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.

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36 comments on “Country and City

  1. Laurie Graves says:

    Nice post! And what an unnecessary divide to pit those living in the city against those living in the country. I, too, prefer the rural life, but I certainly understand the appeal of cities, with their vibrant art scene and wonderful diversity. (After this election, I certainly understand that not all people celebrate diversity the way I do.) If I had money, I would probably spend part of the year in the city, going to plays and art museums, and part of the time in the country.

    Liked by 1 person

    • bobraxton says:

      really enjoying my genealogy / DNA exploration – wondering whether we may be cousins: Grey, Graves, Groves, Graehm, Graham – lots of variations.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      I prefer my city time in very small doses. 🙂
      Having said that, I’ve been in some urban communities that were very pleasant and enjoyable. But they also tend to be very expensive places to live.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Laurie Graves says:

        Oh, they sure are! My daughter lives in Brooklyn in a small but nice apartment, about an hour where she works in Manhattan.

        Like

  2. Very thought provoking post, Bill.
    I cannot imagine living in town anymore. My mother thought I had a screw loose when I moved to the country. To her, it was a terrifying place to live–far from the protection of the police and fire departments. To me, it was safety and sanctuary from people.
    That said, however, when I get REALLY old and deaf, I’d like to move to town and experience GOOD internet. Really fast!! Oh, that would be great. But I’d have to be deaf first, so I wouldn’t be aware of traffic and noise and people.
    (That sounds a LOT more anti social than I intended, but I am a loner that loves people–from a distance. It’s what makes living in this time period so great for me. I can have ‘conversations” when I FEEL like it……….all thanks to the internet!)
    Have a great weekend

    Liked by 2 people

    • Bill says:

      The only thing I miss about city living is high speed internet. I dream of the day us country folks have it too. 🙂

      And I’m with you when it comes to being social on the internet. Here I don’t have any trouble striking up a conversation with a stranger. That’s not so easy for me in the real world. The internet is great for us introverts isn’t it?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Joanna says:

    I love the world of academia and the chance of a good debate, but I’m heading home tomorrow to our rural sticks for some quiet time – that too will be good

    Liked by 1 person

    • Joanna says:

      I forgot to say too, that I think the young should leave their sheltered rural areas to experience different ways of life, even if it is only for a short time. I guess there will be some who maybe would not want to, but I find that meeting others from different cultures, ways of life is enriching and something to take back and savour in the rural areas

      Liked by 2 people

    • Bill says:

      We’re getting ready to settle into our Friday night routine here: homemade pizza followed by some quiet time with books and wine. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. avwalters says:

    Like you, I started out rural, did an extended stint in the city and returned to rural. But in the city, I lived a pretty sustainable and countrified existence. I got to know everyone on our block–organized street tree planting and a neighborhood alert program. I “farmed” my little urban lot–teasing most of my produce from its heavy clay soils. And I shared with neighbors and friends. That’s the essence of community to me. One can live more sustainably in the city; it’s a choice. And you can work to make it cleaner and better for everyone–just as those of us in rural communities must do…everyday.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      I think I’d do much better in the city now. I didn’t do any of those things. Once, near the end of our city lives, when I was yearning to move back home, Cherie asked me why I didn’t just plant a garden in our backyard. We had plenty of room. But I never did it. Not even one tomato plant.

      Liked by 1 person

      • avwalters says:

        Sometimes, the call of home is so strong that we fail to do the things we can to make our todays better–half measures are not enough. But you’ve survived, and thrived the wrenching way of it–mistakes and triumphs and all.

        Like

  5. How blessed I feel to have grown up knowing country, city and village. And that I still enjoy all three today.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. bobraxton says:

