nlike some other bloggers, I didn't move to the country to get away from the crime and the pollution. I was not interested in quiet walks through the gentle dappled shade of a forest, or the peaceful tranquility of birds tweeting and chirping in the morning, or the gentle mooing of cows in the distance wafting, along with the faint odor of cow manure, on the lazy summer afternoon breeze. I didn't care about grooving with the wild animals. My employer moved the company out here. My choice was move to the country or find a new job.
So I guess that makes me uniquely qualified to give an unbiased opinion of the advantages and disadvantages of moving from the suburbs to the country.
It may be too late for me. But maybe this page will save some other poor soul from moving out to the country and suffering the same fate. If I can save one person from the unending nightmare that is country living, it will be worth it.
You might think that by moving to the country you can escape the traffic. Wrong. In many small towns there are huge traffic jams, even though there may be only a few thousand cars. That's because out in the country, they're too cheap, or too poor, to put in new roads. The roads they do have are full of tire-devouring potholes. In the country, the little doughnut that came with your car won't do. In a place where it can take a week to get a replacement tire shipped to your store, you must have at least one real spare tire.
To save money, they also make the roads very narrow. On my road, if a car is driving toward you in the opposite direction, you've got a problem. If you go off the road, you're in the ditch and you need a tow truck to get out.
Road maintenance is pretty sparse. There's one area near my house where water pours out onto the road continuously. When it freezes, cars slide off into the ditch there all the time. A police car will sit there all day with its lights flashing to warn people. But the County can't come up with the $1000 it would take to fix the problem.
In the country there is no taxi, bus, or subway service. Getting a tow truck, especially on the weekend, is a 50-50 proposition. So if your car breaks down, you may be in for a long walk. Since there are also no sidewalks, this means walking on the road and jumping off into the briars whenever a car passes to avoid being run over. This is even more fun when it's raining.
Of course, there is a good reason why they don't put in any roads out in the country. If they did, people would just use them once, and we'd never see them again.
I haven't had any run-ins with cows or horses yet. But a dog is useful in the country: if you fall into a well, you can send it running back to the farmhouse to get help. However, if you walk any distance in the country, you also have a good chance of being bitten by one. Everyone out in the country has a dog. And we're not talking Welsh Corgis. They are huge, and they bark, often at each other, for hours at a time. That's because, being out in the country, they're bored out of their minds. At night, you can hear howling, although I'm not sure whether it's dogs or the people who own them.
In the country, there are no laws forcing people to keep dogs tied up. Dogs, lovable as they may be to their owners, aren't particularly bright, and they will risk getting puréed by a truck just for a chance to gnaw on your flesh. And they will run throughout the neighborhood barking hysterically at anything that moves. Where's the BATF when you need them?
The social interactions in the country are quite different from those in the city. For example, in grocery stores, you will find people saying "Excuse me" when their shopping cart gets in your way. Where I come from, what that really means is, "Get out of my way, a$$hole!". It's taken me two years to become convinced that, in the country, sometimes "Excuse me" really does mean "Excuse me."
You will also find checkout persons who call everyone "Hun." There hasn't been this many people calling each other "Hun" since Attila's reunion picnic in 447 A.D.
People out in the country are generally also too polite to argue about politics. One Daily Telegraph columnist wrote an article describing her experiences after moving from London to Berkshire, which is what passes for the countryside in England. Sadly, she took her city prejudice with her, and so of course she found "racism" everywhere. In the article she relates a story where a dinner guest warned the table that she was Jewish, to which her friend said, "Surely not, you don't have a very big nose!" So she accused the person of racism and threw them out of her house.
Just the sort of thing you would do if you wanted to convince your neighbors that you were a humorless idiot.
This type of intolerance won't make you very popular in the country. Try to take the anthropological approach: What values and beliefs do they have out there? You will find people tend to be more independent-minded and less respectful of convention than the people in the burbs or the city. If you move to the country, you will need to respect that. You won't find symphony orchestras, bike paths, yoga instructors, or homeowner associations there. Do the natives a favor and don't create them, or you will destroy the sense of freedom and the unrefined beauty you moved there to appreciate.
