It was a dream of mine, as a child and an adult, to have a “place in the country”. Not just a house on an acre, or five acres – but a REAL place, a barn, pasture, fields and woods made up of enough land to wander and get a good hike out of. You know, a Currier and Ives kind of setting down a Robert Frost divergent road-less-traveled. Lots of people have this vision, but most of us slam into obstacles and the dream becomes a mirage of a place we can never find. Things like money, a job, good schools, etc. and etc., can make “a place in the country” impossible. But usually, if a person is willing to work at it, make a few compromises, and have patience, it can be done. I know. We did it – twice. How we achieved this goal is really another story, but I need to relate a little bit of it…
Not being made of money or willing to borrow nearly as much as the banks and brokers said we could afford, finding a place that matched my ideal was impossible. Nice old farm house, but no land. Nice land, but no house. Shit house on shit property. Shit shit shit. One place we looked at had a gutter that ran from a hole in the roof, through the upstairs bedrooms, through the floor into the downstairs and out a hole in the wall. (I guess it was kind of the po’ redneck feng shui fountain.) Another place had great property and a nice big old house – but it was auctioned off two ways – as a whole and in parcels, and the parcels won. Another place had an overflowing open sewer right outside the back door. One place had water like tomato soup. Another was perfect but too far away. Another place was perfect, but a couple with children put in an offer at the same time we did, and guess who the sellers chose? Another place was very nice, but again, another buyer with children was chosen (it seems sellers loved the idea of someone else’s kids growing up in the country, not ever considering that I might someday have kids). It seemed all hope was lost. We either had to settle for a few acres or borrow a LOT more money than we considered prudent. (These were the days when lenders were basically throwing money at mortgage-seekers.) So we were out of luck.
Our realtor friend happened across a property that had been on the market for over a year. Close to 100 acres, mostly hilly and wooded, not too far from highway access, but in a sparsely-populated low-tax county. So why had this gem been left unsnatched for so long??? Well, anyone – most anyone – who’s been here can answer that in a jiff. The house. I describe it to people needing directions as “An old white farm house that’s had bad things done to it”. That’s about all that one needs to know once they are on our county road. Poor old house. It’s like a wheezy, scabby, incontinent old cat that just wants a little love. People were living there, but it was just for show. They couldn’t wait to get out.
Ok, you may know someone who sits in an apartment or suburban home and dreams of living in the country, having a place to run the ATV, a big garden, some chickens, a horse. They say to themselves ‘I could rough it, fix up an old house, dig my own well, make goat cheese and craft beer and spin wool into gold!’ That person may be you. You many have even looked at this property or one like it, and for all your brave talk, decided to go back to your apartment and keep dreaming. Most people would, because if they can’t have the bouquet of roses, they won’t settle for the wilted wallflower. C’est la vie. (I do wonder how many “Dream Farms” were lost to foreclosure in the late 2000’s. It seems a lot of places went on the market at that time.)
No, I won’t bore you with the details of just how “bad” the house was. Is. Still. That’s not the point of this prose. First, let’s state that the sellers and their extended family expected us to let them continue to use the property as their own private hunting reserve with the bonus of not having to pay property taxes. Let’s also just say that everyone else – neighbors and our own families – expected us to fix it up into a showplace. Let’s just add that neither of those things happened. Much cursing and many threats were issued after we refused to allow a few dozen people to hunt here whenever they felt like it. And as for the fix-up… Oh, some stuff was done – furnace, wood burner, plumbing, electrical upgrades, chimney liners, metal roof, concrete garage floor. But mostly we built barns and fences and other animal-related projects. Yes, I’d rather have milk goats than a new front porch. Horses are more fun than a remodeled kitchen. And chickens mean more to me than an indoor toilet. I’d rather go hunting than shopping, and there are other people like me. “Normal” people tend to avoid us. Our houses creep them out. Our plucking a chicken for dinner frightens them. Our lack of big screen tv, prime internet service and I-Max around the corner becomes a dank swampy graveyard with the brain-starved undead clawing up through the muck. They run back to their nice homes, consider how blessed they truly are, thankful they escaped our poxy shacks without disease or injury. And in a way, we’re grateful they’re gone. We are resigned to the fact that people are uncomfortable when they visit. We’re aware that nieces and nephews won’t be coming to stay for a week or two in the summer. We just go about our business of living on our imperfect property, fulfilling our dream as closely as we can.
So what could possibly be the problem if we got what we wanted – close enough anyway – and we have accepted that friends and family are unlikely to visit?
Neighbors. We still have them.
Believe it or not, I didn’t move to a rural place so I could maintain a perfect lawn. There is no ordinance regarding lawn grass. My lawn is nowhere near a neighbor’s lawn. If I don’t cut the grass every week, it does not hurt them or decrease the value of their property.
But it does vex some of them.
House paint. This house isn’t an eyesore, not really. And if it was, again, there is no ordinance regarding paint. But our house does have nasty old fiber board siding over the original wood siding. The nasty old fiber board is no longer in the mood to stay painted. It’s like an old person with dementia who has decided to throw off the conventions of society and walk around naked. It does not care anymore what anyone thinks. Besides, no matter what we painted it with, it would peel, chip and flake off in less than a year. Why not just have new siding put on??? A four-letter word. Cost. And there are other reasons. But our old siding is nowhere near a neighbor’s house.
