longing for an end to the distinction between country and city living!

April 20, 2011

my littlest sweetie mumbles to me through a yawn, “i’m a country boy, mama…” and i can’t resist asking him what that means to him. he says “you know, horse riding, lassos, pretty much a cowboy but with an interest in all the wild creatures. for you i’ll add looking under logs for bugs.” this same boy frequently describes our neighborhood (a moderately busy one here in Portland, OR, but we have a big yard) as “smelly and loud.” if it weren’t for the fact that he likes to walk everywhere and completely detests spending time in the car, he would find nothing redeeming about our urban life.

i tell him i’m a country girl and a city girl, both, and that we are both a country family and a city family. once upon a time we lived in a little house in a meadow on the edge of a state forest. we are all marked forever by the year we spent there, messing about in creeks and on trails, building forts and listening to birds’ wings. i’d be lying if i didn’t say there was a sharp tug in my heart when we spend time hiking, which is fairly rare now that we don’t drive. seeing my children making their way through the muddy paths with their walking sticks (“i’m a gnome, mama!”), feeling the change in their demeanor after even just an hour out on the trail, i feel called to give them that again, the freedom to roam and the chance to experience the woods or the meadow not as a place you go but as a place you are…

and yet i would never live where we lived before again. 6000 people is too few for me to feel safe and loved and understood as a trans person. it is too few for us to have solid, long-lasting connections with other homeschoolers. and the drive to anywhere else when you live five hours from the nearest city of any size is depressing.

what i long for is present in so many books i read to the kids: the Moffats, Edward Eager’s books, Kiki’s Delivery Service (yes, the book!), and many others feature either country children who can readily walk to town or town children who can easily walk to the edge of their town and into the country. when i think of all the people in the communities around Portland who would like to live in Portland (if they could afford it), i’m very saddened thinking of how we could make room for them here in the city, how Portland could have a real edge and we could walk or bike there (if we didn’t use so much space for cars and their infrastructure).

or i imagine our neighborhoods having edges, like a more dense Hawthorne District opening up to a surrounding area with larger lots and open space on it’s edge that eventually grow smaller as you approach Foster-Powell’s dense neighborhood center, say…

In Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language (if you only read one book i suggest ever in my entire life, let it be this one), one of the patterns is for City-Country Fingers, the idea being that city life only works for people when it’s vibrancy is complemented by access to open countryside, and, therefore, the city and the country should interlock with and penetrate each other in one mile (or so) wide bands, affording everyone in the region access to both. obviously, we are extremely far from this ideal here in Portland, even though we are very far ahead of many other cities in the country.

and meanwhile, my children grow, and my choice to do the ecologically responsible thing (as well as the thing best for mine and my children’s social, physical, and emotional health) and greatly minimize our car use is facilitated by our urban neighborhood while at the same time their access to the countryside is vastly limited by it.

i periodically look at listings of houses for sale (often in random places throughout the region or even the country). i recently saw one for a house on 14 acres with Columbia River frontage about an hour by car from Portland. i then went to walkscore.com and discovered that the library and grocery store (the town center) were less than a quarter mile from the edge of the property and i literally wept thinking of the ways that this kind of life is foreclosed for me and my children, by virtue of our society-wide planning and by virtue of my queerness (living an hour from Portland in a small town would likely be a bit awkward for me and my girlfriend and our five kids, even if i could sell my girlfriend and the charming teenager on the idea;), and the ways that it is foreclosed for the 70%+ of children in America growing up in cities.

and i know that if i lived in a place like that, i would come running back to the city faster than i left, because i do like the vitality and opportunities the city offers and because of my commitment to doing my part to save the world (which really has to mean making cities livable and sustainable). i just want my kids to lie in (or on the edge of) a meadow near our house (not a manicured lawn at the park) and watch butterflies and then pretend to be rabbits. i want Johnson Creek to be safe to play in (there are so many tempting places along Johnson Creek right here in the city), not filled with E. Coli, DDT, gasoline, and heavy metals. i would be fine living above a bakery in the center of our neighborhood (even with four floors above us) if countryside that was accessible to the public (like Europe’s picnicking rights) was a mile away or i would be happy to live in a country finger and share my slice of the country with the family that lives above the bakery so they could picnic all summer long.

interestingly enough, even the electronic distractions kids are sucked into more and more these days (not that i didn’t play my share of the Legend of Zelda) acknowledge the beauty of this possibility. my older son has a Pokemon video game, and he remarked that he’d really like to live in one of the towns in it. the main character in the game is a child who lives in town and can walk in a matter of minutes past all manner of shops and beckoning friends and be in fields, grasslands, or forest. there are bike/pedestrian corridors that take him to other towns where kids are able to do the same thing.

i want our neighborhood to be as enticing to him as his Pokemon town.

Advertisements

4 Responses to “longing for an end to the distinction between country and city living!”

  1. Anonymous said

    I have a similar internal dilemma. I’m a country person but can’t seem to pull myself away from the advantages of city living, like being able to bike or walk anywhere I need to go. It’s a real struggle now, knowing what I want for my coming soon child.
    My vision/dream is to have a queer friendly intentional community somewhere close to portland with forest surrounding. Everyone works to build small private homes for each family and grow lots and lots of food. Mine would be a tree or cob house. Also, having a veggie van or bus for “town” trips together. I think having a few or many queer friendly families living close would give me more of a sense of safety and community in country living…..There’s of course many more ideas for this vision..I get sad when thinking it may never happen..

    • anonymous-that is very similar to my country-living vision. the only way i can imagine making it work is in community with other families. i want my kids to have friends and to not feel like they are always begging to go to town to see someone not in our family. 😉 maybe we should talk about our visions more together! 😛 <3, katie

  2. We can build it.
    Let’s go here: http://www.portlandonline.com/parks/finder/index.cfm?&propertyid=246&action=ViewPark
    That is Macleay Park.

    WE can jump on the 77 near your place or the Hollywood TC and get within 6 minute walk of entrance! I think it actually drops off near Sis n Law’s restaurant-Industrial Cafe!
    When do you want to go?

  3. Anonymous said

    Yes, I think so too. I’d love to be able to raise my kid in nature, simply, around other families and hopefully kids that have similar visions and values. Although I love the city sometimes, I feel smothered and trapped emotionally, mentally, and physically here..Yes, I’d love to talk more about them..This would be Toeknee

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: