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The Country Side of Life

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When you move from the city into the country, a considerable number of municipally peripheral things suddenly come into your life in a big way, such as the moon and the stars. Also insects, trees and animals, not to mention the sky as a whole. Also, general vegetation, and a welcome absence of the masses of concrete and asphalt and people that characterize city life, as do power and phone lines overhead.

The moon doesn’t play much of a role in city life, except as a kind of urban add-on one sees occasionally that is played up in movies as an extravaganza backdrop, the moon coming up between the skyscrapers. City folks actually don’t have all that much to do with the moon, let alone the stars, except in a mythico-cinematico-derivativo kind of way. Isn’t it mystical, they say in the park, that smattering of artificial countryside city folks resort to in their free time to evoke their roots with a distant wistfulness, like they do in a museum where they can touch the artifacts. And the sky — in the city the sky is pretty much an artifact too, the less significant part of what metropolitans call the “skyline.” Isn’t it impressive, they say. Well, yeah, I guess so, if you like artifacts in your eye.

Out in the country the sky stretches all the way from here to there (not the city “here and there”; such words resume their original meaning out in the country). And of course the country is where birds actually live and enjoy themselves. By birds I don’t mean panhandling pigeons, but self-supporting warblers, wheatears, grosbeaks, ducks, thrushes, egrets, pheasants, finches, redstarts, hawks, swallows, wagtails, owls, the list goes on. Real birds. Not merely the species or two that can tolerate exhaust fumes for a discernible life span, like the trees the city plants along the avenues. And insects — not cockroaches, which can live anywhere, the pigeons of the insect family — but genuine broad-spectrum insects, buzz and hum and crawl, all going about their ancient business in their traditional ways in holes and hills and hives or just plain on the ground (there’s actual ground out in the country) to the chirpings and trillings of cricket and katydid as evening comes, and through the night, the fragrant night. And then at dawn vast webs are strung with beads of dew and hung with warbler notes in the pink sunrise from way down at the bottom of the sky.

And in the spring and summer eve and morn, the oratorio of the frogs, of course, in their timeless worship of all things high and low; such worship, in all its many forms, goes on all the time in the country but is pretty much extinct in the city. And then there’s the occasional snake draped over a branch in the sun like this was the garden of Eden or something, not to mention brief glimpses of ferret fox boar stag raccoon monkey bear, and there are actual fish in the waters, waters which, by the way, in the country you can drink without even once thinking of wet laundry.

And fireflies, of a summer night! Or a rainy summer night, when the underneaths of leaves are lit by thousands of tiny lanterns as the firefly party goes on despite the downpour. Rain, too, in the country is different from rain in the city, where it is a wet bothersome thing serving no natural function (except maybe to water the park), only an artificial one when in the summer it sometimes brings desperately needed relief to what city officials, and I guess everybody by now, calls heat island syndrome, which is when the sun and the city work together to form a kind of sidewalk inferno. And I probably don’t need to point out the difference between a city summer night and a country summer night, nor dwell at length on the differences between the other seasons as experienced in these respective locales, but I will.

In the country summer the nights are cool, there is tree breath everywhere, and you can breathe its perfume beneath a sky broadcast with all the diamonds of the universe for you,. And you sleep better too, since you’re so much more at home, because we all came from the country. And when autumn arrives, who can describe what is more beautiful than all the masterpieces of all the museums in the world put together? This is the very beauty painters chase to the grave. And this isn’t just oils on canvas on walls in museums next to the park; this is the real thing — you can go out and walk right in it for hours, and there’s no admission fee.

And then comes the country winter, with its majestic, sweeping calligraphies of snow just sitting there on silent show, gleaming with sunlight for days and weeks in tree- and stubble- and furrow- and grove-shaped whiteness-impeccable sculptures, and the blue-blue air is so big that the snow show is but a small part of it all, and not in the way, as it is in the city where pretty soon after snow falls and makes headlines it gets slushy and ugly or dangerously icy; country snow, soft and plush, is by contrast a big down comforter mother nature always throws over the countryside about this time, and whereas in the city the snow merely treacherizes pedestrians and vehicularians, and taxes the sewage system with often excessive volumes of what is called “runoff,” in the country snow has actual natural functions, among others of insulating the soil from the chill of late winter and watering it in spring the way spring is in the country, for in the country spring is exactly where it belongs, its green songs up out of the ground swelling in time into chorales of wildflowers and all kinds of random demonstrations of the beauty nature can build if left on its own, the way it is out in the country.

Edited: bhw

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About Robert Brady

  • Sister Ray

    There are trade-offs. Cities have employment, cultural and educational opportunites (and even “real birds”). I like living someplace with libraries that are open on Sunday, museums, cinemas, music and film festivals, religious diversity, etc. That was my choice. Doesn’t mean I hate sunsets.
    Plus, if everybody moved to the country it would turn into cookie-cutter suburbia any wouldn’t be country anymore.

  • Nancy

    Yah – that’s what’s happened in my neck of the woods: the entire area for hundreds of miles around DC is turning into one gigantic bedroom community of McMansions, punctuated by strip malls, business ‘parks’, and the occasional 10 sq. acres of parkland that exists only because it’s been designated as a historical site. And as it is, the damned developers probably tried to pave it over to make a car dealership.

  • Bennett

    Beautiful piece Robert. I too live “way out” in the country. I don’t encorage folks to move away from the cities, it isn’t for everyone. But if you dreamed of chickens and cows and lush gardens as a child, don’t wait!

    The joys of watching your very own forest grow tall over ten or twenty years, as you thin out the overcrowded second growth to transform your proprty into a private Golden Gate Park…

    Hard to beat! Thanks for this post!

  • I live in a town in the North of England but need a regular fix of country. I only need to drive about 25 miles to be in stunning countryside and I head for the hills every week searching out little used country roads and shady lanes, just me and my camera, magic.