Country and City

During my pre-breakfast reading I read this: “…as the country branches out into one tentacle clotted cement suburb, it’s harder and harder to run away from the octopus. Rural life will become something from the past, like clean air.” The author went on to say that he intends to “run to the hills and stay true to myself….I want to get far enough away from the city that I can’t see the flames anymore.”

His words have been rattling around  in my brain all morning.

I suppose I share some, but not all, of his sentiments. I worry about the continued depopulation of the countryside and about suburban sprawl. I do not, however, expect cities to go up in flames, nor do I believe “the city is no place for a person to do some thinking” (as he says elsewhere).

I prefer country living. I felt crowded and stifled in the city. But many people thrive in urban environments, and would feel isolated and stifled out here in the “sticks.” Just as city life isn’t for everyone, neither is rural life. I’m going to continue to be an advocate for sustainable rural life, even while agreeing that it is obviously possible to live happily and sustainably in a city.

I can certainly understand the appeal of the city. As much as I loved this place as a child, my intellectual curiosity set me apart and left me feeling weird. Like nearly all of the boys I grew up with, I loved hunting, football and Nascar. But I loved literature, science, history and math too. I hid a lot of my interests, often studying them secretly. I remember writing a poem once (secretly of course) about my yearning to be in a place I wouldn’t be teased or called “Brain” (an unwelcome nickname back then). The country wasn’t always the perfect place for a boy like me.

When I arrived at my university in 1978 I quickly discovered that I was well behind most of my classmates academically. My high school didn’t offer advanced classes. I had a lot of catching up to do. But I was also thrilled to be able to study political science, history and international relations. I learned to hide my accent. I studied hard and made good grades. I was finally in my element. Or so I thought. Twenty five years later I ditched the city life I’d made for myself and came back home.

I was lucky to come of age when social mobility was possible. I didn’t have any money and my parents couldn’t afford to pay for my education, but with scholarships and part time jobs I was able to make it through.

It wasn’t always like that. Six years ago today my maternal grandfather passed away, at age 89. He quit school after the second grade, becoming essentially the head of household as a young boy when his elderly father went blind. He saved the family farm during the Great Depression. Eventually he moved onto a farm of his own, raised a fine family and taught three generations the value of integrity and hard work. But going off to college was never an option for him.

He did have a chance to sample life off the farm, however. Once the debts were paid and his mother’s farm was safe, he got a job at the cotton mill in town. There he met my grandmother and despite her being much more highly educated than him (she had been through the 5th grade), they fell in love and got married. But eventually they quit their mill jobs and returned to farming, where he felt more comfortable and where his skills and passions were best suited.

I don’t know if rural life is destined to become “something of the past.” I doubt it. Regardless, for now it feels right to me. And it’s a blessing to be able to live in a time when rural life and intellectual pursuits aren’t mutually exclusive.

Just some rambling thoughts today at lunchtime.