    For my paternal, I doubt that any higher than 6th grade was an option (Robert my grandfather was born 1887, January); my maternal, younger – b. 1901 my grandmother was raised single-parent (her father George Newton Stafford) in Florida where she went all the way through high school. She returned to NC farm to marry my grandfather, one year her junior (born 1902). She was the more educated. I was their first grandchild and grandson. High school both my parents graduated, 11 grades (high school was 8-11). She had not yet turned 15 when she graduated in 1938, married 1942, had children 1944 (me) to 1960, her eighth. She died in 2015 age 91 (May, her birthday would have been September). 1966 college graduation, my wife-to-be and I went from Winston-Salem where we lived until 1975, then another nine years in New Jersey (Essex, the Morris County) and for the current 1/3 century in a million population (same as Essex county NJ) Fairfax suburb of the quiet village of Washington, D.C.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      Fairfax is now the wealthiest county in the US thanks to its proximity to that little village.
      A few days ago I started my two week free trial on Ancestry.com. I’m amazed at how the DNA tests can accurately connect a person with very distant cousins. When I check the trees of many of the people they’ve identified as my cousins, I find that our common ancestor was 6 or 7 generations ago. Just amazing that this kind of technology is now available so cheaply and to anyone. I haven’t had any great surprises, but I did discover that I’m kin to a family in the community that I hadn’t know I was connected to. Dig deeply enough and we’re all related, especially so in little rural communities like mine.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. NebraskaDave says:

    Bill, another thought provoking post. My life has been dotted with both country and city living. The city living started mostly when I went off to college and became swept away into the technological movement. My Dad quit school at the 8th grade only because his mother was a school teacher and made him go that long. He became a self learned truck mechanic; started his own business; and was quite successful at it for almost 30 years. Naturally that DNA caused me to want the same but with technology. I worked for over 40 years repairing the physical parts of malfunctioning telecommunication equipment. I can’t say that I ever really felt uncomfortable or hated city living but I always yearned to be living in the country. That was a yearning that never came to be. I don’t feel bad that it didn’t happen. I’ve shared before that the blend of city and urban farming in the city has satisfied that desire to be in the country. My city on the west bank of the Missouri river continues to grow westward and over the years that I’ve lived here (40) the urban sprawl has increased surprisingly fast. So, I guess the bottom line for me is that I’m quite happy with my little garden plot within the city living.

    Have a great White Flint Farm day.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      If I ever found myself living in a city again I’d try to do what you are doing. I had no concept of urban gardening back in those days. You’re a great and impressive example of what is possible inside a city.

      It wasn’t that long ago that a person could earn a decent living and support a family by working with his hands and without the necessity of even a high school education. Nowadays that’s nearly impossible. As robotics increasingly eliminate the need for any manual labor, I worry about what will happen to the traditional “working man.”

      Like

  8. I followed a similar path, Bill, even down to having been called ‘brain’ in high school. I grew up in a rural area, went a way to Berkeley, spent years in an urban area, and have now returned to my ‘roots.’ One big advantage the two of us had, we could both get through college without being strangled with debt for the next umpteen years. –Curt

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      Thanks for sharing that. Makes me smile. I have a friend who has a bumper sticker on his truck that says, “As a matter of fact, I WAS born in a born.”

      Like

  9. ladyfi says:

    I too prefer living away from cities!

    Like

  10. I have lived in the city all my life. A smallish city that continues to grow. There are some advantages to living here but I can see many more advantages to living country life. I bet it is quiet there and you can see the stars better than I. How wonderful ! Nice post.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      I like the quiet and privacy. Some people would be bothered by it though. It all depends upon the person, it seems to me.

      As for the stars, you’re right. We get a glorious display every clear night. Some people go their whole lives without ever seeing what they really look like.

      Like

  11. I think Bill you are right there will always be a mixture of those who embrace rural life and those who prefer their city lives with all of the conveniences .. It would not do for us all to be the same..
    I enjoy my ‘middle of the road’ life with my love of country walks, and my growing our own veggie plot.. But I also enjoy window shopping and going for a meal out and to the cinema now and again..

    great post and thoughts Sue

    Like

    • Bill says:

      I think you’re right Sue. I remember long ago when I first visited a friend who had moved to San Francisco. He lived in an urban community there (rather than a suburb, with which I was more familiar). Everything he needed or wanted was within walking distance. He didn’t even need a car and he could walk to work. Even a country boy like me was impressed. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • 🙂 Yes we are within walking distance 5 minutes from our allotments. 10 mins from open countryside and if push came to shove without a car.. We could walk the 20 mins to local shops.. xx 🙂

        Like

  12. I think you can definitely fantasise about rural life. It has its rewards but it isn’t easy. The main thing that hits me sometimes is the alone-ness – the fact that there IS no ‘next door neighbour’ to speak of.

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    • Bill says:

      Yeah me too. I don’t mind being alone, but sometimes it would be nice to have a conversation during the day. The goats aren’t interested in what I have to say.

      Like

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