Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Country Mouse vs. City Mouse by Carol Ross



Are You a Country Mouse?
 “I want to live in Rankins.”  This has to be one of the best compliments I’ve received since writing Mountains Apart.  People have also asked if I live, or have ever lived, in Alaska.  I don’t and I haven’t, but there are a lot of tentacles reaching from Alaska to here and back from both sides of my family--and my husband’s.  And I grew up in a small town--population two-thousand.  I live in an even smaller town now.  I love living in the country and I love my small town life.

I think there is a flavor and a quirkiness to small towns that gives each its own personality.  Rankins is definitely sprinkled with bits of my own small town experiences.  Of course, most of Rankins exists only in my imagination.  But I fell in love with it while I was writing about it, which is why I am so thrilled not to be leaving there quite yet.  I am in the midst of writing the first of three more books about life and love in Rankins, and thus it is never far from my mind.  Consequently, neither is small town life.
 
Growing up in the country I loved being outside--playing, riding my bike, camping, fishing, swimming, hiking in the woods.  Although I did dream of someday experiencing the city--I had a gorgeous poster of the night-time Seattle skyline hanging on my bedroom wall for years.  And I was finally able to move to the city for a few years during my young adulthood.  I ended up choosing Portland because by that time it seemed even ‘cooler’ to me than Seattle.  I got a job in a tall building in downtown right on the Willamette River with a stunning view of the city.  

Are You a City Mouse?
It was fun…for a while.  I loved the choices that were there as a consumer--restaurants and specialty markets, shops that contained anything you wanted whenever you wanted it.  I loved ordering take-out and still miss being able to call for a pizza.  (I think that might be the only thing I still miss.)  It didn’t take me long to learn that city life wasn’t for me. 


I missed forests and fields. I missed the fresh air, the quiet, and the freedom of taking off for a hike or a bicycle ride whenever I wanted--one where I didn’t have to dodge traffic, smell exhaust fumes, and worry about getting shot in a gang-related drive-by, or being abducted by a serial killer.  

Sure, there are drawbacks to living in a small community where there is literally one of each: gas station/grocery store (you would be amazed at the variety of items they stock), post office (slightly larger than a stamp itself), school (K-12), church (non-denominational), fire station (packed with generous volunteers), a VFW hall (we love our veterans!) and a grange hall a few miles down the road.  And no, we don’t have a single stoplight (or a rush hour).  

Gossip isn’t always fun, the nearest hospital is a ways away, we cut and chop our own firewood, and there is not a single restaurant in case you don’t feel like cooking.  But… just up the road a ways toward Mt. St. Helen’s you can get a fantastic meal and an outstanding homemade cobbler (closed in winter). 


Do You Prefer This?
 But what we do have is priceless--a community made up of generous and supportive people, neighbors who watch out for each other, and friendly, familiar faces.  Our neighbor still makes such delicious homemade donuts for Halloween every year, like she’s done for decades.  It’s fun to watch as grandparents and parents bring their kids and grandkids for this eagerly anticipated, multi-generational, trick-or-treating event.  (My husband sneaks over early every year and shamelessly eats more than his share.)  No one gives a thought to Drano or razor blades hidden among these, or other, fresh-baked treats.  

The forest, lake, and mountain scenery is spectacular; deer and elk can be spotted at nearly any time and I couldn’t even begin to count the number of bird species.  My dogs, and my husband and I, essentially have hundreds of acres of nearly uninhabited land outside our backdoor that we are able to hike on a daily basis.  The only time the dogs see a leash is when they go to the vet or take a trip to the beach.  The only ‘danger’ we encounter is the occasional porcupine (ouch!) or a skunk.  Coyotes abound, but they are much more frightened of us than we are of them. I do carry a can of bear spray because cougars and bears share the territory, but we see their tracks much more than we see them. 

A woman I worked with all those years ago in Portland grew up in the big city of Atlanta.  One day we were having a conversation about city life and she said something that I’ve never forgotten.  The “woods” scared her--mountain lions, bears, coyotes, big foot, and who-knew-what other monsters waiting to jump out and eat her. And ticks--hadn’t I heard of lyme disease, she asked?  And what if you slipped and fell and broke your leg? If there was an emergency, she pointed out, and you were stuck out the wilderness there was literally no one around to help.  Nope.  No way.  She could never live in the country and forgo the security of being surrounded by people. 

Or Do You Prefer This?

I was amazed.  But I appreciated that perspective--and I still do--because it made me think about things differently.  I’ve never felt ‘security’ in being surrounded by people and I still don’t, but I find the contrasting life views so interesting.  I’d rather brave the secluded wilderness than the concrete jungle any day. 

