Around 15 years ago, I was conversing electronically with a friend who resides in southern California. Although we grew up around the large town/small city of Athens, our paths took us in opposite directions – hers led westward into bright lights and urban sprawl, while mine headed south and east to more rural landscapes. When I mentioned in passing the “perks of living in the boonies,” she admitted being stumped on what those could be. Although she managed to come up with a few — such as being able to play the stereo as loud as one likes — they paled against ordering takeout at will or reliable and fast internet.
The following day, I had mused on the subject, waxing exceptionally poetic as I waited for birds to call in the chill pre-dawn air:
As I write (the majority of) this essay, the dawn’s light barely illuminates the page, which is further obscured by the wisps of my breath in the chill of mid November. Overhead the larger drops of the Leonid meteor shower still burn despite the morning glow. I was out before dawn to survey quail, but while I’m no morning person and have lacked a full night’s rest for a considerable number of days, this AM I don’t begrudge the sleep.
You bring up some fair points about life beyond the concrete Pale, and I’m favorably impressed that you spared considerably more than a passing thought in trying to understand why someone with a choice would live where the blacktop ends. I’ve been mulling over the question, and my sleep-deprived brain has come up with this reply.
My house is about 11 miles from town (population 6000). The city of Augusta is a good 45 minutes away (and that’s burning up the highway, not creeping through traffic). The college town of Statesboro is an hour distant (The question of when distance became measured in units of time I’ll leave for another day). This means that seeing a show at the multiplex is a fair trip in itself – and indie films are out of the question. The closest bookstore is Amazon.com. No specialty coffees can be had in this county, at least nothing more exotic than what BiLo carries. In town, sit-down meal options consist of a diner, Mexican, country buffet, a sandwich shop, two Chinese restaurants and several BBQ joints. McDonalds is here but BK hasn’t made it yet. The farm equipment dealers outnumber auto lots. And you already know the trials of TV and internet access. So by the City Mouse standard – the measure of manufactured conveniences – this haystack just doesn’t cut it.
Luckily, there are other measures and other standards. You have thought of a few, though it is clear they pale by comparison to life on one pole of the LA-NYC-DC axis. Still, I’ll list just a few of the conveniences and opportunities:
–Having neighbors close enough to summon in an emergency, but otherwise out of sight and out of mind.
–Letting your dogs bark themselves hoarse without being threatened with legal action (I speak from personal experience).
–Practicing katas in the yard with a real katana without being reported and arrested. For that matter, walking around in public places with a knife on my hip and not being reported or arrested.
–Being able to step outside at night and seeing more than the two dozen stars which are bright enough to punch through the haze of pollution and city lights.
–Hearing a car pull up and knowing they’re here to see you, because there’s nobody else around.
–Maintaining the yard at whatever level you want, not whatever the anal neighbors want.
–Don’t underestimate the mental health value of being able to blare the stereo while you’re working outside.
–Exchanging waves with strangers on the road.
–Driving above speed limit most anywhere because traffic is so light.
–Being able to cook over a hickory fire in the front yard.
–Having staring contests with a coyote, surprising a fox, stopping so wild turkeys can cross the road, and shooing spotted fawns out from under your truck.
–Hearing quail whistling to the north, barred owls hollering to the south, coyotes howling to the west, and wood duck wings whisper overhead.
–Anticipating what kinds of critters you’ll see on the way to work, whether deer or bobcats or hunting raptors, or maybe even otters.
–Having people react with interest rather than revulsion when you collect your steaks the old fashioned way.
–Having a job where I can feel the wind on my face outside almost as much as I spend basking in the glow of computer screens.
I know that there are many other ways of viewing the world. While it is important to me that city folks have some understanding of the value of a rural life, by no means do I advocate they take it up. The last thing I want is for urbanites to get a hankering for elbow room! As crammed together as they are, by spreading out they’d take up the whole country. Already my heart sinks every time I visit my old stomping grounds, seeing fields once mantled in wheat now sprouting crops of three bedroom houses. The Atlanta sprawl has metastasized and now Athens is growing beyond its charm.
I’ll end this reflection with a quote from Leopold:
“There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot. Like wind and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher ‘standard of living’ is worth the cost in things natural, wild, and free. For those of us in the minority, the opportunity to see geese is more important than television, and the chance to find a pasque-flower is a right as inalienable as free speech.
”These wild things, I admit, had little human value until mechanization assured us of a good breakfast, and until science disclosed the drama of where they come from and how they live. The whole conflict thus boils down to a question of degree. We of the minority see a law of diminishing returns in progress; our opponents do not.”
Here then is a partial answer to your honest inquiry. I think it is safe to say that we both are more or less where we belong; were our locations reversed, you would go nuts with sensory and cultural deprivation, and my soul would wither.
Still, you’re welcome to visit anytime :-).