Country Mouse or City Mouse. Which Are You?

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Well, Elon Musk’s plan of moving some of us to Mars is looking better by the day.

tesla in space
Photo credit: commons.wikimedia.org

Were I to apply, I think I’d have a good shot at being accepted based on the fact that, a) I can grow a potato; and, b) I already look like I’ve been in stasis for four months. In addition I can name all of the Tom Baker Doctor Who episodes from 1974-1981. That’s a random skill that could be instrumental in moving my CV from the slush pile to ‘token civilian.’ Elon does have his quirks.

But if chosen, could I give up this green world, for all of its many imperfections?

For my world is very green. Especially at this time of year. Over the last seven years I have gone back and forth with city mice friends about the joys and perils of our country mouse existence, and the many reasons why we have voluntarily chosen – no, fought – to live without a nearby grocery store, asphalt, or passable internet connection; but never have I been more thankful for that existence than in the last few months.

green country world

And I trust in saying so, I may also be forgiven for it, as it seems that there can be no statement of thankfulness in a modern world without acknowledging that others do not share in it.  It is a problematic premise that can turn the simplest expression of joy into something ugly, and it worries me lest it wring those expressions of joy right out of us.

I have been a city mouse too – for most of my adult life in fact. I can still feel the intensity of longing as a rural teenager for the excitement of underground trains, and 2am coffee shops, and street markets filled with shouting and the rustling of thin paper bags.

And it was all that and more when I arrived, fresh-faced and broke, and apartment-sharing with strangers.  It was intense, and beautiful, and exciting, and hard.  I am reminded of that fierce, unpredictable energy every time I visit a major city, and it still thrills me.

Parisian restaurants
…and restaurants. Restaurants everywhere – no matter the city. Couldn’t afford to eat in them. But they were there.

But years went by – and suddenly, I wanted out.  Was it having children that did it?  Wanting the self-sufficiency of a garden? A weariness of gray streets and exhaust fumes? It was certainly not for status, or convenience, or restaurant choices.

I cannot say, but what I do know is that although the longing for ‘other’ was just as intense as it had been years before, the goal was much harder to achieve.  Looking back it still feels like a fight – my husband and me against the world and all its vagaries, single-mindedly focused on this one goal: Green, quiet, space.

chickens in garden

It’s difficult to describe our gratitude in finally besting the odds and getting there, especially to city friends who don’t understand why we’d want to take on such drudgery in the first place. Many find rural life as intimidating as I once found the city.

bridge out
Spring challenges in a stream valley.

What is the point of growing lettuce when you can buy bags of it, prewashed?  Why would you want to hang out clothes when you actually own a dryer? Are your neighbors normal? Do you live there full time?!? Isn’t it a little gross to eat the eggs of your own chickens?

These are all questions I have fielded at one time or another over these seven years. In my better moments, politely.

And now – some level of vindication for our exodus, however bittersweet.

This place is a place to be quiet, to be reflective, and to be ourselves – however that happens to manifest each day.  It has given solace in the midst of unprecedented world events that sadden us, and provided a constant touchpoint to the natural Earth and the processes that have occurred throughout millennia despite man’s many crises.

cat and tomato plantWatching a seed respond to warm soil and water with vigor, and break through crusted ground like a body-builder is one.  The sheer miracle of such things keeps me grounded and connected to other human beings who watched seeds sprout last week, last year, or 10,000 years ago; just as it connects me to those who will come when I am gone.

A hen will grow broody and bring new life into this world no matter who is president, prime minister, or dictator president for life; and watching her do so brings an incredible sense of peace and calm to the soul.  And I’m talking about true, deep peace – not just words thumb-typed into a clever meme for viral distribution. When the chicks finally come, it is pure joy. (16 days and counting on this next clutch.)

chicks and hen
Stella and her first clutch of chicks.

That is country life to me – an intensive coaching in the what and why of this world when the how is a little unclear. In my many city years, I always searched for and found those touchpoints – in a park…on a windowsill…in a community garden.  They are simply easier to see now.

