I’ve learned many lessons in the five years since I moved here. I grew up in a suburban town that I thought would be similar to this small rural town. There are similarities, but also significant differences unique to rural life. I’ve written and re-written this post over several months. There was a section about guns I am editing because that can be a separate post.
- On the community Facebook page- when people post pictures of cows or horses that are in their backyard with the caption “Did some one lose a cow?” They are not joking. There will be a flurry of responses and tags e.g. “John Smith looks like Betsy…?” “Maggie Smith tell John Smith that looks like Betsy” Eventually John or Maggie Smith may pop on with a picture of Betsy home safe and sound in her barn and many thanks to the community for helping them find her. I did not know people could lose horses and cows. But they do. More frequently than you would think. Vice Versa people post pictures of animals that are lost…I have been credited with identifying a lost duck and hens that were in the wetlands area across the street from me. A thankful owner drove up in their van within ten minutes of me replying to their “Lost duck” post and hopped out and retrieved the duck and hens.
- I can be friends-ish with Republicans. It takes a lot. From both sides. And let me qualify this with a hell no to Trump Republicans. But if I didn’t at least play nice and polite with some Republicans…well that cuts out about 4,000 people of the 7,000 total. Of note Biden won by 8 votes in the last presidential election in this small town- which gives me some hope.
- I have to work harder to find my people and the families I want the boys exposed to. It’s not impossible and I’ve met some incredible people and amen for the other lesbian couple in town who have boys the same age as mine. I also have attended some of the town Democratic committee meetings which helps.
- In that vein- I have never lived somewhere with a majority Republican government and I am continuously impressed with the persistence of the Democratic committee. They are never defeated even as they are always defeated. They show up to all town meetings and enter candidates into every election possible. I have come to truly admire their dedication in a seemingly hopeless town populace. They have also taught me the importance of Democrats showing up even when there is Republican majority.
- You will get stuck behind tractors while driving. You will also know multiple people who own tractors. There will be many discussions about said tractors, as well as rides on them, and inevitably one of them will have a tractor that has no brakes. This will be a known fact and yet people will still use the tractor. With no brakes.
- You must have a generator.
- Farm towns have significant racism and homophobia. What’s interesting though is that most people are still willing to have a conversation with me and be neighborly or friendly. There are hateful people. Make no mistake. But there are also people who will in this rough shodden sort of way be accepting of me as a person. I had a client once who had a neighbor who was transphobic and after a few caustic interactions they ultimately developed this bizarre friendly banter that I now understand. Every morning she would walk out for her paper and the neighbor would be working on his car and he would look up and wave and say with a grin, “Morning Tranny,” And my client would respond, “How ya doing you bigot?” Then they would both laugh with neighborly affection. That is the best way I can describe farm town life. It’s like we know we are all different but there is also this loyalty that develops and protectiveness among people who live in rural communities. I’ve been forced to challenge my own black and white thinking around human relationships and differing political belief systems in big and small ways.
- There are incredibly indigent people in farm towns. People who are suffering, whose homes don’t have working heating systems, and who are food insecure and housing insecure. I volunteered administering COVID-19 vaccines in town last year to homebound individuals. I saw incredible poverty in some of the homes I visited. But also strength, dignity, and pride. It was an eye-opening and humbling experience for me. There was poverty in the suburbs I grew up in, but not like this honestly.
- I can’t let my gas tank get as empty as I used to because I won’t make it to a gas station. We are not in the middle of nowhere per se but it takes a few miles to find a gas station. And at least ten miles to find a grocery store. Traveling a minimum of 20 minutes to a grocery store was a new experience for me. I do not like it.
- Growing up on the shoreline I was used to salty air, salty breezes, and generally a fresh feeling from the water. It is still weird not seeing the water every day. But the longer I am here the more I have leaned into the woods, the open fields and valleys, and what my cousins who are geologists refer to as “elevations” but what the locals call mountains. They are petite mountains. There are beautiful sunsets over the valley, and I’ve traded the nasty smell of low tide for the warm wafts of manure in the Summer time. There are cows a few houses down, and ducks and hens the other direction. Horses across the street. The landscape is hard to beat and I understand why people stay. It’s a rough sort of beauty that creeps under your skin. After being away for a few days this past weekend I drove through cities and suburbs to get back here, and I breathed this sigh of relief as I saw the haystacks and the tractors. Then I thought there was something wrong with me for being relieved by haystacks.
- I have a friend from Wyoming, she lived in California and now on the East coast. She says there’s a saying that people on the West coast are nice and people on the East coast are kind. Meaning, on the East coast and especially in New England we are likely going to be rude AF to your face. BUT…with an annoyed sigh or no eye contact at all we will hold the door for you, and we will dive into the street when you drop something and then yell at you as we run after you to give you the dropped and recovered item. Kindness with a gruff exterior has never been more real to me since living rural. People who may be seen as “mean” have helped me drag Christmas trees to my car and house, and they have helped me stack and cover firewood the day before a hurricane came, they have shown incredibly kindnesses to my sons and I in many ways. I get warning texts about bobcats and coyotes from the neighbor who once argued with me about the sense of putting a BLM sign in a town “Full of white people”. I have found that as long as I don’t overtly try and change any one’s opinions but firmly stand for my own…we find this central sort of peace. I have experienced true kindness in a town that is about 1/3-1/2 homophobic.
I moved here five years ago. And especially after the divorce I thought I would leave. But the longer I stay the harder it is for me to imagine living somewhere else. The love that people have for the land here is contagious. And the loyalty among rural neighbors is hard to describe and not truly appreciated until you experience it firsthand. In a liberal state I never expected to land in a majority Republican enclave. But it’s made me appreciate the drive and fortitude of the Democrats who are here so much more. I thought that maybe I’d have to compromise who I am to live here, but if anything it’s cemented who I am because while others may have different beliefs there is still a level of acceptance of me and what I stand for because there is admiration of the fact that I am standing for something.
Since I moved here I see a rainbow every Spring and Summer. Usually two or three. In fact I’ve never seen so many rainbows before I moved here. I’m taking that as a sign that I’m where I am supposed to be. And who knows? Maybe along the way some one’s viewpoint will shift and that by me being here the next presidential election the democratic candidate will win by more than eight votes.
p.s. We didn’t know Biden won our town until three days after the election because the registrar and town clerk were both out sick and we had to wait for them to come back and count the “boxes in the office” for the final count. Yup. That happens apparently in rural towns- boxes of ballots in an office that only one person has the keys for.
p.p.s. I am looked down on for paying for a trash service. Apparently we are all supposed to bring our trash to the dump and then complain the dump is only open banking hours.