Out there in the night, the dogs bark and howl and the cocks crow. It is 12.45am with a huge red moon rising over the trees of Sautee. Everyone is asleep and I sit with only the ghostly light of the laptop screen to illuminate the keyboard – in the screened porch of the family farmhouse in Nachoochee, North Georgia. It am touch typing in the dark. Badly probably. It was a lifetime ago a schoolteacher put a box over the old Remington typewriter keyboard and told me to master this. I hated it - a skill for secretaries, I thought. Journalism had not entered my head. I was only taking typing as an extra-curricular because it was a 9am class which enabled me to escape attending the religious rituals of my church school's morning assembly. And here I am, glad in the darkness of the Georgia night in the world of an American family of which I never could have dreamed, but a family which I adore and which has become mine.
The nocturnal intensity is the lushness and stillness, most of all the lushness. The air hangs heavy with fecundity. Fireflies are at rest now. Only the odd flash of starlight on the ground. But earlier in these warm nights, they turn the trees to sparkling constellations, and the lawns and fields to glittering galaxies.
The night is theirs, just as in the rich, misty greenness of the mornings, the strident red cardinals proclaim their world as theirs with their self-approbatory call of “birdie birdie birdie”.
I have not been writing here in Georgia - because it does not fit in with the schedule. It is an antisocial pursuit. There is not the right time. Which is why I steal this moment in the slumbering night. I want to soak in the sensations of this place, the drenching beauty and serenity of this farmhouse in its valley among the Blue Ridge Mountains. To keep them and take them away with me, to bring out again in other faraway places. I am sipping a vodka and red grapefruit juice nightcap and allowing myself to be "in the moment".
Of course I will regret it in the household's early-rising morning when another full day races forth. And soon I will tiptoe into the grand old high-backed bedstead beside my husband, in that sweet white room where portraits of the ancestors gaze earnestly from the walls, reminding us of their place in this world. Their stories are told around the dining table - tales of the days when this was a working farm, when its garden produce was sold in a stall down in the field. When great-grandfather built the City Hall in nearby Cleveland and how he was cheated with payment in Confederate money. How another great-grand was the minister who declared slave freedom hereabouts. How earlier ancestors were among the very first to settle the area amid the Cherokees. How land was owned and lost... The family keeps its progenitors alive and one realises one has become a small part of its evolving history.
Now the divine Aunt Libby keeps the farm groomed and loved, quietly triumphant that she, a retired history professor, has been able to do alone what she knows would utterly astonish her late father. And with single-minded determination and not a little courage, she learns to master a new mower to keep the acreage trim and aesthetic.
The family comes and goes for holidays and she shares her knowledge of time and place - always fresh with her love and enthusiasm. I pinch myself at the fortune to be within the family bosom. Here amid the mountains called Lynch and Tray and Yona, amid the rushing streams and moist forests, the boiled peanuts, sumptuous peaches and musical Southern accents...
Ah, Georgia, I now take you with me wherever I go.