Urban and Rural

May 30, 2008 at 11:21 am Leave a comment

Besides allowing me to compare growing conditions in two separate USDA hardiness zones, the CRV house and the piedmont house have given me the opportunity to reflect on the differences between urban and rural life.

The CRV house is a generous two-story home — with a finished basement and attic so effectively four story — built around the turn of the twentieth century on a nice-sized lot. It’s only three blocks from the town center which puts it in very easy walking distance of a Whole Foods market, a chain drug store, bank, post office, and a farmer’s market that operates three days a week in season. The next door neighbors have kids who play outside in almost any weather and our two households are both on the relaxed side of the line drying question. This past weekend when a few children were debating the proper backdrop for some group photo shoot they were planning, I heard the suggestion to “go stand over by the underwear” loft over the fence. It’s a pleasant neighborhood.

Still, the house borders a major town thoroughfare and the din of traffic is more or less a constant background hum. We can’t keep a casual outdoors compost pile on account of the certainty of attracting rats. And the annual property taxes on the place total more than the sum of the yearly mortgage payments on the piedmont house.

The piedmont house is a pretty undistinguished one-story suburban ranch with an 800 sq. ft. “great room” tacked on. It is sited on a 1.6 acre lot bordered by a privately-held forest on one side and a rail road right-of-way on the other. The lot is mostly grown up in pine morphing into the oak-hickory hardwood mix characteristic to this part of the country. There’s a small patch in back of the house that I work to keep clear enough to grow a few vegetables and dry my clothes. Garden predation by munching animals is very common but we have no issues with rats in the compost. There’s a very, very, very casual three-bin system set up on the firm principle that if one waits long enough “compost happens.” There is a major interstate close enough that the whine of tractor trailers can usually be distinguished. When the train comes by it’s an event. But mostly the background noise around the piedmont house is birdsong. There are hawks and owls. The neighbors up the road have chickens and someone on the other side of the railroad tracks raises goats. It’s a pleasant neighborhood.

The main drawback is that it’s several miles from the nearest shopping center — biking distance but barely. And it’s about a ten-mile commute for me from home to office. Since I’ve established the precedent of telecommuting to make my nomadism work, I can also work from home when I’m in the piedmont and I do as frequently as I can manage. Still, it’s a fact of piedmont house life that the idyll of the country is tied to the gas-powered automobile.

I love the history and solid feel of the CRV house. I love being able to leave the car in the driveway once I get it there. I enjoy the neighborhood and the easy feeling of community. But I have to admit that when I walk out of an evening to empty the kitchen compost into the larger bin I heave a sigh of relief when the unkempt grass slides between my bare toes. The city has clear advantages, but the country is home.


Entry filed under: Comparisons.

Home in the Piedmont Catching Up

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