Adventures in the KuNtRy

Many of my personal friends (about 450 of you on Facebook) know and may follow with amusement my KuNtRy sagas with burning. For those of you who don’t know, allow me to briefly bring you up to date…

People in the KuNtRy like to burn anything, everything, and all the time.  They like to burn everything from a few fallen twigs to gigantic trees to stumps out of the ground to large piles of rotten wood to grass clippings to leaves.  Sometimes, they chop down a tree simply so they can burn it.

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How to get past Air Quality codes…

Knox County does have an air quality code and requires a permit for open burning of brush, but I suspect that no one follows the code.  Or if they know the code, they find a way around it.  This is why the guy to the east of me has built a lovely cinderblock “fireplace” so he can burn burn burn without a permit.  (It is stated that burning in a chimney is legal because in theory the air draw creates better combustion and therefore less smoke.)

In the winter, there is also a lot of poor burning habits from people’s inside fireplaces.  Not only do they burn green wet wood, but they also pile it in the wood burning stove, damper it down, and allow it to smolder all day.  There is also a visible emissions code, which I must confess, not even I knew about until I began this research.  Knox County code states, “…no person shall cause, suffer, allow, or permit discharge from any single source visible emissions of an opacity in excess of 20 percent for a six (6) minute average…”

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See? Less Smoke!

The State of Tennessee has air quality codes, too.

It’s been a long smokey winter.  My lungs and sinuses hurt.  I thought with the warm weather that I may find some relief…until…SPRING burning!

It began a few days ago when the guy that lives to the west of us decided to venture out of his cave and burn a 10 foot long decayed fallen tree.  No, he didn’t cut it up into manageable pieces.  He simply set the entire thing on fire.  Chad and I went for a walk with the dog leaving the windows open knowing that we would be gone about 15 minutes.  By the time we got to the end of the street (.6 miles) and turned around, I could smell smoke.  I said, “Well I guess [the people who live to the east of us] decided to burn that big pile that is stacked up down in the woods…,” but it wasn’t.  By the time we came into view, we exclaimed, “What the f*** is that?  The windows are open!  My kid is outside playing!”  By the time we returned home (the entire walk was 15 minutes), smoke smell permeated the house.  Two days later, the fire was still smoldering and despite nice temperatures, we couldn’t open the windows.  My son and I are having sinus and breathing problems.

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Nothing like a nice warm fire on a cold day…oh, wait, they weren’t even home when this was going on.

Then yesterday, I learned that these same people are getting ready to exit the cave again and burn a 2 year old 25’x20′ slash pile that sits about 40 feet from my home. It has everything from thick green tree branches to construction materials to grass clippings to god knows whatever else in it.  How did I hear of this since it is obvious that NO ONE around here has the courtesy to at least tell their neighbors when they are going to burn?

I went over to talk with the young  new tenant, who has lived next door for about a week and a half, to clear the air for getting on him about riding an ATV all around the yard (I asked if he had permission to ride the ATV in circles around the small yard and that he may want to make sure from the owners that it was ok because they seem to care about their yard…not my style…but it is clean and maintained.)  In chatting he let it be known, “We are going to have a big bonfire with that pile real soon…”

"We're having a big bonfire!"

“We’re having a big bonfire!”

I didn’t know who “we” was so I took him a copy of the Air Quality code and asked that “we” follow code.  I let him know that there was vinyl siding and construction materials in the pile and that if he needed assistance taking some of the stuff to the dump, that we would be happy to assist.

I know, some of you are shaking your head and thinking that I should mind my own business because that how stuff is done in the KuNtRy.  Well, how many of you have live downwind from a huge slash pile that contains plastic and is about to go up in flames?  How many of you are suffering breathing problems due the negligent burning going on around you?

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OFFENDER! Before the big burn…

Just because that’s the way ‘things are done’ doesn’t mean that it is right, or that I should put up with it, or that I should shut my mouth…I bet some people think that Rosa Parks should have stayed in the back of the bus, too.

So what I got was the landlady knocking on my door and screaming in my face on my back deck that if I had a problem, I needed to talk with her since she is now managing the property for her ill and elderly parents. (Who knew any of that since in the two years that I have lived here they haven’t so much as waved hello when they are outside mowing their lawn, which is the only time they are outside.) I was informed that “all this” with a sweep of her hand was her property (KGIS records beg to differ) and that I had no right to tell her tenant to stop riding his ATV and that he can ride it wherever he wants on her land!  (I informed her that I merely suggested that he make sure that he had permission…honestly, they are such sticklers about the yard, I was very surprised that she would allow someone to ride an ATV through it???)

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Day two of the burn…

I was told that it was her burn pile and I had no right to tell her tenant about the codes and that if I had a problem that I come to her (Yes, all jumbled together in one breath…still going…) and that her dad has blah blah blah and her mom is blah blah and that she can’t handle anymore and it’s all her land and her family has been burning for generations and the guy who lived here before me (It was a woman, not a man, but I didn’t correct her) told someone not to ride the ATV around the back yard and…well honestly I kind of forget after that.

