From my friend Erin: "City life vs rural life? What do you miss (nightlife!?) What don’t you miss?"
I've lived out here since April 1st of this year, and am just settling into my first winter on an isolated prairie homestead. Summer was such a blur, I don't even know if I can describe it without going into detail about our frenetic first year of business (details I'm actually writing a book about, but more on that another time). In terms of my lifestyle, there have been some major adjustments, and some that I thought would be a bigger deal, but aren't. Here we go:
My lifestyle is now heavily dictated by the seasons.
When I lived in the city, the main difference between summer life and winter life was my wardrobe. In the winter, I layered up – stockings, sweaters, thick-knit everything – but still walked to my job every day, woke up at the same time every day, ate at the same time, and kids' school stuff didn't change much, aside from it taking longer to get bundled up before leaving the house. Snow meant shovelling, slippery sidewalks, and bad traffic. We mostly hibernated otherwise. We baked, cooked, and had lots of crafty fun during the holidays.
Summer in the city meant no jackets! Less stuff to lug around! Better hair days! Bikes! Hot days were barely noticed in my air conditioned office. The kids' routines changed a bit with summer care, and during the last couple years of my city job I had a couple weeks off for summer holidays. In the spring I would become obsessed with gardening, and would grow whatever I could in the spaces we had. Because we always rented, and were never in one house for much longer than a year, I never had the chance to establish a mature garden. For a while we lived close to the river, and I had a cute yard to experiment in. Those couple of years are sweet and idyllic in my memory, though I know it was also when my anxiety was at its peak, and panic attacks were a regular thing. Funny how the photos don't show that part.
Gah going through those photos makes me miss my little ones. How do they grow so fast?? My babies!! Throughout the seasons I was fairly indifferent to rain and wind. Gardening was a side hobby that, while I was obsessed with it, I had far too much else going on to be able to truly "dig in". Work, kids, performing, a zillion different projects on the go... I've never had a problem with keeping busy.
Summer nights in the city were definitely hotter than in the country, as all the pavement soaked up the day's heat and radiated it into everyone's bedrooms at night. And if you lived in some of the rentals I did, opening your window at night was a gamble. "Is sleeping in this heat worse than being robbed and possibly assaulted?" A surprisingly difficult choice.
The sun is my alarm clock now.
Living on my farm, I wake up with the sun, and typically wind down with it as well. In the summer that meant starting at 5 or 6am and hustling outside to harvest flowers before the daytime heat sucked their lushness away. We worked until there was no daylight left, and the house was BUSY. Woofers, farm help, kids (they spend summers on the farm rather than daycare now), family, friends, workshops, and curious strangers. We had a steady stream of activity, even a party here and there. Nights to myself were so rare that when they occasionally popped up, they felt like a tiny jackpot. Every night, as soon as my head hit my pillow I was asleep. My body was tuned and toned, and I could run half a mile without breaking a sweat or losing my breath. The summer heat and sunshine were relentless, but the nights cooled down so fast, it made it all much more tolerable.
And of course, the kids loved it. Despite the intense chaos of our first growing season, the farm has proven to be everything I wanted it to be for them. It's amazing how much life exists in these seemingly empty prairies. A visiting friend once exclaimed, "there's nothing out here, but there's SO MUCH nothing!", and while I understand what he meant, I also disagree. There is so much EVERYTHING out here! The fields are oceans teeming with life; rabbits, deer, moose, badgers, owls, hawks, eagles, mice, salamanders, frogs, snakes, coyotes, geese, ducks, and thanks to our little nearby lake, an incredible variety of migratory birds like swans and snow geese. And as to the yards, a bit of tending goes a long way. We still have tons of work to do in building up our property, but we're well on our way, and given how far we got in our first year, I can't even believe how amazing it'll look by our fifth, or tenth!
Now that the days are shorter again, I still rise with the sun, but that means rolling out of bed (piled high with cozy quilts courtesy of my mom) at 8:30 or 9am. I rinse my face and pull on some comfy clothes, then slip into my snowsuit and take the dogs out. I feed and water Theo, our outside cat, then take fresh water out to the chickens (the outside animals' water freezes every night in the winter). I gather a couple eggs, exchange words/aggressive clucks with Henrietta (the overly intelligent hen I hatched in the spring who I fight for dominance with daily. I'm thinking of dedicating a post just to her soon), and then head inside to start the kettle and get cleaned up for the day.
