I arrived in North Carolina almost exactly one month ago. Here are a few reflections on life so far here in Chapel Hill.
The house we bought in Chapel Hill is lovely. It was built in 1977, the year I was born, and has an open, contemporary feel. I’m having a new experience of home ownership. When I bought my condo in Kansas City in 2005 I got to work with the developer and have the condo renovated to specification, from choosing paint colors and plumbing and light fixtures to picking out cabinets and countertops. Everything was brand new or newly refinished. The home improvement plan was not to break anything and to try to go easy on the wear and tear. Our home in Chapel Hill has more, well, character. The wood floors are worn and the bathrooms could use an update. We’ll get to recreate our home over time while living here.
And, in Kansas City we had the benefit of a groundskeeping service to take care of the outside. I’ve spent more time on yard work in the past month than in the entire past decade. Our yard is gorgeous and it’s what sold me on the house. There is a postage stamp of grass in the front yard that I’ve only had to mow once so far. The area by the mailbox is sunny with a splendid butterfly bush and a tall rosemary plant accented by sprigs of mint. Most of our property is wooded. There are at least twenty five trees that are over 50 feet high. And, our yard backs up to two and a half acres of undevelopable woods. I’ve cleaned off the gutters, swept the porch, installed a bird feeder, and planted a small herb garden. I performed mercy killings of two miserable ficus trees on our deck and replaced them with gorgeous hibiscus plants. I exterminated all the mahonia growing in the yard. There are plans to put in a composting station.
I’ve industriously assembled several pieces from IKEA as well as a set of patio furniture. I haven’t yet figured out how to operate the gas fireplace.
Our wild neighbors include a family of four deer that live in the acreage behind our yard. The deer will appear standing in our front yard at random times at any hour of the night or day. Deer roam the neighborhoods of Chapel Hill like packs of wild dogs. I’m told I will consider them a nuisance once the novelty wears off. Traffic is picking up on the bird feeder on the back deck. For a few weeks the only visitors on the deck were precocious wrens pecking around in the soil of the hibiscus plants. Now we see cardinals, goldfinches, and sparrows regularly.
Our human neighbors include retirees who have welcomed us to the neighborhood with a potted plant and a big tray of ripe Georgia peaches. The Mayor lives two doors down. A few doors further down is a woman who lets her chickens out to peck around in her front yard every evening. We go in that direction when I take Lydia for walks in the evening.
We’ve begun to explore the town. We’ve visited the Durham Museum of Life & Science twice, the UNC Botanical Gardens once, and local playgrounds more times than you can count. We’ve taken furniture shopping road trips to Charlotte (IKEA) and Greensboro (Furnitureland South, which claims to be the largest furniture store in the world.) Later this week, before I start my ministry, we’ll be taking Lydia to the beach in Wilmington. I’ve checked out the music scene in Carrboro where Mates of State gave an intimate show at Cat’s Cradle with local band Bridges opening for them.
The first book I finished in North Carolina was John Brandon’s newest collection of short stories, Further Joy. Like his novels Citrus Country and Arkansas – and like the works of Karen Russell – Further Joy is part of a genre that I’ve termed “South Florida Gothic.” Now that I’m living in the South, sort of, I’ve picked up some of the classic works of southern literature to read. Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying is first up. We're only sort of living in the South; Chapel Hill considers itself to be “the pat of butter in a sea of grits” and prides itself on its “Keep Austin Weird” vibe.
One of the leaves I’m trying to turn over has to do with fitness. Inspired (intimidated?) by our fantastic neighbors in Kansas City, I’ve joined CrossFit of Chapel Hill. So far I’ve attended three workouts and a four-session onramp class. I hate it less than any physical fitness routine I’ve attempted over the past decade. I think it helps doing it with other people and having a coach to check in with during the workouts. The other day I wrote to a UU colleague of mine who does CrossFit and asked her if she found the culture of CrossFit weird. She asked me what I meant and I wasn’t sure. But here is what I think I may have meant: I tend to live a lot more in my mind than in my body. (I’ve read enough to reject such Cartesian dualism intellectually, but, you know, the former part of this sentence pretty much gets at what I’m talking about here.) In any event, one of the coaches, Greg, has already mentioned to me at least three times that he quit his desk job in order to do CrossFit all the time (one of the deeper circles of hell, I’m sure.) But people say things like, “We tend not to give a lot of thought to the strength of our ankles,” or, “Everything you think you know about swinging a kettle bell is wrong,” and these statements perplex me. I’m sure the coach was equally perplexed when I explained that not only did I not know what my “max weight” is for a particular exercise, but I didn’t really want to know. I’ve signed up for six months. We’ll see.
My new ministry with The Community Church of Chapel Hill Unitarian Universalist starts on August 11. Off to fill the birdfeeder, change a diaper, go to the gym, and find out if Addie Bundren’s corpse makes it to Jefferson, Mississippi. I also need to pack for the beach and buy tickets to see Spoon and St. Vincent play in Raleigh in September.