Friday’s Weekend Column
About a Minnesota Man Exploring Life in the South

by James Glaser
February 4, 2011
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I don't know why, but when I moved to the South I was thinking that it would be crowded. You know, several hundreds of years of people living down here, whereas where I lived in Minnesota, people didn't move to that northern area of the state until after 1900.

Tonight I went out to the studio and stripped the final side of an old oak display cabinet I am refinishing. I wasn't going to put much time into it, but after I took off the contact paper that covered it, and stripped off the gummy glue and varnish underneath, I found some very pretty wood.

I have removed all the glass, took off the sliding doors, and have now sanded everything with 220 grit sandpaper. I put on some golden oak stain just to help even out the color and will danish oil it, then give it several coats of wax.

So, I am out in the studio until after dark, and when I walked outside to head to the house, everything was still and quiet. It was just like being in the North woods of Minnesota. I couldn't hear any noise, not even distant traffic noise from the highway. I sat on the deck rail for a bit and waited for my eyes to adjust to the dark and while I was sitting there I heard the hoot of an owl in the distance and one nearby answered.

There was just the slightest mist in the air. You could feel it, but it was so light that it made no noise hitting the leaves in the trees or the metal roof of the studio. With a cloud cover, it was pitch dark out. When we moved here we had one of those big yard lights, but last summer we had the electric company take it down. With no lights in the house and the studio lights off, it was black. You can stare and stare and still see nothing at all, but in about ten minutes you start to see the outline of the building and the house looks like a black shape on a shade lighter background.

It is a good thing I have walked this path for a while now, and even a better thing that Wanda and I keep the yard picked up. I usually walk between the bushes to get to our back door, but this time I went the long way just so I wouldn't get a branch in the eye. Still there were no sounds other than my breathing and footsteps.

I learned in Vietnam to like the dark. If you don't move, nobody is going to know you are out there. Not even animals. It takes a good twenty minutes or so to get your eyes adjusted to the dark, but even on the darkest night you will be able to see well enough to travel on foot if you have some idea of the terrain. One flash of light though can put you right back to the blind stage.

I lived in the woods up north, and now I live in the woods down South. Behind our house, to the south, is 80 acres of woods and then some big fields. I would guess it is a over a mile before you hit a road. North across the road in front of our place is another 80 some acres of woods and then woods and fields for several miles. East of us is a neighbor. We can't see his house, but it is about a hundred and fifty yards , maybe a bit more, and kind of north a bit. West of us is our closest neighbor. If they are home and if they have a light on at our end of their house, we can see it through the trees and bushes. I guess their house is 250 feet from ours. So, we are not in the wilderness, but we do have some nice space around us, and it was a surprise for me that we found it.

If you drive around North Florida, you for sure will not think you are in Florida. No palm trees, no beaches, just gently rolling hills and pine and hardwood forests with some big farms in-between. The farmers seem to have their crops in already, and I see logging going on in several places near us.

What is so different down here compared to up North is how fast a clear cut is covered with vegetation. For many plants and trees we have a 12 month growing season. Up North the Pussy Willows were the first thing to bud on April, and leaves would pop out on the trees by May. Come September, and sometimes early September, you could start to see the leaves change, and you know you have gotten your five month of real growth.

Here I am in the South, living in a nice quiet rural area I never knew existed. The place is filled with wildlife and it seems to me that all the birds that lives up north with me have come down for the winter. The deer are a bit smaller, and I haven't seen a bear here, but I guess I could. On top of that there are wild turkeys and wild hogs, and you don't see either of them up north.

I have not seen a bald eagle either, but there sure are a lot of turkey vultures and hawks. Rabbits, raccoons, and possum have made visits, but another new one for me is the armadillo.

So, I guess I moved from one quiet place to another. I just left the cold and snow behind, and that is fine with me.

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