If any of your possessions, such as your house, are made of wood, it will be a constant battle to keep it intact. Woodpeckers and bugs will attack your house. Animals will gnaw through anything wood or cardboard and take up residence. These animals are not Walt Disney characters like you see in the cartoons. Often there's only one real way to get them out of your house, and that is to kill them. My next country house will be a one-story cinder block compound. Maybe with a moat.
I say one-story, because if your roof leaks in the country, you are the one who has to fix it. Trying to find a competent contractor in the country is generally a waste of time (think Green Acres). If you're not willing to learn how to fix things, or if the idea of walking around on the roof with a caulk gun makes you nervous, I recommend staying in the city.
In practice, this means I have to spend most of my time fixing things myself, and there is very little free time to write Web pages. Maybe this is a good thing.
It's obviously a little safer to raise kids in the country, where the only drugs are illegal alcohol and, in some places, methamphetamine. But don't think you'll be able to stop them from having sex. People on farms, especially, seem to know a lot about the sexual predilections of their animals. But if your kids learn it that way, they might not learn all of the subtle nuances of human courtship behavior.
Kids in the country tend to have fewer cases of asthma and more cases of diseases like equine encephalitis and hoof-and-mouth disease than in the city. If you have deer, there's also Lyme disease, which can permanently affect your brain. And the schools are generally worse than in suburbia. Rabies and distemper from raccoons are big threats. If your dog (or one of your kids) bites a sick raccoon, or vice versa, you will have a problem.
Then there are the snakes. You can tell whether someone's a city slicker. When they're walking through the woods, they're the ones looking up at the trees instead of the ground where a six-foot snake might be getting ready to bite them. People don't wear leather boots in west Texas to keep their feet warm.
It's very difficult to get good medical care out in the country. That's not really a problem, because after a couple years there you don't really want to live anyway.
It's quiet out in the country. Too quiet. Then it gets dark, and the wild animals start making weird screaming sounds, as if one of them was walking along and another one suddenly bit a huge chunk out of him. Deer aren't the innocent, shy creatures we're led to believe either. They make incredibly loud snorting noises. If a deer thinks you're a threat, it will attack you with its hooves. A big deer can kill you.
Houses are far enough apart that you can play the piano without people hearing your mistakes and pounding on the wall to remind you that that last note should have been a B-flat. It's tough to find a piano tuner, though, and you can forget about finding a piano repair technician. If your piano breaks, you have to fix it yourself, like everything else. Guess that's why they all play the banjo and the saw out here instead.
There are no police sirens out here. In fact, you can often drive for a mile or more without seeing a police car. I bought two sound generators and run them 24/7. Otherwise I'd never get to sleep. I might even go crazy.
Okay, I was lying about it being quiet. Sometimes it's really noisy out in the country. You might not notice if you're from the city, but in the country there are ATVs, motorcycles, and pick-up trucks everywhere, none of which have functioning mufflers, so they are audible for miles away. Unlike in the city, they don't necessarily drive them on the roads, which means you can sometimes find deer lying dead with tire tracks on them in the middle of the forest. That's because most forests, at least in the eastern U.S., are crisscrossed with unpaved fire prevention roads.
Because people are farther apart, ordinary conversations are carried out at yelling volume. If there are other houses around, you'll discover that there are so many screaming kids there it sometimes feels like you're on an airplane.
Many years ago, the phones in the country were all on "party lines," which meant that your neighbors could listen in on all your phone conversations. Nowadays, they all use cell phones. But evidently, in the country it's necessary to go outside and talk very, very loudly in order to get a good signal. So it has exactly the same effect as a party line. You will learn more than you wanted to know about who just got out of prison, who has hoof-and-mouth disease, and what b*tch stole what other b*tch's boyfriend.
Squirrels, chipmunks, turkeys, eagles, deer, raccoons, ground hogs, and snakes. Usually you only see them when they want something of yours, like your bushes or your garbage. Or when one of them gets rabies and starts walking across your back yard, verrrrrry slowly. Using a firearm on the poor creature would be doing it a favor. Unfortunately, your children will hate you for it.
Deer, I am convinced, lie in wait on the side of the road so they can jump out in front of your car. Why? Like everyone else in the country, they are bored out of their skulls and they don't want to live any more.