Now, I was focused on her the entire time, and when I turned my head, I noticed the tenant and “The Nephew” standing at the property line.  I don’t even know who “the Nephew” is.  He doesn’t have any ownership in this, and/or he may live with his grandparents (or parents) a few houses up the street.  He is simply a part of the clan, and the tenant is a friend of his.  “The Nephew” is moving around in place…he is antsy to say something to me.

What came out of the confrontation:

1.  She stated that she would get a permit and follow the code, and when I offered our services to assist (since she was very stressed right now with all the blah blah blahs), she retorted in an angry fashion, “I don’t need your help!”  I said, “Okay.”

2. As she walked down my steps, she told me again that they can ride their ATVs wherever they want.  It was her property.  I said, “Okay.  I’m glad it’s okay and (this is where I fucked up) that it wasn’t good for property values (but honestly, I was really good the entire time she yelled at me.  I wasn’t sassy or anything.  I swear!  Chad is my witness.  He said that I was actually rather compassionate.)  Anyway, after the one snide remark, that’s when her eyes bulged out of her head and “The Nephew” got to yell at me…

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“When I mow behind your woodpile, all the bugs come running out!

3. She screams, “Property values?  I don’t like chickens!  Or that tall grass (Chad’s wheat crop).  Or that wood pile!  When I mow behind your woodpile, all the bugs come running out!”  Yes, I swear that she said that, and her tractor is too big to get behind the wood pile. I mow over there.

4.  And “The Nephew” ~finally~ gets to speak, “I don’t like chickens!  There are bugs in this wood pile!  This (sweeping motion of the hands) is the LINE, and what we do over here is our business like what you do over there is your business!  This is our property!  You just stay over there!”   (I’m thinking, “Get ready for a rude awakening, dude…when those old people die, you ain’t gettin’ none of this.”)  If Chad had not come out on to the deck and stood behind me, I don’t think he would have stopped yelling at me.

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OFFENDERS!

I didn’t have time to tell them how people come from all over to our homestead to see and learn about permaculture practices, but something tells me that they wouldn’t have cared.

With hindsight, I probably could have handled it differently.  Like when the tenant said, “We…”  I probably should have asked, “Who is ‘we’?”  Cliche time…hindsight is 20/20 and shoulda, woulda, coulda.

I refuse to live my life in fear even though it tears at my gut, I feel like I want to throw up, and I can’t eat.  I somehow have to summon the courage to walk outside each day with my head held high with principles in tact even though no one around here will talk to me, which may actually suit me fine since I don’t really like most of these people anyway…at least I don’t have to be a fake.  It hurts, and it is hard.  It’s fucking hard, but I know that somewhere, there is support…even if the only person standing behind me is my spouse whose got my back during most my crazy antics.  That is what gets me through.

Ahh, the adventures of the KuNtRy…next stop…pigs for the old homestead. HAH!  Just kidding.

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About Tracie L. Hellwinckel

Hi! I'm Tracie L. Hellwinckel creator of The Agrarian Urbanite. My experience in gardening education began 2000 as a Peace Corps volunteer. Since then, I've served as an AmeriCorps volunteer with Beardsley Community Farm and Habitat Urban Gardens. I sold plants at the local farmer's markets but discovered that when customers asked me questions about gardening, it was the teaching techniques and sharing of information that inspired me. Gardening Education combines my formal education (Masters Degree from the University of Tennessee in Elementary Education) and my passions, which are growing food and design. I can be reached at agrarianurbanite@gmail.com
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One Response to Adventures in the KuNtRy

  1. Craig says:

    Good for you Tracie. I know that was difficult. I’m glad Chad’s backing you up. Property… it’s such a touchy situation, especially in the South. I’ve told some of my northeastern friends here that in some remote parts, turning into a rural driveway to turn around could invite a warning shot. It sounds like your neighbors have stepped over an abusive line regarding the burning. Smoke and particulates affect more than just their property. If they do not or cannot respect your property by keeping smoke, noise, and property neglect – that directly affects you – to a minimum, then they should not harbor an entitled sense that you should “respect” their property by ignoring their abuse and just taking it. All that bluster usually means they know they’re in the wrong and feel insecure about it (and defiantly not caring makes them feel empowered). They probably also have an inferiority complex over how hard y’all work to keep your place organized and useful (chickens, wood piled, plants growing on purpose). The ironies of a “country” person bitching about a wood pile, bugs, chickens, and crops are numerous, humorous, and tellingly sad. All that said, I doubt they’ll see any sense in this and will probably expend large amounts of dramatic energy griping and hating as their mind looks for ways to shut out the daily humiliation. Maybe over time some bits of kindness will break through…. but don’t hold yer breath.

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