5.01.2011

Four Day Bee Break in Ruralsville, Florida

Four days in the deep, rural part of Florida closest to nowheresville, Georgia: what does that mean to you? To me, in a word, backwards. There's no cell coverage, no internet, no healthy food (believe me), not even a Starbucks within an hour's drive. Everything I hold precious, and I don't include Starbucks in that, was absent.

It's the first time I've visited Charlie's relatives in their home base. His brother retired here and brought along his mother and special needs older sister to stay in a nearby rest home. For four years, I've been too scared to witness the rural South first-hand.

The rural South, in this case, is Sirmans Florida. Sirmans, if you don't know, is a town of about ten or fifteen farms that surround a dump and a Baptist church: the city center. The dump, Charlie's brother says, is where people get together when they want to be social. You'd think they'd want to go to the church for that but Charlie's brother said people, not him of course, ran the pastor out of town recently. He was too radical, voicing crazy ideas about starting a youth group.

Charlie's brother has a farm. Since we have bees, we're now open to looking at all kinds of nature and nature is what you find here, whether you like it or not.

Driving up to this farm, the first thing you see is a little fish house - a structure with windows and a porch - from which Charlie's brother ran a fish farm. He bulldozed the dirt around property the size of half of Golden Gate park and created lakes. He stocked them with fish that, no matter how many times I asked, I could never remember the names. They weren't salmon. People paid a dollar to fish and it seems like a good deal as you'd be guaranteed to at least catch something.

His aren't the only ponds, though. On the drive in, I spotted ponds big and small, with people fishing on them, everywhere. Who would drive all the way out to his property to fish? To fish at his lakes, you'd have to pass up an awful lot of free fishing opportunities.

We decided he must have wanted a reason to start a business. Either that or he really likes to fish and this was a way he could do that and take a tax write-off, too. Twenty years later, pretty lakes decorated with lily pads and generations of forgetfully-named kind of fish, a fish house with a porch, decorate the edge of his gorgeous property. I've started dumber, uglier businesses with less entertainment and good-eating value.

The next feature you see, the feature you see driving everywhere around Madison County, Florida, is Charlie's brother's herd of brown, lazy cows, if you can call twenty cows a herd. They were doing what all the cows along the drive here were doing: lying down, watching the passing cars along the road. The few who weren't staring at traffic were spread out on the meadows eating grass. It wasn't even hot and they looked like they were worn out.

Or like they weren't even trying. Coming from California, I'm used to driving by high-production Holsteins pumped up on hormones, steroids, and every other chemical known to maximize profitability. I've never seen a Holstein lying down or standing still. They even chew in a hurry. The herds are so huge and crowded in comparison that it's no wonder Cali cows don't lie down and watch cars. Keeping that growth hormone fed probably takes up all their energy, and the ratio of food to cow in a big herd must be a lot less. Even our cows are urban.

The last thing I noticed, the one that took me by surprise coming from the big city, is the lack of garbage.

I don't mean personal garbage. There's a lot of that. You know, the junk around peoples' mobile homes that looks like their house threw up everything inside and the owners gave up and decided to leave it there. Not all the homes in the area were mobile homes and not all of them had that fifteen-yard radius of crap all the way around, but too many did. When you think of people who are in real need, people who have nothing, you visualize people with an overwhelming amount of junk. Once that junk fills up their home's insides, somehow it migrates outside too. Is there a correlation between the amount of junk-surrounded mobile homes and the amount of "Repeal Obamacare" billboards? Yes, I think so.

The garbage I didn't see, the garbage we urban people have in abundance, is the side of the road kind. All the roads in cities, all freeways everywhere, have a lot of litter decoration. There are so many shoes along the sides of San Francisco city streets and highways that, if they had mates, we could give them out as souvenirs. There are clothes, too, on street corners all over the park so if you're cold you don't have to go far to find something to keep you warm. There are drink containers, broken glass from drink containers, cigarettes and packaging, other types of packaging, papers, notes that aren't interesting enough to pick up and read, plastic pieces and plastic shards of pieces, toys and newspapers, pacifiers, and anything you can throw out of a car window if you decide you don't want to own it for as long as it takes to find a trash can.

For four whole rural days I scoured the roads, spying. When the lazy brown cows and mobile homes with moats of broken cars and furniture became boring or sad, there was always the clean, mowed, junk-free side of the road to contemplate. Always. All the way from the Jacksonville airport to the innards of Madison county, a two and a half hour drive and all the time we rode to the Winn-Dixie and to Denny's, and all the way back to the airport where there was a Starbucks, it was verdantly, environmentally-friendly, extraordinarily, green.