|Soybeans, about a month before harvest|
My 20th High School reunion was this past weekend. I was fortunate to have had an excellent high school education and also classmates who truly loved and cared for each other, and seeing them this weekend just made me more grateful for the foundation I had through my education. I am from Palm Bay, about an hour south of Cape Canaveral. This area I grew up in has about 200,000 people living there now. When the farmer and I were dating, he would tell people I was from “South Florida,” and I would always correct him and say “Central Florida”…but now, there really isn’t much of a difference. When I travel there, as soon as I get on I-75 South, the landscape begins to change, the dirt roads turn to pavement, and the green space dwindles.
When I came to Monticello for the first time in 1997, I fell in love. Yes, I fell in love with the farmer, but I also fell in love with the countryside. I didn’t know Florida held these rural landscapes! I was in the true south, where polite strangers smile and the canopy roads create beauty like I hadn’t seen before. I started a journey then of learning a way of life that although I didn’t grow up knowing, it seemed familiar to me. I still don’t know why that was, but I am grateful it was so, and that I have the chance to live here and make a life here.
I’ve changed so much being in the real south now. Ya’ll already know how much I’ve learned about cows and chickens and snakes. I’ve discovered how beautiful nights can be. I’ve seen stars and rainbows, both brighter than they ever are in a city. I’ve watched my kids trample through woods and streams, all the while completely aware of wildlife, poison ivy, and safety (country kids just know stuff). I’ve felt more safe, more accepted, and more fulfilled; all in a place that seems foreign to city dwellers.
A Monticello native, Jamie Kinsey, told me recently, “I may not have gone to college- but I do have a dirt road diploma and I’m proud of that!” And that was such a perfect way of describing and encompassing all of what happens to you out here in rural America. I guess you can say I’m well on my way to earning my dirt road diploma. I’ve found it’s so much like formal education- It’s not easy; its not free; it isn’t for the weak. In the words of John Denver, “Thank God I’m a country boy!” or in this case- girl- but you get the point. Life on the dirt roads changes you, forms you, completes you. Grateful and thankful for my education and diplomas, both from paper and experience, both past and present.