Bullock and I moved a mere 6 1/2 miles from our old house, and yet it’s like we moved to an entirely different town.
For one thing, we’re in a different ecological/geological region than we were before. Apparently the region we’re now in is, according the Nature Conservancy, as unique and precious as the Florida Everglades. Lucky for us, however, there are fewer gators. (Well, none, actually.) One of the characteristics of this region is really sandy soil. Damn stuff tracks into the house all over the place, especially via the dog (who, at the moment of writing, is lying in one of the many shallow holes she’s dug under the lilac bushes in the back yard). It’s like living at the beach without the water, which isn’t fair, really. The good news is it wipes/vacuums up and brushes off really easily; the bad news is we have to keep on top of it lest the inside of the house become a sand dune. But I’m starting to think we need an outdoor shower like at a beach house!
I don’t think the beasties and blossoms are all that different from our old house, although there are lots of native oaks (we had a maple and a river birch at our old house) and more chipmunks. I think both like the sandy soil. There’s also a rare flower native to the area that is the only plant to support an even rarer butterfly. And there’s a native cactus, even! Really! (I know, I was surprised, too.) I think next spring I’m going to look into more native plants and put in a native flower bed in a sunny spot in our backyard. Bullock wants to do veggies, but I think there’s room for both.
From the old house we used to spend some time at the closest big park/nature preserve. Now we’re half way in between that park and another one to the west of us. Despite their being a mere 7-8 miles apart, they’re very different parks, in terrain and general atmosphere. The one we used to go to (and may still) is in the center of the older part of town, and so gets *tons* of traffic. It also has buildings and museums on its grounds, as well as the usual parkland attractions (hiking, biking, running trails; nature center; picnic areas; playgrounds), so there are more events going on and visitors for reasons other than being in the great outdoors. And it has a river running through it, so it has high bluffs over floodplains, as well as a mix of forest and meadow. The “new” park (well, new to us) is much quieter and more country-like. The only building is the nature center/photography museum/offices near the main parking lot. It has a historic cemetery in the middle of it, which makes it a little different, but it’s mostly just nature trails and a few picnic areas. There’s a lot of forested area, but unlike the “old” park, it’s all pretty lowland — one trail is even called the “Swamp Forest Trail.” And the forest feels different to me — maybe there’s more oak and less of a mix of trees? I wish I were enough of a naturalist to pinpoint the difference. And there’s that sandy soil again. But it’s also very, very quiet. It gets use, just not to the extent the other park does. It made an evening run the other night very peaceful and pleasant — almost like being in the true country.
And though technically we’re closer to the “old” park, the drive to the “new” park takes less time, because the population and commercial business density is less out here, and the speed limit a little higher, so it’s just a quick drive down what is essentially a country road to the “new” park, versus battling midtown traffic to the old one.
And that’s another real difference I’ve noticed in three weeks of living in the new house: it feels (and *is*) closer to the country here, so even though we’re only 6 miles from campus, I feel a bit like we moved way out somewhere. Aside from developments like ours, parcels of land are big out here — multiple acres — and there’s a lot of open space. And because it was formerly true country, there’s a lot of randomness to the housing stock — an early 20th century farmhouse here, a basic and blocky mid-century ranch there, new construction in a “traditional” style next, followed by a 70s blend-with-the-elements design after that. And the size of the houses varies, too, from tiny shacks to country McMansions. Rare are the developments out here, past ours, that went up at the same time and have a unified architectural aesthetic. That’s very different from our old neighborhood, where there’s the tonier 1920s section next to campus and the more modest 1930s development (where we lived) just to the north, in both of which there are just a few different general types of house styles from those eras. And it’s different from the Rust Belt Historic District I lived in during my first three years here, where styles changed over time from the 1880s to the 1910s, but there was still a pretty identifiable set of styles.
And pole barns and boat garages and other out-buildings are everywhere. There’s this one street that leads into our development, but somehow resisted being swallowed up by it, where the houses are very modest in size — but, again, diverse in style and period — but behind which are three- and four-car (or four-*boat*!) garages of two-to-four-times the size of the houses.
