Sunday, April 13, 2008
Early this morning, soon after the sun had risen, I took Freddy, our Silky Terrier, for a long walk over the Fens where on the lodes (or drainage canals) we saw a spectacular cross-section of waterfowl. Walking in the cool English spring sunshine helped clear my brain following an unexpectedly difficult week.
Perhaps at the heart of the week was the deepening realization that in my growing sense of being settled here I had let certain guards down and had started talking and trying to relate to people as if they were Americans. Even as I turned over in my mind a little presentation I made yesterday afternoon to an essentially friendly group, I probably was a little too unguarded for most of my listeners. Americans tend to reveal more of themselves and allow themselves to be read far more readily than the British.
Three decades in the USA have left little of the English reserve with which I crossed the Atlantic in the 1970s, and now I am having to work out how to synthesize the American me with the British way of doing things and managing relationships. With this comes another level of reverse culture shock, one which after seven months or so here is not so readily forgiven by my British friends and colleagues who probably believe I have now adjusted back to this land. So, as I walked across the Fens this morning I was doing some painful reassessing of myself.
In the midst of all these ponderings I found myself gazing at an indescribably beautiful wooden house, and that got me thinking about my own house in Tennessee that has not yet sold despite being on the market since the end of last August.
I found myself ruefully wishing that I had it here in Britain where it would be not only a relatively easy sell, but I would get mucho, mucho pounds for it! Not only is housing here exotically expensive, but environmental sensitivity is far higher here than it is among the general public in the USA, An environmentally-sensitive house like ours would be in very high demand -- probably with people bidding, counter-bidding, and scrambling over one another to get it.
There sits our beautiful home in Tennessee and the only offers we have had have been derisively low -- what one Tennessee friend with a lot of financial smarts has described as carpetbagging. While we know we are experiencing the post-sub-prime blues, it does sadden us. Our home sits on three lovely acres, overlooking a beautiful valley, it is well-insulated and generates its own electricity while at the same time heating its own water, but no one seems to want it unless we are almost prepared to give it to them.
That is probably a sad commentary on environmental consciousness in the USA, especially in Tennessee, the state which we love the best and where we lived the longest. Whatever you believe about global climate change, and I think the evidence is overwhelming that it is happening, just being a responsible steward of the planet should encourage us to think in these terms when it comes to housing. What we have learned from our realtor is that some of those who have viewed it have been more concerned about the lack of granite counter-tops than the things that make the house such an energy treasure!
I suspect that we were such pioneers when we built the house as far as America is concerned that even the early adopters are wary of doing something that might make them look silly (tree-hugging wackos) -- even if it does leave them several thousand dollars a year better off each year when it comes to utility bills! But not only are the bills lower, so is your carbon footprint -- again, not a bad thing.
Yet having said that an environmentally-friendly house would sell like hotcakes on this side of the Atlantic, I was talking to a scientist researcher a month or two back who was telling me that in North America in general there are far more opportunities to explore and experiment with alternative fuels and energy sources than in Europe, and that despite all the words that come from official chatterers in this country the USA is probably ahead on the technology. The problem here, he asserted, is that regulation is out of control -- and land to do such things is very difficult to find.
I guess that on all sides of the world we are struggling to work out how to live on a small planet with such limited (and over-stretched) resources. I suspect that for the next few years the issue of food security is going to be as high up the agenda as the climate, partly because there is such a food crunch and partly because our food situation has been made more difficult by uncertainties created by the climate.
The challenges before us are enormous.