But it apparently causes them stomach problems.
Cats. Specifically, outdoor cats. They are not “feral”, nor do they breed up a storm of kittens. We have barns. They are barn cats. We feed them plenty. They kill mice, rats, voles and chipmunks. Occasionally a sparrow or starling, but rarely. Somehow, those cats make us “strange”. Cats are “filthy” – or so I’ve heard. Never mind that we have those cats because nice people drove up, opened the door of their vehicle and dumped them out. One of those people was a neighbor and her friend, who, when confronted, tried to make me believe those kittens were ours. Fat chance of that when the kittens were calico and our cats are all solid black and none had been pregnant. Well, I did take a class in genetics and had sex ed in middle school, so I’m pretty confident in my assessment of those kittens.
My cats DO NOT kill full-grown chickens. I have never seen a cat kill a chicken. I am sure that somewhere, a cat has killed a chicken. A cat would probably kill a baby chicken. But not my cats. My cats are very wary of chickens, even baby chicks, because those chicks come with mother hens, and those hens will rain down Hell upon anything that threatens their babies. Our chickens will take the cats’ food. Even our smallest hen can bully our largest tom cat away from his food. So I am totally confident when I say that my cats did not go after a neighbor’s chickens. Not unless they have a convincing fox costume. If they do, I’m a YouTube millionaire, and I will buy all the replacement hens anyone could want after I get the video of my cat getting into that costume by itself. Righto.
No, my cats aren’t evil. But they do make me an irresponsible person for allowing them to roam outside, and since they look like tiny black panthers, they strike terror in the hearts of all chicken owners. Plus, they are bad luck and witchy-ish.
Which brings me to the trash service. The WRONG trash service. Most people don’t understand our trash service “problem”, because in most places, there is one trash removal service, and you either pay them, or you find your own way to dispose of your disposables, and good luck with that in the suburbs. We rubes may not have three shopping malls, three organic grocery stores, three movie theaters or three museums, but we damn well have three trash removal services to choose from.
And damned if I didn’t pick the wrong one.
I like our trash removal service. I like the guys who drive the truck and pick up the trash, I like the people who I’ve talked to at the main office. I liked the people that delivered the dumpsters we rented both times we needed them, and how careful they were dropping them off and picking them up. I had no idea my choice was causing awful consternation for some of my neighbors….
I do not have the big, roll-down-the-driveway, neat and tidy looking, trash-service-provided trash can – the kind the truck can automatically dump and that coyotes and raccoons can not (usually) get into. (We have no bears here. Bears would probably roll the whole thing off into the woods as neatly as a person rolls it down the driveway.) We mostly put our trash out in feed sacks. We can put out as much trash as we want (within reason) – not just what fits in one container. (Note: We almost never have more than 1 -2 bags, and honestly, a lot of it is cat poo from the indoor cats.) We don’t put out the trash until the morning when it’s going to be picked up. No critters get into it and no one has to look at those horrible feed sacks sitting by our driveway for very long.
But they do have to look at our makeshift trash bags, apparently causing migraines and cataracts. However, that’s not what really gets them.
Our trash removal service truck backs onto a gravel road to turn around and “might damage the road”. Once there was a lot of ice and the truck slid and had to be towed. NONE OF THIS WOULD HAPPEN IF I USED A DIFFERENT TRASH REMOVAL SERVICE! Global warming would probably stop, too.
This stuff actually bothers people on a road where there is a quarter mile or more between most driveways. I can not imagine what these folks would be like in a gated community. There would be measurements made of lawn grass, reports made of weeds in driveways, committees appointed to determine appropriate exterior home modifications and outbuilding appearance. Laws would be in place to make outdoor cats illegal. Only approved dog breeds would be allowed. Clothes must be clean and free of tears or patches. Autumn leaves must be removed with a leaf blower, not manually raked. Houses must have air conditioning systems and ice makers in the refrigerators. Well, it would probably be worse than that, but I’ll never know, because I’d never live in such a place.
I never thought people would look at our chicken house and determine we were slobs. It never occurred to me to spend all our time and money turning our house into someone else’s idea of “nice” instead of building barns and having goats and sheep and horses. And when I suggest to someone who complains about having to mow their 10 acres of pasture a couple times each month, that instead of treating pasture like lawn, they could put up some fence and raise their own beef, why, I am “telling them how to live”. Huh.
Now, I am a social loser/failure/misfit, I am an octagon in a world of triangles, an ostrich egg set among tulips. I realize how I see things isn’t the way most other people would see them. I guess if someone wants to live with the creed “I Will Have Perfection Or Nothing”, that’s their business. I don’t fall under their jurisdiction, and I’m glad. But I also fall outside of their circle of social acceptance. There is no hope of old-fashioned country neighborly interaction. People roll their eyes and shake their heads when they see us using the horses to haul wood, tapping maple trees, or cutting tall grass with a scythe.
I’m not interested in making them happy. That’s not why we moved here. We moved here to make us happy. We don’t harm anyone by not painting our house.
We just have different ideas of what is important in life, and my mom used to say “If everyone was the same, just think how boring life would be!”
And mom was always right.