Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Rural Community Building

Met someone recently who is visiting our area and considering moving here. Though we’re actually not that far out in the boonies—it only takes about 20 minutes to get to the store—everyone up here fields questions from “townies” wondering if they have what it takes to live this far from civilization. Their first question is often: “What if you run out of milk or something?” My answer is: “I haven’t drunk a glass of milk in about two decades, so I can probably wait until next time I get to the store.” Statistically speaking, approximately 85% of non-dairy-farming mountain and country dwellers are lactose intolerant.* Of course, young children are the exception, and, according to 99% of hysterical parents, most seem to urgently need access to fresh milk 24/7. In this dire situation, I would think there would be a breast-feeding neighbor, cow, or goat who could be summoned to help avoid the catastrophe of suddenly having to drive 20 minutes to Safeway. Somehow humanity was able to survive the olden days before the automobile.

Anyway, this particular visitor had another interesting question: “What do people do for community around here?” Good question! Although 78% of mountain residents are either extreme loners, hermits, wacko artists, armed militia, certifiable freaks, severe alcoholics, meth lab proprietors, or registered sex offenders, the rest of us do like to mingle and support each other as all good neighbors should. When the power goes out, it’s very comforting to be able to call someone who understands the inconvenience of flushing the toilet with buckets of collected rainwater, going for days without showers, and anxiously looking out the window every 30 seconds for the elusive PG&E truck.

A sense of community is developed in many ways, just like everywhere else really. Finding commonalities of experience and handing out tequila shots are both good ways to build strong communities (with those over 21 of course…minors have school to get them together). We also have community fundraisers for the school and fire team a few times a year.

It also helps to “just fit in”, and with that in mind, I have observed some fundamental differences between country people and town people. This became especially apparent to me after this last weekend, in which we attended several neighborhood social gatherings. While most Americans have common experiences to discuss at parties surrounding culture, fashion, kitchen remodels, how Johnny Depp manages to still be sexier than Orlando Bloom despite the appearance of rank body odor and excessive eye makeup, and who exactly puked and passed out at the last wine-tasting school fundraiser, mountain people sometimes veer off into different topics that most likely do not come up at town parties. For example, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I am not the only American who not only goes without cable TV and a dishwasher, there are others in our species who do not own a microwave due to numerous paranoid reasons. (Many of us do have Netflix though).

Here are a few quotes overhead at parties that illustrate further differences:

• “I love peeing outside! I get really into it!” —female neighbor (this comment was met with much enthusiastic agreement, and developed into a discussion of the merits of squatting behind a bush without risk of arrest, rather than having to hunt for the elusive to non-existent Santa Cruz public bathroom)

• “I will beat the life out of it with any implement I can find—my bare hands if I must!”—male neighbor, regarding gophers.

• “We are not supposed to disturb the habitat of the dusky-footed wood rat when gardening.”

• “Cool! I just got swooped by a bat!”

• “An owl tried to steal my cat last night.”

• Is anyone going to town tomorrow? Can you pick me up some milk?

Who has time for community anyway? The frisbees are piling up and need to be thrown.

* 99% of statistics quoted in this blog are either made up or greatly exaggerated.


  1. No way! That wine tasting school fund raiser sounds like my kind of party!

  2. On my worst days I decide that I will be happiest if I move out into a shack in the middle of the desert with a pet roadrunner and a big dog to protect me from coyotes and snakes.

    It seems like you have found a pretty good balance of community and exclusion.

    I also really like your heading, haha!

    (I found you on shuffle. Have a good day!)

  3. Well you sound like a kindred spirit, except the desert's too hot for my tastes, and I'm not sure about the pet roadrunner idea. They'd probably run away, and it's very tiring trying to catch them.

  4. ACME has a full line of products for catching roadrunners.