After living in a decent-sized mid-Atlantic city for most of my life, it still feels odd to know that I can walk from one end of the village to the other in about thirty minutes. I’m also not used to being greeted by name everywhere I go. At least, most of the kids know who I am, even if I only barely recognize them. Given that kindergarten through twelfth grades are all located in the same building, this is hardly surprising.
I’m getting used to the sound of my feet on the boardwalks rather than on pavement or grass. Walking and going for runs around the village lets me see where the “old” boardwalk is gradually disappearing into the swampy ground. In contrast, the new boardwalk is made of wider planks and raised up on pilings. There are even small hills, bridges over little streams or the sewer pipes.
It’s not only the walkway that rests on pilings. All buildings are also raised off of the ground. Some structures have plywood “skirts” around their bases, but on most the pilings and beams are exposed to the elements. Depending on how high up the house is, some families use this area as a storage space; I’ve seen more than a few houses with the snow machine parked in this makeshift “garage”.
Pilings aside, most buildings are only one level. Actually, the only buildings I’ve seen with two floors are the school and the “old” school, which is now used for teacher housing and storage. Even so, stairs abound, because how else will you reach the door of your house? Four buildings also have ramps: the school, the post office, and both store buildings.
Even though there are two store buildings, they are owned and managed by the same people. One building is the “general” store, with an eclectic mix of items: Clothing, electronics, and toys share shelf space with hardware, tools, knives, and guns. The other building is the grocery store. By the standards of how and where I grew up, this store is tiny. I’m familiar with some items on the shelves, like cereal, boxed dinners, and canned fruits and vegetables, although the latter two items take up more shelf space than I’ve seen elsewhere. Then there are items that I have less experience with, like “instant” milk and freeze-dried fruit. Several refrigerators and freezers line one wall. There’s not really a produce section; what fruits and vegetables there are, if not frozen or canned, can often be found on the aisle end caps closest to the door. In addition to what’s on the shelves, crates of items are stacked in the aisles. If you want to know how much a particular item costs, don’t bother looking at the shelf labels. You’re more likely to find a price sticker on the item itself, but even that is not always the case. Prices on things can fluctuate rather quickly (based on the cost of the item, the cost of the fuel to ship the item to the store, and some other factors I’m not sure about), so often you have to just ask at the register how much something costs that day. I’ve already learned that it’s best to stop by the store on an almost daily basis, because you never know what they have. For the same reason, when they do have something you want, it’s often best to buy in bulk.
In addition to stopping by the store daily, I also make a run to the post office every day after school. No roads means no street addresses, which means that no mail is delivered to the houses. Instead, everyone in the village has a post office box. Before I even arrived, I shipped things to the post office care of the school, where they were held until my arrival. Another advantage to living in such a small community is that the postmistress knows everyone. Due to an issue with her computer, she couldn’t assign me a post office box when I arrived. Instead, people sent things to me care of “General Delivery”. When I would stop by in the afternoon, she would greet me by name and bring me my mail. Also, since there are no street addresses, the post office acts as the pick up point for any UPS deliveries. These are not as frequent. You see, to deliver to the villages along the river, UPS utilizes a hovercraft. Once they have enough for a full load, the hovercraft departs from the Hub and travels the length of the river, making stops at each village along the way. The days that the hovercraft delivers feel like Christmas, as you receive packages you may have ordered weeks previously. The last time the hovercraft came, it also brought several crates of fresh produce for the store, so it was a very special occasion.
Besides the nuts and bolts of living in the village, I’m also adjusting to the new climate. When I first arrived at the beginning of August, daytime temperatures reached the mid-60s Fahrenheit, dropping into the low to mid-50s overnight, and the amount of daylight was staggering. The sun didn’t set until after midnight, and would rise again around six in the morning. Now, about a month later, I’m lucky if the daytime high reaches the low 50s, and the overnight lows have dropped to the upper 30s. Not only that, but the sun now sets around 10:30 pm, and doesn’t rise until after 7 am. I learned within a day or so of my arrival that it’s a good idea to be prepared for anything, because the weather can change in a heartbeat. Sudden downpours aren’t uncommon, and the wind can come up from nowhere. I think, though, of all the things I’ve seen since coming here, the thing that continues to amaze me, and I doubt it will ever get old, is the sky. Even at the center of the village, looking up at the sky is just… different than it is back in the Lower 48. Once you get to the edge of the village or out on the river, you can see all the way to the horizon in every direction, and it’s a lot farther away than it is back home. Not only that, the clouds here are beautiful in a way I’ve yet to see anywhere else. Maybe my next post will have to be some of the photos I’ve taken. Until then!