I could be persuaded to consider urban life again. When I travel for business and find my feet on downtown city streets at that certain time of night, with the scent of glorious foods on the air, a quirky bar beckoning two blocks down, and fascinating architecture to explore with friends by streetlight, my pulse quickens.  These days there are also scooters to rent by the minute. What is not to love?

I have no doubt that such sights and smells will probably be used against me someday as my children decide that it is time for their aged parents to stop tending chickens and ducks and gardens and attempt to cajole us into living somewhere convenient.

Until then, it is a country life for meAnd for many others who have found themselves quietly entranced. If that happens to be your dream too, I urge you to follow it and not give up, no matter what the world throws in your path.  It is a worthy goal worth pursuing, but the world knows how to throw.

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Marianne Willburn

Marianne Willburn is a gardening columnist, speaker and author of Big Dreams, Small Garden. After years of occasional guest rants, she began an on-going digital correspondence with Scott Beuerlein in 2019, and officially joined GardenRant in 2020.

A weekly newspaper columnist for over a decade, she frequently contributes to print and digital magazines and has won several national awards for her popular column and blog, Small Town Gardener.  Marianne also guides European garden tours with CarexTours, a D.C. based tour company dedicated to exploring public and private gardens in a small group experience.

Marianne believes strongly that you should never wait for the ‘perfect space’ to create a restful garden oasis for yourself and your family; and she has spent much of her gardening life in small city and suburban gardens in places as diverse as California, England and the Mid-Atlantic. In 2013, she began gardening intensively and exhaustively on ten acres in a rural corner of Northern Virginia, and occasionally longs for the days of city window boxes, houseplants, and a great Indian restaurant within walking distance.

Contact Marianne by email: [email protected]

7 COMMENTS

  1. Hello Marianna Great story, I really liked it. I believe that the idea of ​​Elon Mask is worthy of attention and respect. After all, at the moment the smartest person in the world, if I may say so. I would no doubt fly to Mars with my whole family. Indeed, in this world there is so much evil, perhaps on Mars, there will be a new life and new opportunities. Good luck to you!

    • Good luck getting to Mars I can only imagine that you’ll be dead by the time that happens. However if you think that the greed and self servitude and let’s not forget survival that human beings having them naturally from birth is going to change because you flipped planets yeah

  2. I am trying to build a little oasis of green peace and plenty in the middle of what is rapidly becoming a area of dense housing. (Building site to the left of me, building site to the right of me, volleyed and thundered.)
    I’m not sure I could squeeze in chickens, alas, and certainly not a rooster, so no chicks. But I dream…and I wouldn’t swap this small, slightly shabby old house and its garden for the slickest apartment available.

  3. I was born a town mouse and moved to the country when I was 10years old. The shock of hearing sheep at night,or realising that a rat,a badger and a mole were not of comparable size…oh my!
    I love the country now and never want to leave,but even after all this time I miss the smell of rain on pavements and the joy of kicking through properly dry leaves…will they have those on Mars?

  4. I grew up in suburbia during a time of lawns and low maintenance trees and clipped shrubs, where vegetable gardening was considered something only the poor or eccentrics did. Along the way I‘ve lived in a few big cities. Fast forward, I’ve made my living for the last 30 years farming at the edge of the most beautiful wilderness. Definitely a country mouse! Now I’m of an age where my husband and I have to consider where we might spend our last years, and even though I love visiting the city and enjoying what it has to offer, I cringe at the thought of possibly needing to move to a town environment. Maybe I can start an “elder farm”, with youngsters around to to the heavy lifting? But if our needs require us to move to a tiny apartment in a town/city, I will be the old lady with plants in pots wherever I can put them!

  5. A simple Thank You to Marianna. As one who has struggled to hang on to my little (green) spot on the edge of the northern Nevada desert, which was never my dream rural location but here I am, it’s important to remind yourself once in awhile of why you work so hard to keep it going. Peace, connection to the earth and to like minded neighbors, the illusion perhaps that we are providing habitat for the wild creatures who frequent my ponds, give meaning to this tiny bit of humanity (me) in a world that is mad.

  6. Great article~! I THINK I now ALMOST understand why you live there. Also, I’ve seen your garden and it’s an amazing, inspiring place. Susan

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