I’m curious--do you feel safer in the country or do you prefer the ‘security’ of the city? Are you a country mouse or a city mouse?



22 comments:

  1. Carol, I would enjoy taking a long walk with you through forest trails with our dogs (and husbands, if they feel so inclined)!

    I much prefer fields and forests to concrete and steel (perhaps an odd statement for someone who graduated from university with a degree in civil engineering). Our cottage in Northern Ontario and our principal residence north of Toronto are both on large acreages backing onto protected forests. We canoe, hike and generally enjoy the outdoors. Our most frequent guests—especially at our cottage—are of the four-legged, furry variety. Yes, I am very much a country mouse.

    As for safety, even with the limited amount of time I spend in cities, the odds are far in favor of me getting injured in a car accident than being mauled by a black bear. Oh, to be fair and provide a balanced perspective, I should disclose that one of the homes near our cottage was broken into a few years ago by a black bear. The occupants had left a fresh batch of butter tarts on their kitchen counter and only a screen door separated their kitchen from the outdoors. The bear couldn't resist the delicious aroma, but must not have been very hungry as he only indulged in the filling and left the pastry shells.

    Thank you for your post!

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  2. Kate, that would be wonderful! My dogs and I would love to go hiking with you. It sounds like you are blessed with some extraordinary hiking terrain as well. I feel the same about the danger of cars.

    What a great story about the bear! They sort of invited him in... A friend of mine with a lake cabin had some raccoons come through her cat door and tear the place apart! The got into the cupboards and spread flour, crackers, cereal and anything else they could get their crafty little paws on all over. LOL!

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  3. Carol, what a neat post. I'm looking forward to more stories set in Rankins. I've lived in both small towns and cities, and country. You didn't give us the option of choosing a "medium sized town". That's what I like. When I was a kid I loved the country, my dad owned a logging company and a machine shop in a town of 1000. I too moved to Portland for my first job and loved working there. I worked at the Med School and actually carried a concealed (with permit) because nurses were getting hit over the head by a crazy. After I got married I lived in other big cities and then we chose to raise our children in a small town. Good memories all. What I like now about living in Tucson is that I can get to great shopping and restaurants without sitting an hour in traffic. We still have that "old Pueblo" feeling that's under constant attack by people who think we should be bigger and more progressive. The upshot is I think there is value in being blessed to have lived in both country and city. A lot of what is positive are the friends I've been lucky to make in both areas.

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  4. I'm a country mouse, too. I love visiting big cities and taking advantage of what they have to offer
    --especially restaurants!--but I'm always ready to come back to the cornfields.

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    1. Exactly, Liz! It is fun to visit a city and be a tourist for a while. I love to try out the restaurants, too. So many options.... And I think I also like it because we rarely eat out--it's so inconvenient. So trying a new restaurant is a treat as well as an adventure! And I agree, there's nothing like coming back home!

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  5. Ooh, Roz--you're right! I should have included a medium-size option--maybe a "town mouse"? It sounds like we have some things in common... I, too, come from a logging family (my dad was a contractor.) It sounds like the "crazy" that was conking nurses on the head could be its own story--wow. Tucson sounds lovely (it is on my list of places I'd like to visit.) I like the idea of having the "feel" of a smaller town with the amenities of something larger. I bet you can have a pizza delivered, too...

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  6. I'm in Phoenix. Yup, we're number six in the top ten list of big cities. My son and I can bike to the public pool and to get donuts. I spend more than an hour each day getting to and from work (so I listen to books on tape). I belong to not one but two RWA groups. It's about as big city as you can get. Yet, we live in a small town neighborhood. We know everybody. The kids play in the street, build ramps for their bikes, make forts and dig holes in the back yard. In my heart, I'm small town. Whenever we can, we load up the camp, drive to the forest, and travel 20 miles in - not to a camp ground either.
    I tell my husband I want to live in a small town. He gives me the look.

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    1. Wow, I didn't realize Phoenix was so large. It does sound like there are some nice aspects--like the RWA groups and the donuts. And I like the sound of your "small town neighborhood"--plenty of outside activities for the kids. Hey, I get that "look" whenever I suggest to my husband that we go to Portland for the day! LOL

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  7. Great post Carol! I'm a grass-is-always-greener mouse lol. I have had a long-distance love affair with New York City my entire life (my trip there next year will be my first visit), but the career girl in me loves the idea of everything New York represents:) but then on the flip side, I love small-towns and I really hope to retire in one someday. I think I will always need a balance-maybe live in a small town, as long as I have the ability to travel to big cities frequently lol:)

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    1. Grass-is-always-greener mouse--hilarious! I should have included that as an option. The thought of going to New York City kind of terrifies me--it really does seem like the ultimate big city.

