Well, I answered a call in 1978 to become an Assistant Professor of Biology at Virginia Polytechnic Institute (VPI)- the "Land of the Hokies". I had been doing research on diabetes for the past 6 years in places such as University of Tennessee; Geneva, Switzerland; and Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. I was trying to find a way to transplant Islets of Langerhans- you know, those little beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. It was a success- at least in mice. By the time I reached VPI, I think, well, I guess it turned out to be true, that I was a little burned out on the project.
At VPI, I enjoyed the teaching part of my position and interacting with students- some of them at least. I taught courses in Radiation Safety, also known as Health Physics. Graduates of the program went on to work at nuclear plants, hospitals, safety departments at Universities and other institutions- any company which uses radiation or nuclear isotopes. Or, they completely changed careers as the nuke industry took a nose dive.
As most people know in academia, tenure is based primarily on oneís research and successful grant applications- not so much on teaching. So, spurning these tenure criteria, I started to walk the Appalachian Trail on weekends. The Trail winds around the mountain ridges in our area. Each time I entered the forest along the trail, I didn't want to stop. I wanted to keep hiking the whole 2,000 miles of it, end to end, from Springer Mountain, Georgia, to Mt Katahdin, Maine. But I couldn't find the 3 months free to do it. Eventually and obligingly, the administrators at VPI gave me the opportunity to pursue my dream. The last course I taught at VPI was in summer of 1983. I also lost matrimonial tenure.
However, I still had a family to support, aka. child support. So, I turned to my "C" students- they always seem to be the sympathetic ones- and asked them about jobs. Following the path of many of my former students, I subcontracted as a Radiation Safety Technician at nuclear plants. I go to work only when a nuke shuts down for maintenance or changes nuclear fuel. The hours are long, but between jobs, my time is my own. Eventually I got those 3 months free to hike the Appalachian Trail. I started, but never finished- yet.
Incidentally, my fellow workers often refer to themselves as "road whores". Which I suppose is an apt description. The job gives certain pleasures, but not much pride in accomplishment. We seem to be working just for the money, and we go from one job to the next with really not much appreciation from the bosses. Are we just bodies? Some suggest we are and treat us as such. And indeed, we do work on the road usually spending no more that a couple of months in any one location.
For me, the pleasures of the job are seeing new places- there is always something unique and stimulating about each location I have been to. Nuclear plants are usually located in out of the way places. Also, some of the people I meet are from the salt of the earth; others are creeps. Furthermore, the jobs are short enough so that I donít get involved in petty "office politics". If I donít like a particular place or group, I donít sweat it; the job will be over in a few weeks anyway. I never thought I could write this many words on the pleasures of this job. I must be brainwashed. Also, my attitude might be influenced by the fact that I am presently free timing it between jobs.
Which brings me to the point of telling how I came to Floyd County. I needed a place to live between contracts. I wasn't making a lot of money and much of that went to child support. So, I thought- why not move back to the land and homestead. Build my own house and eat wild asparagus and stuff. This was not a novel idea in the early 1980's- Mother Earth News was in its heyday. Besides, it would be like backpacking on the Appalachian Trail- that is, a life of self sufficiency.
The next county east of where VPI is located is Floyd. There was only one stop light in the whole county. In the Floyd Press, I found what seemed to be a nice peice of land for homesteading- 16 acres, half wooded (for heating fires) and a spring (for baths and keeping perishables refrigerated). Read on, but come back and go to the Yurt construction story.
Over the last fifteen years, I have developed a certain unique philosophy of work- or rather, EMPLOYMENT. Since I work on a contract bases, I try to work only when I need the money to purchase something. Realize that the big purchases in your life, probably taking up at least a third to a half of your budget, are a roof over your head, food, and a car. I figured if I could pay my way free of a mortgage, not buy a car, and grow most of my food, I could reduce my time in EMPLOYMENT. Of course there are always the monthly bills- electric, telephone, and medical, car, and household insurance. And taxes.
In any case, with a little luck, I have managed to free myself of a mortgage, keep a Dodge pickup running 10 years for 200,000 miles, and grow a few of my favorite vegetables- for both me and the varmints. And, as John Prine once sang, I blew up my TV- though not necessarily to save electricity.
Truely, after my two daughters finished college and got out on their own, I have seen my yearly expenditures go DOWN. The bottom line is that I only work about two or three months a year. It took awhile of course, and for sure, I live sort of hand to mouth as they say. In other words, if my truck dies tomorrow, I will have to go back on the road to work in order to make car payments. So far, there has always been a job when I needed one; not that I don't worry about it sometimes.
So, what do I do between jobs and after the homesteading chores are caught up? Well, thatís what this web site is all about. I research my family history- which satisfies my desires for discovery, adventure, travel, photography, drawing, and writing. You see, genealogy is quite fulfilling for me. I also like to bike, hike, and generally goof off. Could you understand it if I said that being creative is the same thing as goofing off. Alors, I goofed off and created this web page.