Balancing Urban and Country Life
Most people have a clear preference when choosing a living environment. For many, there’s no grey area. There exists city or urban dwellers, and there are those who only prefer the country life and would never choose to live in a large city. The opposite is true for many die-hard urban dwellers. Few are perfectly content and can feel at home with both.
One lifestyle offers a more bustling experience with people, traffic, entertainment, parks, dining, and cultural experiences. The other provides quiet, solitude, space from neighbors, with abundant plant and wildlife. Actually, both lifestyles provide wildlife — depending on your interpretation of that term.
I’m one of those rare breeds who is content living in a large city or a remote rural setting. Currently, I’m somewhere in-between, living in a middle-class suburban area about a 45-minute drive from Chicago.
I was born and spent my formative years in the city. Most of my work experience was, and still is, in the city. I love city life and most everything it offers.
My parents purchased a relatively small, eight-acre non-working farm in Wisconsin’s Amish country some years ago. The rolling hills as you travel the western portion of the state is what surely must have enticed the Amish to migrate to the area from the eastern region of the U.S. The closer you get to the Mississippi River Valley, the more picturesque the landscape.
I was in my late teens at that time. The farm was a place to escape the noise and congestion of the crowded city. We rented the land to neighboring farmers. They also had use of our barn. There was always livestock around.
We were startled on multiple occasions when some curious cows would breach their flimsy wire confines. They would creep up and stare at us through the windows. It was alarming at night when you suddenly look up and see a massive head with large watery eyes staring you down. It was as if we were the live exhibit, and they the spectators.
Nighttime was the best. The stars are amazing in the remote country areas. It’s a real treat for city-dwellers. One late summer evening, conditions were just right so that we could see the Aurors Borealis or northern lights, a rare but not completely unheard of spectacle at this more southerly latitude from where they’re more commonly witnessed.
During summer nights, when the air would cool in the valley where our farmhouse sat, the county road was still radiating warmth from absorbing sun throughout the day. Very few vehicles used the road at night.
We would lay there on the warm blacktop. That’s how the locals referred to the asphalt roadway, to make a clear distinction from gravel-top roads — my brothers and I, sometimes friends from Chicago, and often neighboring farm kids would lay there for hours. We would tell stories and watch for shooting stars and satellites. There’s some weird, unexplainable shit moving about the heavens if you take time to study it.
When the occasional car or truck did pass by, we could see it coming from more than a mile away. Bright lights wash the horizon, then fade away as the vehicle dips into a valley. And suddenly, a great burst of blinding beams as the car makes its way over the rise of our valley.
We scurry for the tall grass on either side of the road, where it dips into a shallow ditch. We wait for the car to fly past. Its occupants completely unaware of any human presence. We’d watch the red tail lights recede and vanish over the ridge—the sound of shifting gears to accommodate the steep incline. Once again, we assume our places on the warm blacktop as the frogs and crickets resume their serenade.
The distinct smells of cattle and horse poop in the country air still centers me, but in some other place and time. It conjures in a city-dweller a timelessness that harkens back to peoples familiar with these impressions over many centuries.
Growing up in Chicago, there are times when the climate is right, and the air is heavy, one can smell Lake Michigan. It’s very different than the smell of a salt ocean. The Great Lake’s freshwater has something of a fishy note but blended with elements or inherent compounds that make it unique and unmistakable to a native Chicagoan.
I love the city life. I enjoyed growing up in the city and all of the excitement and opportunities it affords. Yet there’s something about getting away to a green, open space. A forest path reframes my thinking and resets me.
I currently work in downtown Chicago. I like the idea that in the same day, I can make the 35-mile commute to my suburban home, drive to a nearby marsh, forest preserve, or protected wetland area and enjoy, what I like to refer to as” taking my constitutional” it’s an outdated reference, I like how it sounds, so I’m doing my part to restore the old-timey term.
So if you’ve declared yourself strictly a city person or country person, maybe it’s time to explore the alternative in some new ways. Keep an open mind. And like much of the experiences in our lives — it’s all about balance.