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Here’s a question for ya! Do you consider yourself a town mouse or a country mouse? I have known people to struggling with this dilemma and have seen town mouse vs. country mouse syndrome have a profound effect on families. For many, it is incredibly exciting to pack up one’s life into suitcases and head to the bush to be at one with wilderness. What an awesome opportunity to connect to Mother Nature in the most genuine way, right outside one’s doorstep. Literally every step is a chance to be educated and inspired by the outdoors.
But what if you have children that have lives outside of the homestead? What if they’re not as excited about talking to the trees as you are? What if they are involved in extra curricular sports or creative activities? What if they have after-school jobs or simply want to spend time with people outside of their own family and neighbours (who could realistically still be miles and miles away). What it adds up to is a lot of extra driving if that child is not of legal age to drive and does not have access to their own vehicle. Basically, any child under 16 is dependent on someone else to have a life outside of their homestead. That adds up to a whole heck of a lot of driving (and perhaps a whole heck of a lot of shoveling in the winter time!)
And what if you have a job outside of homesteading to supplement your income? How far do you have to travel away from the land you love so that you can continue to live on the land that you love?
According to the book The Happy City, by Charles Montgomery, commuting for more than 15 minutes per day can cause major depression. (By the way, I strongly suggest reading this book if you are in any way working for a municipality or city or simply interested in community design!) The longer one commutes, the worse the depression. Oh don’t get me wrong, there are some that embrace the trip, putting on an audio tape or tuning in to CBC radio, having an opportunity to decompress after a hard day’s work and shaking off any bad vibes that could be attached to the work day. But for others, it means extra money in a second vehicle, vehicle maintenance and gas and less time at home with the family and nature that one desperately longs to connect with. Looking at that beautiful lake or trees or fields in front of oneself that cannot be explored is akin to torture if you are spending all of your time driving back and forth for either your own work or your child’s extra curriculars.
As you all know, at the moment, Brad and I do a 2.5 hour commute one way to the farm every second week. I don’t consider that a depressing ride, though. We fill our time by enjoying the scenery and wildlife on the 105. As you know, I love that highway and the beauty it possesses. We take turns driving sometimes, just for variety and to give the other person an opportunity to chill. We read to each other. We listen to podcasts or we get excited when CBC’s Spark comes on, or The Age of Persuasion, or Randy Bachman’s Vinyl Tap, Tapestry, On Reserve, The Doc Project, Q, Ideas or The Debaters…or…ok, ok. We love CBC radio!
An ongoing joke with wives is the best time to ask your husband a question is when you’re trapped in a vehicle heading down the 105. There’s nowhere to go, unless you can miraculously harness a moose and get a ride back to where you came from! Haha So, yes. Sometimes we listen to nothing and just have some deep conversation that needs to be had. Sometimes there is a conversation and then two hours of silence. Haha
And out at the farm, we have a 15-minute commute to the city of Dryden. That’s not bad at all. It’s like driving to Cochenour from Red Lake. We’re used to travelling from community to community to do various activities, work and visit family and friends. The timing is just on the cusp of moving in to not liking the drive, so it works. Out at the farm, because our internet service is a bit pokey, I use the time between the farm and the city to catch up on what’s going on in social media. Basically, it is a 15-minute Facebook scroll (when Brad is driving, that is!) To us, the benefits of living out in the country and being “country mice” whole heartedly outweighs the 15-minute inconvenience of driving into town.
So, choices need to be made when one is making the decision as to whether it is worth while to live in the boonies or not, because it’s not all a Grizzly Adam’s fantasy of awesomeness.
Besides all of the extra work that is being done ON the homestead, it’s also extra work to get off the homestead, which usually includes a lot of shovelling. So, it’s a decision that needs to be made as a family that encompasses all aspects of life both on and off the farm. I have made a fun questionnaire for you to fill out to see if you’ve got what it takes to live in the boonies and drive everywhere you need to be, or whether you want to be smack dab in the middle of the hustle and bustle of town/city life.
I think one of the most awesome and important things that has come out of getting the farm has been the bond that it has created between Brad and I as partners. As I said, that commute is one of the reasons, but basically, out at the farm we have had no choice but to get along and trust me, there was a learning curve! We are living in a small space and when it’s super cold outside, we are in that small space together so it really pays to be nice to each other. We do more together. We work on tasks together. We communicate better and when we don’t communicate well, eventually we talk about why we need to talk better to each other. We explore the land together and depend on each other to get jobs done that benefit the whole family. We’ve learned to come together as a team. Yes, I understand that that can be done anywhere, but in our case, the lack of distractions, the need for basics such as water, heat and comfort, the confined space, and the vast openness of nature have all come together to bring a sense of peace and happiness to us as a unit as well as individually.
There’s a song by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros with the chorus, “Home is wherever I’m with you” and that’s what it all boils down to…. the actual place one exists is nothing without the love of family and friends in it. Whether one is in the sticks or the city, if you’re with your tribe that you really want to be with, then it really doesn’t matter where you are.
Back when I was a high school teacher, many a teenager would rant that they “can’t wait to get out of this hole of a town!” I simply smiled, understanding that it is a natural stage that they must go through in order to know that what they have with their family and friends is what it’s all about, not the actual stuff or activities that they are desperately seeking in the city. I get it. I lived in Winnipeg for 6 years and quite enjoyed what the city had to offer but now I cannot imagine living in a city at all. I like to go in, and then I like to get the heck out!
But it’s about having a new experience: exploring what it’s like to be a town mouse AND a country mouse. It’s really about those connections with the people and the spaces one decides to plunk themselves in and whether it brings true joy. I really feel like we won the lottery in the location of the farm. We are a short drive to Red Lake to see family and friends. We are less than an hour drive away from Quibell to visit Brad’s parents. Brad’s brother and family live right in Dryden.
We are only a 4-hour drive to Thunder Bay or Winnipeg when we need an escape. We are easy to find while it’s still easy to hide. For us, it’s perfect. For some, it would be a nightmare! But to each their own. I hope where ever you are, it’s the place you truly want to be.
May your commute be short and your journeys long.