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My husband and I were talking the other night and trying to imagine where we’d like to end up when we can’t handle the house any more. And guess what? We were hard pressed to find an acceptable alternative. Country life has captivated us. It’s not for everyone, though. We have modern conveniences, but with a twist.
Once upon a time
We actually lived in cities and suburbs a lot before moving to Vermont. We could go to a variety of restaurants, movie theaters, malls, and all the goodies of 30 years ago. And then we moved here.
Anyone with sense would have driven down the mud-to-the-axles dirt road once and had enough. We figured out how to drive those roads. The mud is the kind that the Russian countryside used to stop the Nazi Blitz in the Second World War. Every spring we have the challenge, but nobody is going to pay to pave those roads because of the expense to keep them up. Welcome to New England.
Roads are a big deal because rural people drive a LOT. Once I ordered something by phone and the order taker thought I was lying. She wanted to send me coupons for mall stores. I told her we live on a dirt road three hours away from the nearest mall where English is spoken. Impossible, she told me, since there are no dirt roads in America any more and what else would they speak in a mall?
In Quebec, they speak Canadian French, and the nearest of their malls is about an hour away.
It took some getting used to, being in a border community. Many older people had immigrated from Quebec for the furniture factory jobs. They became American citizens but some never really got used to English. Plus we have tourists from Canada traveling through, so we used to have bilingual stop signs that also said “ARRET.”
When we bought the house, the family we bought it from took us to dinner over the border. We tried a local favorite, poutine, which is French fries with gravy and curd cheese all over them. We’d been on a low-fat diet so didn’t take to it. The pizza, however, was heavenly. I’m sorry, but it’s hard to get good pizza in the South.
In the southern suburbs, we got used to coon hunters with their mobs of hounds charging across the yard. Possums stole garbage that wasn’t secured. We had copperheads under the deck that our cat considered toys.
But up here we have all kinds of things going through the yard.
We have moose and deer. The deer like the apple trees, and so do the bears. The moose I met in the driveway was evidently trying to work out whether to make love or war on the pickup truck.
Bears love choke cherries. They binge at night and pass out in the downed trees. After waking one up on my own cherry-gathering trip, I have been way more noisy walking in wooded areas.
Porcupines, woodchucks, raccoons, and weasels all live here. Thankfully we’re too far north for possums and poisonous snakes. But we now have more ticks from warmer winters, so we may have to revise this list later.
The house has been home to countless mice, some squirrels, and swarms of cluster flies and ladybugs. Ants try to get a beachhead but every year we stop them. The attic once hosted bats and a gooey bee colony that was seeping through the ceiling. Woodpeckers occasionally make holes in the shakes on the exterior, trying to get the cluster flies.
We also have skunks. One sprayed our cat about 3 AM. He came running for help and hopped up on the bed to wake me. I thought the house was on fire, the smell was so bad. Buddy got a bath right away, and I had to change the bedding.
Others passing through
Our town shares a policeman with another town about 30 miles away. The State Police come from another place about an hour away by road. There’s a sheriff about a half-hour from here, but they function differently in Vermont than they do in the South. So we rely on Border Patrol.
Our property is right on the Canadian border. The US government put up a fence to keep vehicles from using the old road into Vermont, of which our driveway is a part. Then Canada moved their road away from the house. There’s still foot traffic though.
We have had eastern Europeans, South Americans, Middle Easterners, and others go through the yard or get turned back here. We turned back some guys who spoke something Slavic. My husband has some Russian and got through to them. They turned back.
Border Patrol is always here as a result. They are great neighbors, and we jokingly call them the 24 hour armed security. We have scrambled them ourselves by scraping snow off cars too far down the driveway or wearing hats mowing. Whenever we trade vehicles and transfer plates, Border Patrol pulls us over till the computers update the plate to the new vehicle.
So when we get thirteen guys and a tracking dog in the yard with flashlights going at 10 PM, we don’t worry. They have ATVs, helicopters, snowmobiles and an impressive arsenal. It beats having neighborhood youth out slashing tires for fun.
Services in the country
Out here in the boonies, we cannot get over-the-air TV signals at all. Hills block us to the north and south from getting signals, and we’re too far away from the transmitters anyway.
So, no TV and very little radio unless we subscribe to satellite providers. That’s expensive and you still get commercials, so no. We’re also too far out to get DSL so we tried satellite internet. Then we discovered the radio link to fiber optic cable, with our radio link in a tree. It’s cheaper than satellite but tends to break down in cold weather.
We have landline only at home, and have to go to town to have cellular service. Nobody picks up our trash; we haul it and recycling to the transfer station. Soon we will have to bring in our wilted lettuce and potato peelings for composting, by Vermont law.
Since Border Patrol needs access to our yard, and the town owns the bridge to it, the town plows us out in snowstorms. There’s still plenty to clean up after, though, so we shovel and blow snow frequently in winter. Most people have to pay a private snowplow for their driveways.
When the electricity goes out, country places wait longer for repair. We’re farther out and there are fewer of us to complain. So our house, like many others, has a generator fueled by gasoline. That way we can heat, have water, keep the food, and see. We also have a gas stove and a wood stove for heat to spell the generator.
In addition, we have neighbors. We check in on them and they on us when there’s an outage or other event. If someone gets sick and has to travel, a neighbor will fix dinner for the family. If one’s well pump dies a neighbor will help with water. A neighbor watches out for a vacationing family’s house or pets if needed.
And above all, the relative quiet of country life. Going out on the deck to see the Milky Way or northern lights if we’re lucky. No traffic lights, very light traffic. It’s actually dark at night. And we have a more human pace for life.
Would you ever live in the country?