A friend of mine is contemplating a move to the country and asked me about the pros and cons. So I sat down and made a list – in no particular order. Forgive me if some of this seems obvious. In the end, it’s not really about pros and cons, but about how much of country reality can you tolerate. We and our neighbors tolerate this stuff pretty well – we just wish there were more hours in the day to get everything done.
Distance. How much extra time are you going to be on the road driving to get where you need to get? Will you mind being 35 minutes away from a hospital, 25 minutes away from groceries and gas, 40 minutes away from your co-ops, etc? If you don’t mind the drive, then you’ll enjoy living in the country. However, gas is expensive. Filling up your tank twice a week because two of you go into town every day adds from $150 - $300 to your monthly expenses. If you’ve got small cars, you can save. If you can limit your trips to 2 or 3 times to town a week, you’ll be fine. In addition, be aware of how far away you will be from the nearest fire station. Home owner’s insurance goes up considerably the further away you are from the fire station. If you’re lucky enough to have a drop in property taxes, bear in mind that you’ll have fewer services, such as road maintenance and plowing, too.
Utilities. We are on a rural electrical co-op and ours isn’t a particularly good one. Unfortunately, our government has given these utilities a monopoly. You’re at their mercy. Our electric went up 85% this year. When there’s a storm in the town to the southwest, our power goes out. Lesser populated areas are lower priorities for wire repair after significant storms. We have a generator and a propane heater and neighbors with big wood stoves.
Wells. Have the well tested if you are at all concerned about contamination. Our first ‘well’ turned out to be a spring box up the hill on our neighbor’s place in a creek where his cows ran. A little bout with E. Coli forced us to dig a nice deep well, which cost several thousand dollars. The cost depends on how deep you have to dig – and you want a good deep well because that’s where the good water is. We love having water that does not smell like chlorine. However, our water is extremely hard, which means it’s impossible to keep our whites white in the laundry. If fluoride is an issue for you, you can easily have your water tested to see if you need to give your kids supplements. [Our water has plenty of natural fluoride.] We filter our drinking water with an inexpensive Pure filter so it tastes good. You can always put in water softener if hard water bothers you. We have a gas furnace and keep our propane in a big tank at the road. There are several companies that will deliver propane to you.
Septic. You’ll need septic and it shouldn’t empty into your creek, like our first one did. Oops. We dug our own according to state requirements by renting a Bobcat to do the digging and hauling of gravel. My dad ran the Bobcat. We had to get someone else to bring gravel to us and he and his brother have become regular visitors, delivering annual loads of sand, etc. for the gardens. You can lay it yourself. Plumbing is easy – everything needs to flow downhill. As long as things flow the right direction, your septic should be fine for a very long time – with an occasional clean-out, which is easy, as long as you remember where your tank and distribution boxes are. If you have big problems later, it will mean digging a really big hole and fixing it. We’re fixin’ to fix ours this year – it seems we had some weird settling.
Fireplaces. Woodstoves are dandy – they keep you warm and cook your food. Keep in mind that your insurance goes up dramatically with a fireplace out here, unless you have a lake and put a hydrant in it. [If I had a lake, I would.] You also need to think about where your fuel is going to come from. We have about 35 acres of trees, so we always have plenty of wood. We just don’t have plenty of time to go cut and haul it. You’ll need a chainsaw and someone to operate it.
Ponds/Creeks. Water is beautiful. We have two creeks, full of salamanders and water striders and crawdads [that’s crayfish to you townies] and all kinds of weird wet stuff. We love our creeks – especially when it rains a lot and all the water drains right into our creeks and off the property. We’re high enough that we only have to worry about flash flooding from extraordinary amounts of rain, but those floods recede very quickly. If you’re worried about flooding, ask what happened during the last big rain, go into the basement to smell for mildew and take a look at a plat map of the area. If you have a pond of other type of big water and small kids, you need to decide how you are going to keep them away from the water. I tend to worry about that sort of thing so I’m glad we don’t have a pond. Our creeks are big enough to keep our ducks happy. [P.S. I’d really love to have a lake, but I’d need the income and strong young men to landscape it so I could boat on it and garden around it, too, and I don’t have any of that.]
Lawn/Pasture/Meadow. Do you like to mow? How much lawn are you going to want to keep short? Are there any pastures that you want to stay in grass or hay? Do you have a mower or tractor? Who will do the mowing? Who will maintain the mower? Do you have a way to get it to town to be worked on if you can’t fix it yourself? It’s very possible to find a neighbor who is willing or eager to hay your pastures for you so you can enjoy the grass, without having to maintain it much. They keep the hay.
Bugs. There are a lot of bugs in the country – like mosquitos, especially if you have standing water. In warm weather, ticks are a daily reality [from April to November]. The good news is that they make you itch pretty quickly. It takes 48 hours for a tick to pass on Lyme disease and you’ll start itching long long before then. If you do a daily tick check on you and your kids, you’ll be fine. Just tell your kids to pay attention to their tickles and itches and to tell you right away. Chiggers are common in long grass. Two years ago I stood in a nest of chiggers while I was picking blackberries. I had literally hundreds of bites all over me. It was miserable, but I lived. There are also really cool bugs like praying mantises and tumblebugs and yellow jackets.
