Tuesday, October 20, 2009

New Country

The natural world here looks pretty much like what I grew up with in Massachusetts, not the same plants, but the same general lush high summer look. The area we are in, known as the East End, of the Richmond area, is very rural, even over by the Richmond airport, there are still fields and woods. There are some big homes hidden away, but it is mostly just empty, kind of the way the Boston 128 corridor was back in the 1950’s, still farmland and forest.

Don, after his stroke, or more probably one big one and several tiny ones, is the new country. A lot of the original data and equipment is still there, and he can still tell you three different ways to drive around Chicago, and telephone numbers from his youth. He still has his dry Scots sense of humor, and sees the absurdities and ironies of the world.

His left hand, well really the fingers, is not much use, and some part of the sorting process for visual input is not working very well. There are also some short term memory glitches. He can’t type, or read, or use his beloved laptop or Blackberry, and worst of all, he isn’t able to do the grounds work here to help work off our campsite. There are no signs of cancer symptoms, which will probably involve the liver first, only a sort of half life, waiting. He has gained more control over his hand and fingers, but the processing of what he is seeing is variable and sometimes faulty, depth perception is a problem

I confess to having moments of wishing a big blood clot would carry him off, instead of him lingering in this sad, missing the fun parts state. But we are, as he says, chugging along.

At this stage, my delicate job is to help when needed but not too much.

Pulp paper production, it turns out, is the reason there are vast forests here, in fact VA is 65% forests, and I think forest products may be the state’s biggest industry. (Working for the gumment doesn’t count).

We drove up to West Point VA to find an old fashioned barber shop for Don, and right there, on a peninsula between two rivers, is a huge paper mill. Back in 1918, Elis Olsson came from Canada and built a paper mill in West Point, making Kraft paper ( brown paper bag stock). The mill has pretty well run uninterrupted since then, through ownership changes and different types of paper products, and the vast tracts of loblolly pine are still being harvested and reforested along this stretch of VA, as well as in other areas. Our “home”, the New Kent Forestry Center, runs a breeding program to improve the loblolly pine, a fast growing giant that tolerates occasional wet feet.

The Chesapeake Paper company owned vast tracts of timberland in VA, including this area, and in 1999 sold it to the John Hancock Insurance CO for very little, and John Hancock has been selling it off for upscale development. This gives new meaning to the term paper pushers. So that’s why it has stayed so empty of urban sprawl. We are 18 miles from downtown Richmond and there are way more deer per acre here than people.

The dog and I continue our evening walks, last night there must have been 30 deer in one field of young pines, and one evening they crossed in front of the truck and there was a white fawn.


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