every once in a while, i come across an article or throwaway line about what dumb yokels country folk are. these get right the hell up my nose, because they’re inevitably couched in this smug, hipster philosophy that we just don’t know any better. like, it can never be a conscious choice to live out in the sticks. back-to-the-landers are usually ignored for the stereotype hick who was born and raised down on the farm and never aspired to anything more. we just don’t know about all the wonderful perks of city life, the midnight trips to the pharmacy, the museums and nightlife, the marvelous eateries. what’s never considered is the fact that we do know… and just don’t care.
true fact: i have dial-up internet at home and not out of some thrifty romanticism. we just can’t get anything else where i live. cell phone service is spotty at best. if i need to report a power outage (several times per year and sometimes for several days running), i have to stroll out into a pasture or out past the property line where i can get enough signal to make a phone call. if i’m lucky, there might be enough juice inside the house to send a text, if i stand in the northeastern-most corner of the house with the phone up over my head.
i own more tools, machines, and gear for staying warm, making light, and tending animals than i do toys. we have no cable, a seven-year old computer, and various personal electronic devices (a kindle, a smartphone, some ipods). there’s no t.v., but we have a radio (with an actual dial and a finicky antenna). we own one vehicle for a family of four and it’s got four-wheel drive and decent ground clearance. we heat with a woodstove.
i spend sundays filling water tanks and mucking out the chicken coop after a week of working a full-time job, driving kids to every imaginable activity, and fighting a losing battle with the housework. you have to drive everywhere from here, because there are no other options. even a bicycle is out unless you’re ferociously fit. at just about two thousand feet above sea level, there are hills to climb in every direction.
i have dogs because i really like dogs, but mostly because we’re surrounded by animals that want to eat my goats, my chickens, my garden, and probably me as well. a good, big dog functions as an early warning system and wildlife/badguy deterrent of the first order. (they’re also a great floor cleaning system when you’ve got children.)
my mailbox is a quarter mile from my house, as is my nearest neighbor. the next nearest neighbor after that is another quarter mile away. when i identify someone as “my neighbor”, that means that the person lives within five miles of me, trufax.
living out here is hard work, you guys. urban, suburban, and even townies just don’t get what a struggle it is to get all your ducks in a row when you have to manually put each duck there.
last weekend, my horses got out three times. i was out three times (once at midnight) rebuilding fences for an hour at a whack. on one occasion, i had to pull about 150 feet of fencing, including insulators and a gate handle, out of a nearby apple tree. on the third occasion, the gate piece disappeared altogether. i hope to find it by next april, may at the latest.
on sunday, i had to build a funeral pyre for a wyandotte hen who gave up the ghost neatly after the ground was pretty much inaccessible with ice and snow. i normally bury ’em as deep as i can in our cold, rocky clay ground and put a rock over the spot so nothing digs them back up once i’ve gone. two or three feet down is about as deep as i can dig, even in fine weather. once winter hits, i’ve either got to take corpses to my vet for cremation or dispose of them myself. what is nicely called “sky burial” (leaving the corpse out to be disposed of by scavengers and decomposition) would only bring vermin in (and probably my dogs would find the whole exercise too interesting), so winter deaths get the viking funeral treatment. i take paper grain bags and wooden pallets out to an established burn pile and build a fire big enough to completely immolate the poor little body. then i find something else to do while it burns, as i don’t generally like to smell my friends cremating. this sunday, of course, i first had to drag the grain bags and body about 500 feet from the chicken coop, through snow that was just over knee high with a nasty crust about a third of the way down. and i had to make that trip twice. then i had to pry the frozen pallets up from the ground and drag them 50 feet from where they’re stored to the fire pit. i’m reasonably fit for a fat-ish middle-aged woman, but i was completely done in by this process. all to dispose of one chicken.
i can hear the hipster grumblings already. why do i do this? clearly, i’m not smart enough not to! why the mud? why the isolation? why the mind numbing boredom?
part of it is quality of life and that’s directly related to introversion. i am an introvert. i find human interaction stressful and tiring. the idea of urban living makes me want to sleep for eleven thousand years. while rural life is tiring physically, urban (and suburban) life is tiring mentally and i’d rather be sore and filthy at the end of the day than curled up in the fetal position. i hate the very sounds, smells, and sight of humanity, in a totally non-misanthropic way. i like people! i just don’t like people.
more to the point, living here makes me feel completely alive. i thrive on every miserable, aching minute of it, every muddy rut, every ass-deep snow drift, every wildlife encounter, every tree that blows down in every windstorm. it’s a glorious way to live: touching the soil, ricocheting off the rhythms of the seasons. i live here for every mushroom, every rainbow, every partridge, every toad, every homegrown carrot, every black bear. i love the crooked, twisted, blasted trees and the tall, straight, flourishing ones, too. i love the ominous quiet of moonlit january nights and the cacophony of peepers in april. for every mile of fence i put up in 95 degree weather with 90% humidity, there’s a cold, frosty drink and a long sit under a tree with a good book or just a pair of binoculars, the better to watch the songbirds.