Country Living vs. City Living: Sheltering or Liberating?

By Caroline Campbell

Thirty minutes north of Edmonton at my friend’s daughters’ country school, a sign hangs on the door prohibiting horse hair in the building. Tree nuts in any shape or form are ok, but horse owners need to lint-brush their children from eyebrows to toenails before they leave the house. When I lived in the city, I found this hilarious. “Really?” I would tease, “Your school is a horse-hair free zone? You know you live in the boonies when…” Now I live in the boonies and also happen to work in a school where, thanks to shedding season, I have been sneezing more than ever this year. In retrospect, my city-girl arrogance wasn’t very funny after all. Achoo.

I was raised on a small farm on the outskirts of a quaint little town about an hour east of Vancouver, so it isn’t as if I am completely ignorant when it comes to rural culture. For example, I was a 4-H kid growing up: beef, dairy and horse. I had pet cows that I adored which, incidentally, we later ate (a joke I would tell my city friends which they found about as funny as breaking a heel on their designer shoe while running for the LRT in rush hour).

For years of my life, situations like this would unfold: I would be out with city friends at a trendy restaurant, in our trendy clothes, talking about trendy subjects while drinking trendy wine, when the topic of our childhoods would arise. Someone would mention something like gymnastics or basketball and at my turn, I would mention showing cattle. This would immediately result in an awkward silence while we sipped our drinks and shifted our eyes away from one another. Head, Heart, Health and Hands, forever ingrained deep in my temporal lobe.

After nearly 15 years of urban living, I have moved back to a town of 5000 people and am submerged in small town culture once again. I get it. I love it. I never want to leave.

There are some things, though, to which I have had to re-adjust.

I often forget that there are no grocery stores open late in town, and even though the drug store says “open late” with a moon on the sign, it isn’t really, unless you consider 9 p.m. late. Inevitably, once a week I buy milk and a bag of coffee from the Husky station because I have missed the grocery store. Wait, why am I trying to sound more organized than I am? It’s often not just milk and coffee; it’s also dog food, bread and a box of cookies for school lunches. Five minutes later and $37 closer to the poverty line, I leave the gas station convenience store with two bags of essentials.

According to the 2011 census, there were over 600,000 rural dwellers in our province. I often wonder why there aren’t more. I am no expert on where the perfect place is to raise a family, although I do know that in nearly two years our family has experienced so much of our province, things that in the preceding years we hadn’t even thought of doing. We have skied amazing hills, camped in beautiful and isolated places, slid down mud slides into river water, and driven down miles of dirt roads lacing through picture-perfect fields of yellow and purple. Regularly in the evenings we bring blankets onto our trampoline and watch streamers of pink and green wave and parade for us in the night sky, undisturbed by city lights.

I am a reformed city mom now. I see the irony so clearly: while I was busy insisting that I wasn’t going to shelter my children, while poking fun of my friend and her horse-hair free school, while running away from my own country roots, I was actually depriving my kids of the adventure and exploration I wished for them. I was entirely convinced that urban exposure was keeping my kids from living under a rock, yet here in the boonies we have found freedom and adventure, and made a connection with nature that we previously never had.

Small town, rural living — just can’t beat it, for all the marvelous gifts it has given us.

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