t be cavorting out back of the house any time soon. . . or any time at all.
I’ve got to admit, the thought of a large alligator on my block is terrifying . . . but also a little invigorating. (There is an echo to Ollivander’s words, “Terrible, yes. But great.”) Maybe awe-inspiring is the phrase I want. For all of the creature-comforts that I like in a neighborhood, I’m glad to know that we haven’t entirely driven the creatures out of their habitat.

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If our red stone castle-house anchored us immediately to our European environs, this bungalow has transported us handily into the heart of Florida. It’s certainly manicured for the Florida golf and baywater crowd, but it’s undeniably wild too. Sip your sangria and tee up your golf ball, and, oh yes, look out for the gators!   
So on the subject of wild Florida, and back to the wisdom of my friend Vic, I’m also feeling the weight of the very literal question, “Will the creek rise?” A question no one can answer definitively. But the neighbors say “No, the creek spills into another pond next to it that lies about three feet lower down.” I’m told that, despite big storms in the past 5 years, there have been no worrisome creek levels. In fact, in my neighbor’s own words, “there just won’t be a problem with the water unless there is something really horrible like a big hurricane.”
So no worries. That never happens in Florida.

     Cue the refrain, people:  Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise. It may be my new mantra.

I should give my friend Vic a call. He’s well schooled in how these things work.  And if Vic doesn’t answer the phone, maybe I should consult our friend Ollivander.

House Hunting in Germany at a Distance, aka Mission Impossible

If you are considering house hunting at a distance–a considerable, oceans-apart distance–just stop right now.  It is impossible.  We’ve spent weeks trying to do the same.  And we should have known better.  We did this years ago before moving to England, and I found the perfect house.  A beautiful, stately, Victorian row house that was huge and elegant.  We didn’t put the money down, but we booked an appointment to see it within a day of landing in the UK.

What we saw online looked vaguely  like this:

classic brit kitchen

 

And the angels sang.

What we saw in person looked more like this:

classic brit kitchen

 

Only smaller.

(The angels broke into a mournful dirge while I wept.)

It was still adorable, but any hopes of getting our four poster bed through the front door were futile.

Nevertheless, we’ve tried to peek at houses online again before this move to Germany.  Just to get a feel for what will/won’t be out there.  We’ve been told that the housing market is tight where we are moving.  We’ve been told, leave furniture at home, the houses are small and there are no closets.  We’ve been told, no worries, there are plenty of large, great houses.  We’ve been told dogs are no problem.  We’ve been told dogs may be a problem.  The sky is blue; the sky is orange.  Take your pick.  It’s truly impossible to do this at a distance.

Nevertheless, we look at online ads.

Here’s what we hope to browse through:

Adorable!
Adorable!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But you wouldn’t believe how many German sites post mostly these photos:

german bathroom

 

This worries me only slightly less than it baffles me.  If the owner is proud of his bidet, I’m happy for him.  However, I can’t understand why we are shown so many bathroom photos and so few living room photos, so few exterior photos.  Does that famous German orderliness beget a national obsession with bathrooms?  I’d rather not think about that.  And I’m sure there is a simple, and more appealing, reason for all of these bathroom photos.

My theory:  it’s a sign from God that house hunting at a distance is a potty-brained idea.  *Sigh.*

So, here’s the plan.  We wait until our feet are on the ground in Germany in mid June, and we scramble as fast as we can to find a place.  It’s worked for us in the past–here’s hoping the luck holds.

 

 

 

Update to The Art of Losing

One house we "lost."
One house we “lost.” Ripon, England

Saying goodbye to our home, our family, our continent—it’s been tough.  Right, right, we’ve been really excited about moving to Germany–and it’s great to be here having adventures.  GREAT.   Still, these things are bittersweet:  bitter and sweet, not one or the other.  My daughter’s heart is still breaking because she misses her friends back home.   My son aches for a familiar friend to skateboard with in front of our house.  And  I’m still mourning the hope of having Thanksgiving with family, of playing golf with my gang, of walking back into my classroom for fall semester at AUM.  The list goes on for each of us.

But these lists aren’t ours alone, and they don’t apply only to us itinerant types.   You can live in the same state all your life and still experience moments of overwhelming loss:  when you walk into a room full of laughing relatives and expect to see your uncle, the consummate storyteller, sitting in the center of the laughter (but he passed away last year and his seat is empty); when you step out into a balmy southern evening and hear the cicadas and tree frogs and have an overwhelming sense that you’ve just stepped out of your grandmother’s house, headed to the backyard with a glass of sweet tea in hand (but she passed away 29 years ago);  or even when a Violent Femmes song at high decibel puts you right back into a moshpit of a party with your high school and college friends (but you are driving up I-85 with your kids in the back of a station wagon).  Memory is a sticky substance–thank God.  And I think that, as much as it sticks to us, we stick to  it also.

I’ve been mulling this over all morning after being hit by the sting of a lost “momento” of my life story.  It goes like this:   Yesterday, we picked up our car from a port on the North Sea.  We’d shipped it from the States about two months ago.  (Despite paying a hefty–h-e-f-t-y– sum to send it over the Atlantic and through customs, it seems that the shipper inflated a small raft underneath the chassis and paddled it over the ocean himself.  This is the only explanation I can offer for the insane timeline.  But back to my story–)  I had the car inspected before getting German plates put on this morning, and it passed with the stipulation that I scrape the dealer’s decal, indicating a city in North Carolina, off of the back of the car.  They had their reasons–logical enough, if uninspiring–but my heart sank a little as I scraped away.

I am a Carolina girl.  I may look like a vagabond to you, with a crazy long list of places I’ve called home in recent years: Chicago, DC, Connecticut, Texas, Georgia, Alabama, England, Turkey, Germany.  Each of those places has left an indelible mark.  I wouldn’t want to lose any of them, but especially not my roots in North Carolina.

However,  I lose a little bit of each of them in unexpected moments–like bits of produce that spill from my cart as I bump along a country road, I shed bits here and there–and I hate that.  So this morning, I obediently scraped the North Carolina decal from the back hatch of my wagon, mourning that badge of “who I am” that I’d been carrying around for over a decade.  I am still a Carolina girl, but I’m no longer emblazoned on the highway–that shouldn’t sting much, but it does.  Like everyone I’ve ever known, I like to hold tight to who I am and what (and whom) I’ve loved.  And the artifacts of life are dear to me for that reason.   But like everyone I’ve ever known, I find life prying little bits of this away from me.

 

 

As a postscript, I offer up the words of Elizabeth Bishop’s  beautiful poem about loss–in all of its incarnations, big and small.  She said it so much better than I can, so I’ll let her words stand:

One Art

BY ELIZABETH BISHOP

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;

so many things seem filled with the intent

to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

 

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster

of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

 

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:

places, and names, and where it was you meant

to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

 

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or

next-to-last, of three loved houses went.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

 

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,

some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.

I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

 

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture

I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident

the art of losing’s not too hard to master

though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.