by Robert Maxwell
My wife and I aren’t city people. Never have been, and I hope never will be. Unlike me, Edyta grew up in a city, but knew from an early age it wasn’t where she wanted to stay. I grew up in rural Northern Ontario, only entering urban centers occasionally and briefly. Most of these trips were to visit extended family, and although I enjoyed the time (and still do), I was always glad to leave the city when the holidays ended. I’m not writing this article to bash cities or those who live in them. Cities are necessary. I’m just glad I don’t have to live in one. If you’re from the concrete jungle and curious about the appeal of the country, keep reading. Here are 5 reasons I love my rural lifestyle.
Lots of Land
I grew up on a 91.5 acre farm property, about half of which is thick forest. Now I have my own home on a remote corner of that same property, where I can look out any window and see only trees and sky. My nearest neighbours are several hundred metres away and completely out of sight. I remember visiting my grandparents north of Toronto with my parents and siblings one Christmas in the late 90’s. I asked my dad why the neighbours’ house was so close. Only a narrow, gated alley separated the two buildings, and it was almost possible to spread your arms and touch both walls. “They’re trying to shoehorn as many people in as possible, Robert”, my dad explained. “That’s how it is in the city.” I was amazed. How could anyone be happy with so little land around their home? I was used to walking in the forest, running around in huge open fields, and hardly seeing another person outside my family, except for trips to town. Fast forward 20 years, and I still love it here. Some people need lots of humanity all around them, and that’s fine. I’m not like that. Without space, trees, clean water and fresh air, I’d suffocate.
FREEDOM TO DO THINGS
One common criticism of rural life is that it’s boring. Urban friends and family often tell me they could never live in the country, because there’s nothing to do. Most of my cousins were raised in the Greater Toronto Area, and seem to like it just fine. As kids, we’d often get into discussions about our different living situations. They’d ask how I dealt with the boredom of rural living: no malls, cinemas, or exotic restaurants. I’d ask how they got by without forests, fields, clean lakes for swimming and fishing, and small towns where everyone knows your name. I’m still waiting for an answer. The idea that cities allow more activities is simply untrue. They allow different activities, not more. I’ve always found the kind of activities enjoyed by urban dwellers fairly shallow compared to the natural freedom I enjoy on Manitoulin Island.
NOT TOO MANY PEOPLE
I’ve seen even self-proclaimed extroverts become exhausted by a long shopping session in a crowded mall, and not just because of the hours of walking or trying on clothes. Exposure to too much humanity can drain energy almost as fast as a heavy workout. But unlike workouts, most people I know don’t seem to get a deep sense of satisfaction from their trips to the mall. Instead, they’re worn out and ready for some quiet time at home. This problem is virtually non-existent where I live. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a people hater. I even enjoy mingling in crowds now and then, as long as it doesn’t last too long. I’ve found many people agree with me that being crowded together with hundreds of others on highways, subways, in malls or fast food franchises is extremely draining. In the country, you might go days without seeing anyone outside your family. To bubbly socialites, this might seem like the seventh layer of Hell, but I find it suits me just right. The few times I do get a hankering for some human contact, the town of Gore Bay, population 900, is just a 20 minute drive away. People are great, but there’s something to be said for solitude, too.
MORE PEOPLE WHO CARE
As you’ve probably gathered by now, I’m not the sort who craves constant human contact. I’m quite happy seeing only my family members for long stretches, but when I do make a trip to town, I’m reminded of the biggest difference between urban and rural communities, apart from population. In small country towns (at least the ones I know), people know and genuinely care about you. Every time I drive to Gore Bay for groceries, I’m greeted by name by at least half a dozen people. I don’t usually know any of them well, but I know their names and they know mine, and it’s easy to see they aren’t just being polite when they ask how I’m doing. They really want to know. In cities, anonymity reigns. That’s why so many more drivers honk and curse at their fellow motorists on urban roads. They’re protected by anonymity, so they don’t care what the offending driver thinks of them. It’s not unusual for city folks to live in the same house or apartment for years without knowing anything about their neighbours. I don’t want too much human contact, but when it happens, I appreciate the warm, friendly atmosphere of my small community.
There’s no denying that rural life is far more physically challenging than urban life. Anyone who’s lived through winter in rural Northern Ontario can tell you about the difficulties of using and maintaining your own snow removal equipment, splitting and storing firewood (for those who haven’t yet accepted the ease and convenience of oil or natural gas), or tilling, planting and weeding a large garden in the heat of summer. These hardships are not cause for complaint. In fact, I view them as bonuses. If I lived on a refined city street with a short cobblestone driveway kept clear of snow by paid professionals, I’d soon become depressed. Many feel differently, but I need to do things for myself. To me, the goal of life is not as much physical ease as I can manage. Country living allows me to pursue hard physical challenges that make me a stronger and better man, and this is its own reward.