Five things I learned going rural
By Kristen A. Schmitt
A few years ago, we moved away from the city, trekking 14 hours east of Detroit to the rural mountains of Vermont. My husband’s job brought us out that way and, while I was looking forward to the change, my previous life experiences didn’t really prepare me for the switch. I didn’t grow up camping, hiking, or hunting. In fact, my entire outdoors experience revolved around sidewalks, bicycles and complaining. Fast forward to 2016 and I not only spend at least 50% of my day outside (no matter the weather), but I’ve channeled my newfound enjoyment for the outdoors into writing for a variety of publications about bowhunting, archery, local food and backyard poultry, among other things.
The irony is that before our move, I wouldn’t have recommended going “rural” to anyone. And now? Not only did this move help me break free of my chain-link fence mentality, but it also gave me new knowledge and confidence that I bring to other areas of my life. So, in the tradition of Dave Letterman’s top ten lists, here’s the top five things I’ve learned since going rural:
5 ) Nature can be incredibly surprising.
Our property in Vermont was surrounded by forest, field and water. While we owned roughly 8 acres, the back of the property butted up to an 11-acre pond and the other sides were bordered by hardwood forest. It was more than just a switch from pavement to dirt roads. My nearest neighbors were bobcats (that tried to kill my chickens – twice), porcupines, peregrine falcons, eagles, and hawks; vultures, wild turkeys, juncos and herons. One particular incident involved a few nighttime visits from an ornery black bear interested in our trash.
We now have a 36-acre farm in upstate NY with a similar landscape.
4 ) Chickens are more than just tiny egg machines.
Being able to grab fresh eggs from your own chickens for breakfast is an unbelievable treat. Chickens are easier than any other type of livestock and mine did amazingly well in negative temperatures last winter. We’ve only lost one (to a bobcat); the others are hearty and healthy. As a writer, I work out of my house and have the ability to listen to the chicken “conversation” daily. I read somewhere that chickens have their own language and I can attest to that fact. Sitting on my porch with a mug of tea (or glass of wine, depending on the time of day) to watch them peck and chatter is one of my favorite activities.
3 ) Eating vegetables that you grow yourself is an amazing experience.
My parents raised me well with a small backyard garden and fresh vegetables daily. But the significance of planting our own fruits and vegetables and maintaining our garden – especially one as large as we have – is priceless. Our young daughter seems way more connected to where her food comes from than I ever was until I became an adult. Picking that first piece of spinach or watching corn plump up on the stalks is exciting each and every time.
2 ) It takes a lot of wood to heat a house, especially with temperatures in the negatives for weeks. Prior to our move, we relied on city gas to heat our house in the suburbs like the majority of the country. Once we realized we could harvest our own heat from the forest on our property, we had a wood stove installed in the living room. Little did we realize that it takes a lot of wood to keep even a smaller house warm when the temperatures don’t go higher than -16 for weeks. Yet, if I had to do it again, I would. I like being able to see the physical amount of wood I used for heat rather than paying a faceless gas bill. Besides, splitting and stacking wood may not be a ton of fun, but it’s not bad. In fact, it warms you twice: once when you stack the wood; later, when you sit in front the fire.
1 ) I’m not helpless.
The main thing that I have learned from going “rural” is that I am not a helpless person. I am stronger than I’ve ever been and my passion and dedication to keeping up with this new lifestyle choice has me learning how to do new things every single day. If we hadn’t moved I wonder if I would feel this empowered in the physical aspects of life as well as the mental. This move has changed me for the better – and I can’t imagine ever living anywhere where I can’t see the stars.
Kristen A. Schmitt writes about wildlife, sustainable agriculture, environmental issues and the outdoors. Her work has appeared in National Geographic, Fast Company, Audubon, Eating Well,USA Today, Hunt & Fish and others. Follow her @Kristen_Schmitt.