In the past few weeks I’ve also realized how circumscribed our lives had become when we lived within a 1 mile orbit of campus, because out here I’ve been driving on major roads that I had previously never driven on (or at least never on those sections of them). That’s where I’ve been observing some of the more country-randomness of the housing stock and open spaces. Meanwhile I’m still a little irrationally confused by the idea that we’re closer to certain big box stores at their “way out there locations” than to the locations we previously patronized. Apparently, “way out there” meant “within 10 miles” to me when we lived in our more central old neighborhood. If I think 10 miles away is “way out there,” my life has gotten way too small. So it’s good for us to have shaken things up a bit. So far on these necessary drives to the big box stores (because, apparently, moving necessitates a gazillion trips to Bed, Bath, and Bupkis), we’ve discovered a couple of non-chain (or small, regional chain) restaurants we’ve tried or want to try that we previously didn’t even know existed. Also, I now know how to get downtown via highway, which we did the other night to go to one of our favorite restaurants there, since driving through town no longer made sense.
But the other big change is cultural. The new neighborhood is in a different socioeconomic and demographic class than the old one, which I say not to disparage one or the other, but simply to mark the difference. Both of them are kind of mixed and complicated, but there’s still a distinct difference, which is not surprising given that the houses are more expensive in the new neighborhood and there are no renters. Plus the age of the old neighborhood determined some of its demographics, as well. Our old neighborhood was a mix of blue and white collar people, where the white collar people tended to be in their 20s and 30s, in their first jobs and first homes, having their first kids, and the blue collar people tended to be the second or third generation of the neighborhood, in houses handed down within families, and nearing retirement. Our former next-door neighbors, in fact, bought their house from his parents, who were the original owners. But everyone else around us was a younger couple with kids or about to have kids. So we, the childless couple in our forties, well established in our professional careers, were kind of the odd-balls. Meanwhile, our new neighborhood has a lot of original owners still in the the houses, but since it was built in the 80s, that means they are same age as some of our older neighbors in the old ‘hood (roughly Baby Boomers), but different in terms of their relationship to the neighborhood. And a few things a couple of neighbors have said suggests that these weren’t their first homes as families — or at least not their first residences. And where they had kids, they’re now long grown up. The houses around us are rather strikingly full of adults only. There are some young families around the larger neighborhood — I see the kids out riding their bikes — but only a few in our immediate corner (although I’m sure that will change over time). So it’s an architecturally younger but demographically older area. And there are *many* more people in suits going to and coming home from work at the conventional white-collar times of day, as well as more retired older Boomers with summer and weekend homes (like the couple next door, who alerted us to the fact that we wouldn’t see them over the summer). The blue collar Boomers in our old neighborhood have yet to retire. But what both neighborhoods have in common, I’m happy to say, is ethnic diversity.
But anyway, the effects of higher property values and more disposable income (one assumes) and more leisure time (because of retirement or a spouse being able to afford to stay at home) in the new neighborhood means a lot more “house proud” people. People especially seem to take their lawn care and gardening seriously over here. There’s one pair of houses opposite each other on a main drag that I swear are engaged in some kind of Top Gardener show-down. One has carefully designed a garden *environment* that fully surrounds the house — it’s very neat, very designed, and very carefully styled with the lines of the house — and the other has the biggest collection of lilies of all varieties that I’ve ever seen. Some of them are over 6 feet tall and all of them together are a joyous explosion of color, but all very perfectly laid out. And there are no weeds in either of these gardens. In the old neighborhood, there was the occasional super-gardener, but the gardens were never quite as pristine and designed and perfect as these. And there were more than a few yards that got citations every year for being overgrown.
So, anyway, all of these things combined with the new house makes this summer feel a bit like we’re starting over somewhere totally new. No wonder I feel a little discombobulated and I’m having some difficulty getting settled back into work. I want to explore! But it’s a totally weird feeling to have when you know you haven’t *actually* moved to a new town. It’s all very odd.