Up until recently, I was spending the day building wreaths and working on the business book, though I've slowed down a bit due to family. Now I mostly putter, clean, organize and pick away at finishing the house. Occasionally I drive into town to check mail and get groceries or supplies, and Mondays/Fridays I drop off or pick up the kids in the city. My boyfriend, Nathan, arrives on Friday night or Saturday and stays until Monday morning, and the kids are here whenever there isn't school, so weekends are full and lovely. Otherwise my social life consists of two dogs, two cats, and four chickens. I don't mind the quiet though. My neighbours are wonderful too.
Productivity in the winter stops around 4:30pm. Then it's wandering outside with the kids to watch stars, play with the animals, skate, then cooking, baking, netflix, or board games.
Soon I'll pick up the pace and get back into business mode, but letting myself slow down is already working wonders on my mental health. I'm learning it's okay to enjoy this quiet cozy life while I can. My personal value is tied much less to my productivity than it was in the city, which is weird considering I run my own business now. I think being accountable to myself alone (well, and my financial lenders) definitely relieves the feeling of having to prove my worth to a go-go-go society. Maybe I'll go deeper into that another time.
What do I miss?
1. Take out. Skip the dishes. Food that appears magically at my door and leaves no mess in my kitchen.
2. Cheap water. Water out here is an ongoing, relatively expensive puzzle, which I'll dedicate a post to soon (thanks for the prompt Neil!).
3. *Walking* to destinations where people will be. More for the easy exercise (in the winter), but also for the social aspect, obviously.
4. Fast internet. Rural internet is expensive and slow. When I use my boyfriend's internet in the city it feels like magic.
5. Mouse-free living. We've gone almost a week without any mouse incidents, a new winter record! Ultrasonic emitters and live traps have been the most effective (and plugging every hole in the house we can find. Keep in mind, no one had lived here since 1991). Mice we catch are sentenced to trial by combat with the dogs. It's the most humane way I can think of to deal with them, and teaches the dogs good mousing skills. There is no cruelty-free way to deal with mice once they're in your house. If you think I'm wrong, set 10 mice free in your house and see how it goes for you.
6. Care-free garbage disposal. You have no idea how much trash you produce until you're the only one responsible for dealing with it.
What did I think would be hard but is actually fine?
1. The isolation. So far, I truly don't mind it. There are days when I walk outside and am completely dazzled by the fact that there's nobody else around. For miles. At first I found it overwhelming, but now I find it incredibly soothing. I was already withdrawing from the "scene" in Calgary, more due to my age and early bedtime needs than anti-socialism. But I love the quiet. I love not having neighbours in my basement, through my living room wall, or across from my kitchen window. I love being free from FOMO (fear of missing out). I love not feeling like I have to signal my value within a community, and not having to define myself or force my identity within a scene. Out here I just exist as is. In fact, here's a super personal confession: during the past five years or so living in the city, I was struggling with an eating disorder. Since living here, it has honestly vanished. I haven't dismantled what that means yet, maybe a topic for another post. Suffice to say, I'm content with the quiet.
Granted, my thoughts on isolation would probably be different if I were single. I would hope that I'd eventually find peace with being a super-independent gal, but I won't deny that my boyfriend has made this transition much easier.
I've also never been spooked by an empty house. I'm probably the least superstitious person you'll ever meet. Like Dana Scully level unaffected. I don't believe in ghosts or supernatural evil. The way I see it is: if a being existed on another plane of existence or whatever, why would they take the time to come down to our monkey brain levels and intentionally mess with us? That being has better things to do. They're busy having a cool time in the infinite cosmos! Rattling chains is BORING. I dunno, living alone for years as a single parent also kinda scrubs the spook out of you. And when it comes to fear of other humans, having dogs helps. Eventually I'll get into lightweight guns too. I feel like paintball guns would be pretty effective for trespassers; "yes officer, he drove away in a truck with green paint splats all over it." And I played with BB guns a bit as a teen, I can't imagine I'll need much more.
2. The driving. God bless my Prius. During the summer I was driving pretty much non stop, and I definitely don't want to do that again. It was horrible. But now, I drive Mondays and Fridays. Highway driving in a Prius is very easy on gas, and at this point I'm using surprisingly little fuel. Plus I get lots of time to sing or think (because I obvs need quiet breaks from all the quiet on the farm). When the growing season starts up again, I'll be doing a lot of re-jigging to make our trips into the city as economical as possible.