In the burbs, animals have an attitude. Take deer. If you try to chase them away, deer will just look at you as if to say, "Yeah, I'm eating your bushes. What chew gonna do abwat it?" They know darn well you're not going to shoot them. In the country, having to dodge Jeeps, SUVs, and shotgun pellets all day takes care of that deer tude pretty fast.
In the spring, every vertical surface, including the walls of your house, every tree and every telephone pole, will be covered with caterpillars. They will strip the leaves off your trees. There are also fireflies, ticks and mosquitoes. If you have a deck, you have to stain and seal it every couple of years, or you will soon discover even more disgusting kinds of bugs.
It turns out that trees tip over and die all the time. Especially when it snows. Who knew?
The snow also breaks the tops of the trees off, and it's almost impossible to reach them. So you have a big dead branch 150 feet up, waiting to clobber somebody the minute they walk under it. My neighbors say, you've got insurance, right, so don't worry about it. But I would feel embarrassed if someone got killed by one of my trees.
Cutting down trees is harder than it looks. No wonder those loggers on TV are always cussing and swearing. If your property isn't flat, it's much worse. If you don't have a tractor, you'll have to drag a dead tree uphill by yourself. Those things are heavy. Make sure your life insurance is paid up before you start.
In the country, you can take walks in the woods ... as long as you know exactly whose property you're on. Generally, if it belongs to a big company, it's relatively safe, as long as it's nowhere close to hunting season. But if you stumble onto someone else's land, you will discover that almost everyone in the country has a dog that's allowed to run loose, and everyone has a shotgun. Maybe they don't spend all day sitting in a rocking chair on their front porch staring at their pickup truck, with a shotgun across their lap and a dog sleeping at their feet, but it sure seems like it.
And the firearms in the country aren't like the little popguns you hear all the time in the city. A high powered rifle makes a sound that reverberates for at least 5 seconds. You can't mistake a .30-06 for a car backfiring. Around the fourth of July, it sounds like the Battle of the Bulge in the country for about a week. They're really patriotic out here.
You could tell that the previous owner of my house was a typical country person, because there were hundreds of empty brass bullet cases and plastic shotgun shell casings, or whatever they are called, all over the yard. You might think they're all expert shots, but evidently not: one day I walked down my driveway carrying a crowbar. The neighbors must have thought their worst nightmare had returned, because I suddenly could hear people across the street saying, "Quick! Get into the house!"
Contrary to what you might have heard, there's lots of property crime out there. No longer is the country a low-crime area where you can leave your doors unlocked. First thing I had to do was fabricate new strike plates out of 1/4 inch steel, replace all the door locks, add deadbolts, Lexan, and window bars, and reinforce the steel door frames. Otherwise, it would be easy for someone to get in with just a swift kick on the door or a rock through a window. Not that I have much worth stealing. My biggest TV is a 15-inch CRT type made in 1996. (They didn't even bother to take it.) I only keep small quantities of Tide on hand. But wherever there are people whose sense of entitlement exceeds their financial means, there will be crime.
Along with crime, there's a surprising amount of class resentment out in the country these days. Back in the burbs, everyone is middle class. It was a shock to discover that in the country, I was considered "rich" and therefore fair game for being cheated and stolen from. Not much different from moving to the inner city, I guess, except without the racial overtones.
One thing I didn't think about before I moved here is rocks. There are a lot of them. One day I woke up to find a huge boulder that had rolled down the hill, onto my property, and halfway across my back yard. It was then that I understood why everyone else either had a tractor or a pickup truck.
It seems that many people in the city have never seen rocks. They will drive by your house very slowly, saying things like, "Oh, look at all the rocks!"
When something is not needed, a country person will just dump it somewhere on the property where it can't be seen from the house. A 600 pound cast-iron bathtub. A rusty firearm. A huge slab of concrete, weighing at least 3000 pounds. The local contractors wouldn't touch it. The only way to get rid of it was to prop it up, dig a hole under it, and bury it.
Cinder blocks are, of course, very useful for putting your refrigerator on. You will know you're a true country person when you see a cinder block and immediately think how nice it would look in your front yard with a kitchen appliance sitting on top of it.
