I grew up believing that the only acceptable kind of peaches to eat were the ones grown in Palisade, Colorado. To this day, I wait all summer, until late August, for what I’m convinced are the most amazing peaches in the world. I almost never buy peaches anywhere else, and the few times that I have, I’ve always been disappointed.
I’ve decided, however, that if Colorado has the best peaches, then Baldwin County, Alabama must have the second best. I’ve been here for just two weeks, and while it strangely feels like I’ve been here forever, it’s really been a short time to begin to understand and experience this area. It turns out that not only is Baldwin County one of two counties that touches the Gulf of Mexico (which is a substantial part of why I’m here – the fishing industry), but it’s also a substantial contributor to agriculture in Alabama. I have seen more fruit stands (outside of farmer’s markets!) here, more places selling local produce than I can count. I’m very excited about Chasing Fresh, which is a local market on 181. The folks there are incredibly kind and friendly, and what they’re doing (bringing local produce to local people at good prices) is what we should all be striving for.
Besides enjoying all of the tasty food around here (and there is plenty), I’ve spent a substantial amount of time exploring the local towns and getting interviews done. My goal has been sixty here, but as in Alaska, it’s proving more difficult to talk to some of the people I’d really hoped to talk to. Even still, I’m meeting some incredible folks, and I’m certain learning a lot. The area is both very similar and very different to what I had expected; I’m staying right near Weeks Bay, and in the forest here, it’s weirdly like living in Australia (most closely like Daintree, right down to the smell, the feel, and the snakes). It’s a gorgeous area – I was truly surprised at the amazing forests in this area, and frankly, all the way from Tulsa to Fairhope. My dad and I drove from Colorado to Alabama, and I somehow imagined that the open plains of Kansas would hold true from, well, Kansas to at least Arkansas. Much to my surprise, however, as we got closer to Tulsa, these amazingly dense forests sprung up. While very few of them are probably old growth, they are lovely, and provided a refreshing diversity after the open stretches of Kansas. The humidity in this area is also staggering. I knew that I’d be in the South in July, and that knowledge should carry certain ramifications, but I am here to tell you that knowing that and experiencing that are two wildly different concepts.
All the same, it’s been cooler this past week, and when I woke up on Wednesday (to what I assume was the effect of polar vortex, eighteenth iteration), it was nearly dry. We have had a series of thunderstorms in the past couple of days that have absolutely astounded me; I grew up with regular afternoon thunderstorms, but I can officially say that the South has the most amazing, beautiful, and devastating thunderstorms I’ve ever seen. The thunder alone is something entirely new to behold, and I feel grateful to have seen the weather in all its beauty here.
As much as I really do like it here (as different as it is), I’ve also been incredibly lonely. I was so grateful to be able to go home in July and see my family and my dog, and to take a little bit of time to recover, but I think that while that recovery was absolutely necessary, it also lured me into a false sense of relaxation, and breaking out of that since I’ve been here has been challenging. It’s a wildly different place for me, and once again, it’s been a while since I’ve really had to explore that unaccompanied. The people here have been kind and welcoming to me, and I have certainly found pockets where I am happy and comfortable. As would be totally expected, I managed to find the independent knitting store in Fairhope (and against my better judgement, I bought yarn – oops?), and I have found a group of people at the local coffee shop who are truly wonderful and accepting. I’ve gone running with a group of runners from town, but I’ve also spent many long hours in my car, puzzling through what I want now that I’m here, how to get it, and if what I might want from this place in the future is even feasible or worthwhile. I’ve had a lot of time with my thoughts here, driving through the lush countryside (I’ve also had a lot of time to ponder why Google maps does not give you particularly accurate directions in the rural South, but that’s neither here nor there).
As glad as I am for the experiences I’ve had here, and as much as I’ve looked around wondering if I could ever make this area my home, I am also very ready and excited to go home. It has been what feels like six long weeks of talking to people, and if we’re honest, I’m an introvert, so I’m truly ready to be done. I’ve got ten more days here, and it’s my goal to make the most of them.