I live, as most of you know by now, in what some would consider the boonies. There are places far more rural than our little town, of course – we’re only about 10 minutes from a decent grocery store, a couple of gas stations, a post office, schools, and even a nice new fitness center. Decent-sized cities are about 15 minutes away, and the metropolis of Washington D.C. is less than two hours away.
Still, by many standards, we live in the middle of nowhere. You have to drive down almost a quarter mile of gravel lane to get to our house. We have three acres of land and a lovely view. Cows occasionally graze on the other side of the fence down the hill. Sometimes getting to town takes longer because you get stuck behind a tractor or other farm implement.
There were many reasons we chose to move where we did – cheaper home prices, good schools, the idea that our children could grow up playing outside rather than stuck behind fences and locked into sterile plastic playgrounds. And there are many more reasons we discovered after we moved here. People are friendlier. They wave, even to strangers, and offer assistance when needed, without being asked or expecting recompense. Raising chickens, goats, or horses isn’t unusual, nor is growing your own vegetable garden or hanging your laundry to dry on a line outside.
Wanting to breathe clean air, be outdoors, and live a life with at least a modicum of self-sufficiency isn’t unusual out here. Knowing your neighbors’ names – and the names of their children and dogs – is expected. Sure, we’ve got our share of loonies, jerks, and McMansion-dwellers, but they’re balanced by the real people who share our town.
As I write this, I’m on a plane, cruising at 35,000 feet somewhere probably over Maryland, on a flight from JFK airport in New York City to visit my mother in Seattle. As we climbed over the streets and houses of Queens, and the view slowly expanded to include the panorama of New York City, I was struck by the sheer enormity of it. An endless grid of streets, houses, and buildings, stretching literally as far as the eye could see, broken only by the occasional glimmer of water. Houses packed in on every available scrap of land, practically right on top of each other, in anonymous neighborhoods that, at least from this height, all look the same.
I’ve always been somewhat fascinated by New York City, but I’ve not really spent any time there. A few brief visits, passing through on my way to other places, but never a real in-depth stay. I’d love to go at some point and spend some real time exploring the boroughs – see the Statue of Liberty as more than a speck in the harbor, and Manhattan as more than a lego-sized diorama. But I am absolutely positive that I couldn’t live there. It’s just mind-boggling to me, the idea of being so far from nature, of having to travel hours and hours just to find some fresh air and trees that aren’t fenced into a park, of having so many people all around you, all the time. I can’t imagine living in that grid of streets, numbers and letters and blocks of houses and apartment buildings.
I’d be the last person to knock on someone else’s choice of living arrangements, of course. Some people love the hustle and bustle of the city, the liveliness of it and the fact that you can hear a dozen languages spoken in as many steps down the sidewalk, sample a variety of foods and cultures we hardly ever see in our tiny town, and find it all at all hours of the day or night. I can certainly see the appeal.
But it’s not for me. Give me my sunset views, my fresh air and laundry on the line, the sound of the neighbor’s chickens complaining up the hill. Give me woods to walk in with the dog, and a yard for my child to play in. If we want to see the world, we can see the world – I want my children to grow up curious and tolerant of cultural differences, ready to experience all that the world has to offer. But then I want them to be able to come back, watch the sun set over the western hills, and take a deep breath of home.