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  8. Carol - I'm a Town Mouse, too. Astoria (I'm not too far from you!) has a population of 10,000 and it's perfect. Because our livelihood is tourism, restaurants abound (thank goodness), and we galleries, museums, quaint little shops, and a church for every inclination. I lived in L.A. as a young woman and loved it, but wouldn't want to have to live there again now that I'm used to walking everywhere and knowing everyone. I'd love to get acquainted with Rankins. Sounds like my kind of place. Great post.

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  9. Muriel, Astoria is wonderful! I love that town--talk about charm! I think it's the perfect size. If I ever decided to be a "Town Mouse" it would be on my short list. Your Sunday market is fabulous. I've been to that a few times and had such a ball. Also, I think about the movie Goonies every time I'm there....

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  10. I've enjoyed every place I've ever lived in from pure country in Oregon and New Hampshire to small towns in New Jersey where I raised my children. But I'm a city mouse. I love cities, having lived in NYC as well as Providence and Phoenix and I particularly love exploring them when attending the RWA conferences. Looking forward to my first visit to San Antonio.

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  11. Marion, it sounds like you have plenty of experience to make an educated opinion! I think that part of my fear of cities is because I haven't spent all that much time in them. I am looking forward to visiting San Antonio as well!

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  12. I am a suburban mouse. We have don't have any mountains here outside of Chicago but we have lakes and forest preserves. I like being close enough to the city to go there now and then but I wouldn't want to live in the heart of it. I was just in NYC and loved it but my favorite part was Central Park! I need some green and some trees and some water. And I am really looking forward to San Antonio, people tell me the Riverwalk area is grogeous! Great post!

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    1. I can see the appeal of the suburbs....close to the conveniences and yet still able to get that homey feel. I've been to Wisconsin and Michigan many times and it's beautiful. I imagine your area to look a lot like that--flat but with green and trees and water. I would miss my mountains but as long as I had trees and water I could probably adjust. LOL I've heard the same about San Antonio and there are supposed to be some great restaurants, too.

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  13. I've lived in the country, suburbs and big cities, including the heart of Houston. Without a doubt, I'm a country mouse. The town I live in now only has a population of about 550, but it's not too far from a town with about 8000. I need to be near nature to be happy :)

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    1. It sounds like we're living in similar places. It's not too far for us to go to "town" either, although I tend to save up all my "town chores" and do them all in one day so it's usually a long day! And I know what you mean about nature--that's what makes me happy, too!

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  14. I grew up on a farm, five miles from a small town, and I think my addiction to books came partly from a lack of playmates, but I loved the country. Now I live in Anchorage, the biggest city in Alaska, but across the street from a park and a three blocks from the edge of town. It's a nice mix of city and country. Pros and cons to both, but mostly I'm a country mouse.

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  15. Beth, this sounds like a very nice mix! I like the idea of having the country so accessible even if I had to live near the city. I think my love of books had something to do with my country upbringing as well--we had three channels of TV and my dad didn't like us watching even that LOL. Lots of reading on rainy days--and...oh, how my sister and I loved the Bookmobile!!

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  16. I'm a country mouse even though I grew up in N.Y.C. I never felt at home in the city. With all the things there were to do, everything in fact, I still preferred staying home and reading or listening to music over nightlife and subway rides. Now I live in North Carolina and I love it!! The trees, nearby mountains, beautiful birds, farms and fields are what I love. I actually don't live in a small town here either, but compared to N.Y.C. it's tiny. And there are smaller towns all around me. So I have the best of both worlds.
    As for safety, I don't feel completely safe anywhere. When you've lived in a big city most of your life you're always extra cautious no matter where you move to. My doors are always locked. I'm not afraid of the deer and other wildlife we see here in N.C., but I admire them from afar. If I had to choose, I'd take the "risk" of living in the country over the "security" of the city any day.
    Thanks for the great post.

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  17. Alaska is a place I've always wanted to visit and have "dinner on a glacier"--all that kind of thing. I KNOW if my husband lived there, he'd never leave because he misses the mountains of Phoenix, all of Northern Arizona and California for that matter. Your setting and your story was WONDERFUL, by the way. I just loved it and Bering was just well, yummy. Anyway--since I've lived in all the places, city, suburbs and small town, trust me, an Alaskan small town is a whole lot different than a small town in the Deep South or one in the midwest. I've always been of that Jack London ilk that believes that our geography molds a great deal of our personalities. That rugged terrain you have in Alaska has to bend the body and the soul.

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