It’s impossible to put into words, but I know why people never want to leave. Sure it’s tough to find work, but there are happy people that thrive with big ideas.
The remoteness from things and people and choices can be hard to get used to at first. But free time is precious time, and the quietness tends to linger in a good way. It would be easier, some say, to go back to my life in academia or the corporate world, but what would happen to my precious time?
Here in Athens, I don’t blog, text or post like I used to. I spend lots of time on the trails, reading on my porch, or visiting with folks who are devoted to their farms, neighbors and families. Try lying in the sun along the Hocking River and getting lost in the clouds. Spend some time at the local diner and enjoy a piece of homemade peach pie or a fresh hot biscuit. It will change your city girl life in an instant.
During winter and spring in Athens County, I was living on a nature preserve in a beautiful old farmhouse. The owner of the property decided to downsize, and I didn’t want to pay the extra rent or manage the land on my own. So I said my goodbyes and moved to a tiny house on a steep dirt road. It used to be a commune here, back in the seventies. I have no internet or cell service so I pick blackberries or work on outdoor projects to pass the time. I use a composting toilet, filter my water and look out at my amazing view. My companion is a dog named Honey. We watch the free-range chickens, hogs and roosters for a while, and when it is time for work, I make the 12-minute drive to Athens.
Just you wait and see!
But if you really want to know the landscape, this headline says it all:
What this Republican president doesn’t know, is that the digital divide is growing bigger and bigger. Many living in Appalachia continue to fall behind in basic education and job skills. Add the heroin epidemic to the mix, and a child poverty rate that exceeds 50 percent in some parts of the region.
I love the community activists who speak out about this rural divide, and how you have to see it to believe it. During a recent summit to discuss the broadband issues, here’s what Liz Shaw had to say.
“We’re not only not going forward, we are going backward in many cases,” Shaw said, as reported by WOUB News. “This is like being in a Conestoga wagon on the prairie and sending up smoke signals, in my opinion, when you hear from a county that has no 911 and no landlines and no cell phone and no internet working.”
I know what’s it like because I live in a tiny house with no cell or internet service. But here is the difference:
I have a choice.
When I drive into Athens, I can log on as long as I want. I am not forced to do my school work in the back of a McDonald’s parking lot using free wireless while my mother keeps the car running during winter months.
It was refreshing to meet a man named Arun Sharma, who decided to put down roots in Gallipolis. He invested in rooftop solar so he could better the world for the next generation and create a conversation that wasn’t about coal. Is his investment risky in a region so culturally dependent on fossil fuels? Hardly. Many people look up to him because he is proactive about his way of the future.
My favorite part of my work is when I visit the folks in Meigs, Perry, Vinton and Gallia counties. I enjoy talking to farmers and small business owners about the simple things they need to thrive. Lack of internet and cell is a huge issue and hard on many businesses. But they still have a smile and a nod and a friendly hello. That is the one thing that never changes.
So many people live here without the things we city folk take for granted. They are proud of their work, their farms and their county fairs. These photos show a little of the life I love — a little of the life I will find hard to leave in another four months. Just like my life in West Virginia, I have a contract that ends when my work is complete.
At the end of December, I hope Santa Claus brings me one more opportunity, so I can stay here in Appalachia and continue my work.