Schools. If you homeschool, this isn’t an issue. If your kids are in public school, you can check out the local school stats through your state department of education.
Library. In Indiana, libraries are funded by county, which means you have to buy a Public Library Access Card [PLAC] for $55 per year per person in order to use a library that is not in your county. What’s the library in your new county like? Are you willing to pay for access to a better library in town? Can you get by on a single card?
Food. You’ll be a lot further away from the grocery store, but you’ll have the space to garden. Take into account any deer or native livestock issues and be prepared to outsmart them. An outside dog will do the trick nicely. You’ll likely be a lot closer to good manure in the country than in town, too, so good organic soil amendments are easy to come by. [Our neighbors have horses.]
Work. You will work your tail off. There is always something to fix or build or rebuild or improve or haul or dig. If, by some miracle, your work is done, then there are neighbors who you can help out [and chances are they’ve already helped you out .] Personally, I love to work. Living in the country suits me just fine.
Cable and broadband. There aren't any. You can get a Dish if you really need to watch the Food Network or HGTV, and let’s face it, by now you’re thinking you’ll never have time to watch TV again once you move out here. We had dial-up internet until just last summer. Then, our phone company finally got DSL way out here and it is heavenly. We can connect our Wii through it, too, and get Netflix through the Wii if we wanted to. [We don’t.] We get movies from the library with our PLAC card.
Snakes. Yes, we have snakes. All kinds. Ours are nice, mostly, and I love them.
Pests. Deer are not your friends. Just sayin'. Also, every country house has mice. Also, spiders under a certain size are to be tolerated when you consider how many other bugs they eat. Over a certain size, they're toast. Bats are not pests; they will keep you from being eaten alive by the bugs.
Poison Ivy. If it weren’t for poison ivy, 90% of all the fences in Indiana and a good many of the barns, too, would fall down. Learn what it looks like and avoid it. Wear appropriate clothing. Invest in a year’s supply of Tec Nu.
Flora and fauna. Buy every field guide you can find. [I’ll let you know what my favorites are in another post]. You will love getting to know the bugs and snakes and birds. You’ll love getting to know the different kinds of grass and flowers and fungus and trees. If you homeschool, you’ll never have to teach another science or biology class. Just turn the kids loose with the field guides and let them play. Plus they’ll learn engineering and mechanics just by helping do stuff on the property.
Kids. Read Laddie, by Gene Stratton-Porter to get a taste of how kids used to roam around rural Indiana - and what was expected of them. Then, set clear boundaries and find out what they want to do. My kids wander around wherever they want, except in designated dangerous areas or during hunting season. They know so much more about local birds and plants and trees that town folks are astounded. Let them build stuff, try stuff and let them get really really dirty. My kids know the difference between work clothes and town clothes. They know how to grow food and flowers. They know the differences between weeds and keepers. They can make jam and can green beans. They know how to fix venison. They know how to pluck chickens. They know how to dig and haul. They knew how to catch a butterfly in their hands when they were two years old. They know how to find salamanders in the creeks and how to pick up crawdads. K1 built the bridge over our little creek when she was six years old. [We cut the wood and laid it down and she pounded all the nails herself]. K2 learned how to drive the mower as soon as her feet could reach the brake. Kids learn to be adults by taking on adult responsibilities and opportunities for taking on responsibility are greatly expanded in the country. There's plenty of work to go around.
Friends. You cannot live out here alone. You need your neighbors in emergencies, and they might need you. You may have to define community differently. Some of your current friends will not want to drive ‘all the way out there!’ to see you. You don’t need friends like that anyway. You will find a community of folks who understand and can support you out here.
Sunshine. There is more sunshine in the country. That in itself is the only reason you need to move out here.
Privacy. You remember what that is? When no one is watching you all the time? You get loads of privacy in the country. Yet another good reason all by itself to move out here in spite of all the work. We are lucky enough to like our neighbors and to live close enough that our kids can easily play together, but there are enough trees and stuff between us that we can’t really see each other except when the leaves are down. Plus, we only get about 20 cars total on our road past our house every day, all day. It’s low on human noise and big on bird noise. It’s heaven.
Freedom. There are no restrictive covenants out here. If you want to put 10 dead boats in your yard, you can. If you want to turn your entire yard into gravel, you can. If you want to build a copy of the Taj Mahal in the middle of your pond, you can. If you want to start with a mobile home and build a house around it, you can. If you want to start a pig farm, you can. Of course, your neighbor can, too.
|Eleagnus umbellata: berries|
Our tolerances have shifted. We tolerate bugs instead of traffic noise. We tolerate drives instead of 40 neighbors within sight of our house. You have to decide what you are willing to learn to tolerate. For us, having the chance to do it ourselves and be a little less dependent on 'the system' is a grand payoff. Also, we just like to do cool stuff like raise ducks and identify 40 kinds of weeds and find that patch of stinging nettle [guess how!] and make eleagnus jelly - simply because we can.