I was amazed to discover that in the country, you can walk around your back yard (even at night!) without people calling the cops on you. And there are always two or three nights a year when it's clear and you can see the stars. For those of you who live in the city, stars are twinkly little white dots up in the sky. Turns out there are actually thousands of them. Where I used to live, it was rare to see more than five or six. In the country, you can make out the constellations. In some places, you can even see the Milky Way.
Four wheel drive
You need it. Don't move to the country without it. In my opinion, you should also have at least two vehicles. If the battery in your only car goes dead, in the middle of winter, and it's ten miles to town, you're not going anywhere for awhile.
I have not yet fully recovered from the shock of seeing entire walls, ceilings, and bathrooms paved with garish orange pine wood paneling. It's considered a luxury out there, and contractors look at you like you're crazy if you ask them to rip it out.
Birds, and the little tweeting sounds they make (yes, they're really called tweety-birds out here), are just lovable, as long as they aren't bashing themselves against your windows at 6:00 in the morning, leaving gallons of white goo over everything, or drilling two-inch holes in your wood siding. Some areas also have eagles. Where I live we have buzzards, which look a bit like eagles, if you squint, except that they don't make any noise. Buzzards are clumsy and occasionally drop small dead animals, like mice and frogs, onto your driveway or your deck. But these will mysteriously disappear in a couple days. Yes, life is tough for small animals in the country.
Art galleries, Concerts, and Fine Restaurants
See trees, coyotes, and Burger King, in that order.
Mentioning Beverly Hillbillies, saying "Wellllll Doggies!" or using the expression "cement pond" or "critters" while you're out in the country will put you on the receiving end of some of the coldest expressions you will ever see. That TV show is not very popular out here.
One of the greatest things to come out of the Cold War was the Internet. Without Communism, we'd have no Internet. You might say that 100,000,000 people died to give us the Internet.
How did our ancestors live without it? I don't know. In the movie 1,000,000 B.C., which documents the early prehistory of our ancestors, there's no evidence of iPads or wireless modems. Racquel Welch never once uses a Web browser in the entire movie. Well, times have changed. You need Internet these days out in the country, unless you're content to buy everything at the local store. There are lots of hardware stores around. You can get all the cinder blocks you want. But if you want to buy a book or, say, an optical grating ... you need the Internet.
Unfortunately, in the country it's tough to get Internet. Your best option is two-way satellite. The old one-way method, where you'd receive data through the dish and send commands through your phone line, is not really practical. With two-way, your page requests are transmitted (at a very low bitrate) through a 2-foot dish to a satellite in geostationary orbit. There's a law that forbids you from setting this up yourself, or even adjusting your dish, for fear that you'd just duct tape it to a cinder block and create interference. It's also expensive, and it stops working when it snows or rains. You get "fapped" or penalized if you download too much. This means they deliberately slow your speed to 38 kbps for 24 hours or so. So if you move to the country, you can forget about watching movies over the Internet.
Think carefully before moving to the country. With housing prices two to three times higher in the city, even if you decide you hate it, it might be too expensive to get back. On the other hand, when the zombies attack, your dogs, your pickup truck, and your collection of shotguns will give you a fighting chance.
Update: Animal Sounds
After a couple of years in the country, you realize those animal sounds that seemed so peaceful in the beginning are actually life-and-death screams. What sounded like gentle tweeting may actually be squirrels and chipmunks screaming in terror as a cat approaches. Birds are not really tweeting, either: they're screaming in pain after they whacked into a tree, or in horror as they watch helplessly as their babies get eaten alive by a snake. Crows scream in rage as they get attacked by vultures or by other crows.
Even the tut-tuttings of robins are not a greeting. They are dire warnings to other robins that a dangerous predator—a human—is around. Yes, even robins hate us. They are racists. If they could, robins would rape each and every one of us.
Those animals that can't make noises, such as bugs, are screaming silently, as they are massacred and their bodies mercilessly ripped apart by other bugs. And, after you learn to recognize the sounds made by different calibers of firearms as stray bullets slam into the side of your house or into the ground outside, you discover that even the humans are not so peaceful after all. Give me the peace and quiet of the city any day.