Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Growth in Inhospitable Soil

The previous owners of our house in coastal Mississippi planted a satsuma tree at the southeast corner. I had no idea what it was until we noted one small orange fruit the first fall. Since I love oranges, I went to the local nursery to find out all I could about my satsuma tree so I could have more fruit the next autumn. Satsumas grow best in tropical to subtropical climates, and need protection when the temperature drops below 20 dgs F. The ground around the tree needs to be kept moist, and the pH of the soil must stay on the acidic side. A sandy, well drained plot is a must. A satsuma craves sunlight so a southern or southeastern exposure, like our tree had, is best.

After a year of tender loving care, indeed the tree yielded much fruit. I looked forward to another harvest the next fall but the Air Force transferred us to South Dakota. As much as I would have loved to tie my tree to the top of my car and take it with me, I knew that satsumas did not grow in the upper midwest. For one thing, temperatures of 20 degrees or less are common at least eight months of the year. The soil is very alkaline and difficult to make acidic. In this drought prone climate, it makes little sense to use precious water to keep a satsuma wet enough to grow. If a gardener did keep it watered sufficiently, the clay soil would not allow the water to distribute evenly. The roots would rot away.

A plant cannot flourish in all places. Had I taken the satsuma tree from my yard in Mississippi and planted it in my upper midwest yard, it would have died. People also do not flourish everywhere. I never pass on the maxim, “Bloom where you are planted,” as I do not believe it. As a satsuma tree cannot grow and bear fruit where I live, neither can I. Several of my acquaintances also have discovered that their souls are starving in the inhospitable soil and plan to move away. In another post I mentioned the historical preservationist I just met, who plans to leave for the same place Taciturn and I are going. Others are leaving here also.

On Sunday at Safeway, I ran into my friends M and B. During the conversation I mentioned that I was moving. “We are, too!” was the reply. No surprise. Partnered gay men, I was amazed that they had lasted in this area as long as they have. They were here many years, trying and trying to flourish not only in their careers but also as people. M and B threw in the towel and are headed for friendlier climes. The mindset here is decidedly harsh to LGBT persons. M said they no longer trade with many local businesses as they have been so badly treated.

Little exists to hold those of us who are not native to the area. Yes, the scenery is beautiful and hiking is great. A person cannot hike all of the time; real life intrudes. Real life here is based on a one for self vs. a one for all mentality. My subdivision was drawn up to have the front doors as far away from the next house as possible, in order to not be bothered by interacting with one’s neighbor. And not from South Dakota? God help you. An incident that happened soon after I moved here in 2002 illustrates.

Eagerly I attended my first EfM (Education for Ministry) meeting at my new parish. The mentor passed around a roster for us to fill out. The much older woman seated next to me, whom I had never met, handed it to me.

“Thank you, ma’am,” I said.

“What did you call me?” Her voice was icy.


“I do not accept being called ma’am,” she said.

Stunned, I said, “I’m sorry, but I just moved here from Mississippi, and down there ma’am is a mark of respect.”

“Well, I’ve always lived in South Dakota—and nobody calls me ma’am.”

Another, more appropriate term was on the tip of my tongue, but I managed to choke it back.

She went on, “You people from the East think you can just come here and push all of your customs on us. I’ll have none of that.”

I signed the roster and passed it on. I had nothing much else to say to this woman over the year in EfM, or now when I run into her around town. Over the years, unfortunately I have met others who share her sentiments. If you are not from here, then why are you here? For years many locals hated the military base because it brought outside influence to the area. In 2004, the government obliged and made plans to close it. Yes, the outside influence would disappear—but so would ten percent of all the jobs in town, and immediately property values plummeted. Suddenly the complaints stopped and most mobilized to petition the government to keep the base and the jobs. It worked; the base stayed open. But the underlying rejection of “Easterners” remains.

Plants as well as people need receptive soil in which to grow. The soil found here is hostile to those who are newly planted. I am not sure what it takes to grow here as a transplant, but each day I am here my soul shrivels a bit more. This is a hard place to bloom where planted, and since there are many other, more welcoming places to grow, why here in this harsh place? Of course people leave by the droves. We will join them soon, headed to well drained and productive soil. We will set down our roots and begin to grow again.


KimQuiltz said...

I was nearly 40 before I realized that having a Southern man was the kind of "home" I needed and was missing dearly in my life. Familiar upbringing, way of thinking and even just a similar enjoyment of food and fun. It's all important. You can take a girl outta the South (and away from the bug and snakes *g*) but you have to give her SOMETHING from "home."

Leann said...

Hi ! I found you through Ruth's blog.

I had no idea the demographic there was as harsh as their landscape.

Good to know.

I pray you find somewhere that nourishes your soul.