3. Making a living. I mean, it isn't easy. I worked obscenely hard this year, and sometimes the fact that I'm the only one who will pay me, which means I have to generate an income out of what feels like thin air... sometimes that pressure is pretty scary. But I also have a solid, and so far successful, business plan, and I'm confident my business will sustain us over the coming years. Not bad, considering I live 1.5 hours from the nearest city, 15 mins from the nearest small town, and 10 mins away from the nearest paved road.
What did I think would be fine but is actually hard?
1. Home ownership and maintenance is one thing, but farm ownership and maintenance is a whole new realm of feeling like an idiot all the time. Your house gets dirty three times as fast, because there is no pavement outside, and you plus several other people/creatures are tromping in all kinds of dirt, sand, silt, clay, and poop. It gets out of hand real fast. Plus if you have a farm you probably have more pets than you really need, and tending them all takes time and care. There's a lot to check on daily, and a lot you can't just defer to someone else. A homestead only functions if you're out there making sure all its pieces are working properly, rain or shine, wind or snow. For me, besides the house and animals, there's the water shed, the quonsets, the fields, the driveway, the grass (in the summer), nighttime visitors (coyotes, raccoons, deer, mystery critters), the garbage, and obviously the gardens and production in the summer, which includes planting, weeding, irrigation, pest & disease mitigation, harvesting, etc. It's a lot for one person. I'll be happy when I have another adult out here with me more permanently.
2. The wind. I've had full hissy fits at the wind, shaking my fists and yelling in futility while it blows my hat just out of reach again and again, or lifts an entire field of landscape fabric and tosses it into a barbed wire fence, or dumps the trash that the cat pawed through all over the yard or field, or basically wipes away anything that isn't literally bolted down. Luckily our greenhouse has withstood the worst windstorms of the year without any damage, though I'm sure the plastic won't last as long as it's intended to. The wind puts us in our place about once a week. Not a big fan. (there's a pun joke there that I'm not willing to make)
3. My tinnitus. That's a weird one, hey? My right ear rings like a bastard (a bastard holding a squealing 1980s tube tv with no working channels), and as the farm has become more quiet, the ringing has become more intrusive. Our recent bout with stressful news amped it up even more, so I've been doing the hands-on-ears-drumming-back-of-head remedy pretty frequently, which gives me brief windows of relief. I'm planning on getting into a routine of stretching and meditation soonish, so hopefully that helps too.
4. Pets. I mean, I love them, but oh my god do they have to be such dinks?? Indoor cat pees on area rugs as soon as the opportunity presents itself, and leaves hairballs near bedroom doors. Outdoor cat digs in the trash. Indoor cat HATES outdoor cat. Outdoor cat just wants to come inside and pee on everything. Boyfriend's dog loves to chase deer till she's a speck in a far away field, then rolls in any dead animal she finds on the way home. She also loves digging in the cat box for (apparently delicious) poops. My dog is still a hyper pup that anxiously chews on shoes, ornaments, garbage, regularly barfs because she tries to eat the other dog's food before she can get to it, and can't stand it when I give the other dog ANY attention. She flies into jealous spazzy wiggles, jump-bombing and nipping the other dog while crying frantically. There are solutions for each of these problems (dog run, sprays, gates, training), and we're working on it (please don't send suggestions). Chickens are easy with the exception of Henrietta, which I'll get into more in another post. None of them speak human, all of them are hilarious and adorable, all of them drive me completely freakin bonkers, until they get snuggly or do something so ridiculously stupid I'm forced to soften and surrender.
For one person, these ding dongs can be overwhelming, especially when I'm busy. When the family is here, it's much easier. We all love them very much, but I've made a hard rule about not adding any more animals for a while, because I'M ONLY ONE MOM. That said, I'm planning to hatch more chickens in the spring, because at least they pay their way with eggs. I'm also just eager to collect pretty heritage hens. Gotta hatch em all!
This will be my first FULL winter out here, and I'm definitely aware that the isolation might get more difficult once the holidays have passed and the winter cold becomes heavier. I'm on the hunt for cross country skis, and will be filling most of my time with farm planning and seed starting. I feel like it will actually pass really quickly, given how much there is to do before spring. There are occasional moments of feeling like I'm stranded on another planet, and I'm guessing those times will become more unnerving when I'm snowed in. I'm working to prepare for those days, slowly settling up social support systems and organizing my workload so if all else fails, at least I won't be bored. My fella owns a house in the city that I plan to take farm-breaks at too, and I have 4X4 vehicles, plus regular visits from my fella and family.
That's about all I can think of for now. Feel free to ask any other questions! My next post will cover our water situation, and soon I'll do a feature on Henrietta too.