If you need to, stop and get a dictionary and look that up. :-) I'll wait.
I've always known I crave beauty. I crave order, care, and neatness. I love manicured lawns and flowerbeds, orchards of trees, cornfields neatly planted in rows.
I quickly learned, however, what I do NOT love.
And much of what I learned not to love was the unbridled, untamed "country" itself.
The dilapidated barns falling down right next to houses.
The rusted tractors or vehicles up on blocks.
The houses sorely needing paint (not to mention shoring up).
Places littered with dog poop, or scattered tools, or abandoned equipment, or rattletrap appliances, sagging couches used as porch furniture, or the like.
The animals allowed to run loose, across highways, without warning.
And the aforementioned strange decay that happens when open land isn't cared for in some way.
The SHABBINESS of uncared-for isn't attractive. City OR country. Merely being surrounded by green doesn't make one better looking than the other.
We had some company visit us from Chicago while we still lived in town, and they remarked about how CLEAN the town streets looked. And they were right: for the most part, our town streets were well-kept, and people generally picked up after themselves. You really didn't get a lot of trash in the curbs or elsewhere. Part of that may have been extremely good civil services, but part of it no doubt was "town" people acting like "town" people and tidying up.
Not so in the country. And that first surprised, then repulsed, me.
At least some of the country kids around us had apparently grown up believing that all that uninhabited green space meant they could pretty much throw anything they wanted anywhere they wanted, because no one would see it anyway. And they did. I saw more trash along country roads than I ever saw in town, lots of it things you should have carried home to put in a garbage can--or at least not left in a stream bed, in a cornfield, or in the woods.
Not to mention the bonfires.
Now, let's get something straight.
I LOVE fires. Fireplaces, wood stoves, campfires, Homecoming bonfires. But when we're talking country fires, we're talking about another beast entirely from your normal campfire, or even your normal bonfire for a special occasion.
At least in the instance where we lived, the people who owned the land had bonfires regularly--in which they'd literally burn ANYTHING.
The bonfires were, in effect, incinerators for junk.
I saw furniture on the pile.
I saw old tires.
I saw METAL objects. (What part of "metal doesn't burn" did these bumpkins not "get" in science class?)
I saw things that made me wonder how soon they were going to cause a real problem by setting afire something that would either explode and start a wildfire, or fill the air with poison. Legitimate, real, chemical poison.
I was baffled by the thoughtlessness of people who'd grown up in nature and yet didn't know any better than to toss anything they could think of on a bonfire, light it up, and then see what was left when the thing burned itself out.
And one thing that no one mentions is that that "burnout" usually happened in the wee hours of the morning.
Because, you see, bonfires aren't really any FUN until after 10:30 or 11:00 at night. So that's when they start. And when they end? Well, my husband used to pull in from work about 12:30, and they were more often than not still going strong when he'd drive by. Did they cause a disturbance? Well...let's just say if you didn't want to hear country music coming in the bedroom window from a quarter-mile away, you kept the window shut. Yes, at 11:30 at night. Yes, on a weekday.
Forget about calling police on something like that. Not only do town police have no jurisdiction; county sheriffs have no ordinance. Trust me. I know.
So let's just say "country living" became a melange of things I never expected it to be.
Part of this, of course, was because I lived with some really inconsiderate "neighbors" who happened to own the property on which our rental house sat, lived in a mansion at the back of it with their sons, and didn't believe ANYONE had the right to tell them what they could do on their property. No doubt all country people wouldn't have been like that. All the town people certainly weren't. :-)
And that, to me, is a problem...one that is now changing my mind about living in the country EVER again.
Call me a ninny. Call me a sissy. But to me, there's nothing beautiful about 6-foot thistles. There's nothing endearing about milkweed taller than your head, or nettles so thick you can't walk three feet off a road to see something without getting torn to shreds. All too often in the real rural areas where real country people live, you'll be hard put to find the pastoral "country beauty" that lured me for so long. To me, it's not beautiful at all to see tangled branches, vines, rusty and sagging barbed wire, and endless miles of swaying noxious weeds. It doesn't even inspire peaceful thoughts, because peace, to me, is order.
The country places I loved, when I found them, looked like well-kept manor homes. Estates, if you will. If a person had a place like that, I both envied and admired it. THAT, to me, was what the country should look like. The place you lived should, in other words, look like SOMEONE LIVED THERE. Like someone CARED what it looked like.
In all too many instances, you honestly couldn't tell. Or what you could, in fact, tell was that no one cared enough to repair things, to keep them maintained, or to do any of it right.
And that's not idyllic or attractive. It's depressing. It's creepy.
And all too often, THAT's what "real country" looks like.
So when you encounter a fundamental disconnect like that, what do you do?
Well, you can go a couple of ways.
We'll talk about the choice between them in Part 3!