Is country living better than city life? Reflecting on returning to rural America. By Michelle Walch

View of the Old Kummer Place, aka Dragon’s Rest/Frog’s Retreat.

View of the Old Kummer Place, aka Dragon’s Rest/Frog’s Retreat.

That Portland Life, in the Rear-view Mirror

It has been a year since my family and I moved to the country from Portland, Oregon. Since doing so, I forgot how I was dreading leaving my urban lifestyle, being close to friends, my kid’s school, going out to music, walking to the grocery store, cinema, library, and access to the best source material any writer could hope for, Trimet Bus.

Rent Increase Forced Us to Consider Other Possibilities

When a letter from the landlord announcing a rent increase arrived in the mail after a quick spring break trip to Seattle, my heart sank. Admittedly, our rent hike was really not as bad as the horror stories I had heard and read about. The landlord had the magnanimity to give us five months lead time on when the rent would go up. We knew it was coming. But at the time we had no backup plan.

We had long given up on looking to buy. My husband and I have good credit, steady income (albeit modest), down-payment gift from my parents, and stable rent history. I talked to my credit union. They said the outlook for getting a house on our income was bleak at best. We talked with housing organizations but we were ambivalent about those options. If we could have gotten into a house, It would mean a townhouse or one of those skinny-architecture things my husband describes as hallway houses. None of these possibilities were appealing.

What to do?

Our apartment was small. Or maybe we had chucked it so full of stuff after living there for twelve (can you believe it?) years. Husband also sells used books online so we were living in a bookstore as well. There was a back porch, but the neighbors had built a second story that blocked out what little light came into our little place. Maybe it was time to consider extreme options.

After thinking about it for a day, and running the idea past my husband, I asked my mom if we could move into her parents’ house. This was her old family farmhouse where she had grown up, but it had been empty for several years since the death of her brother, my uncle. I knew it would need work, but I also knew it was structurally sound. That request needed processing time. I was not sure what she would say. Then she gave her ok. I knew it would mean sweat equity which my family was more than happy to provide.

You would think moving back to the area you grew up in, and into a house you were familiar with would be a breeze. For us it was a monumental task. I don’t know how people in similar situations move across country, even if they have the cash. Everyone involved was also busy prepping the house for our arrival. True to form with an 80 year old house, changes and upgrades are ongoing.

Friends and family remarked how much happier I am now that we are moved out here. I too am surprised at my mentality.

Not everyone has a back up plan, however. We were lucky.

I don’t care for the term “I’m lucky.” It implies that you were fortunate enough to escape something awful or you happen to lead a charmed life, when others don’t have a backup plan. I prefer to describe our situation in terms that it has worked out well, so far. However, we live in an age that is unpredictable. That luck may run out at any given moment, wiping that smug attitude away.

Urban-Rural Divide

Now that I’ve come full circle, I can truly reflect on life in the city and the country. The rural-urban divide has long been a discussion. The two always seem at odds with each other. Are they really? If so, do they really need to be?

I think the political ideologies that have been assigned to urban and rural dwellers is not a consistent dichotomy. Plenty of conservative people live in urban areas and there are pockets of liberal types in the countryside. That might hearken back to hippie times before marijuana was legal in many places and was grown in the hills. In researching how this phenomena came about, I chanced upon an article in USA Today on this subject. In summary, people in the city are competing for fewer resources, therefore thinking more about the future. So our environs dictate our political and life view? Well, sort of.

There is a notion that the best doctors are found in metropolitan areas. In the country, hospitals and clinics need to recruit healthcare professionals. Now that I’m back countryside I really wonder why any professional would have to be persuaded away from fancy restaurants in exchange for sweeping vistas of nature? Sure you can’t walk to your favorite coffee shop. But you can make a macchiato at home on a espresso machine, sit on your porch and enjoy. You can check your email on a laptop in the garden. Skype sessions with patients can be done.

Healthcare and aging issues are more salient in rural areas

Urban dwellers and rural dwellers have historically been at odds with each other. I don’t think that’s an across-the-board truth, but generally the case. It’s a shame that even in the 21st Century this divide persists. Politically for sure, and now even more deeply divided. Those divisions are instigated at the top management level of the U.S.

City people like the convenience of being close to amenities and people. This country person liked being close to everything, but density made it difficult to get around and was getting so expensive.

Having a kid who had childhood asthma was a white knuckle experience. I was really glad we lived close to a hospital and had reasonable bus access to take us there. Out in the rural areas either keep your vehicle in good working order or call 911. Travel times can impact outcomes. So far so good.

We live not too far from small towns with clinics in our network. And getting to a major hospital is a 20 mile drive, which is doable by our standards.

But there are populations in remote areas where access is limited. What options exist for them?

According to Rural Health Information Hub, lack of transportation in rural areas is a negative impact on the elderly, people with disabilities, and low-income people and veterans. Lifeflight is an option in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana.

The same study found that obstetrics/gynecology is another service lacking in rural communities. Mental health and substance abuse services are also scarce in the country.

Telemedicine is a growing way for patients to get help. This approach certainly is not without issues, but an option when resources are scarce. According to Beaker’s Hospital Review, lack of broadband internet* makes it difficult to conduct remote physician-patient consultations. Also getting reimbursements, which is largely through Medicare, is challenging.

That said, remote physician-patient consultations happen more frequently since no travel time is needed. This has improved helping with simple health concerns and follow up visits. In-home monitoring is another way to track health concerns without having to visit a clinic. Overall, telehealth has helped rural hospital economics.

Remote doctor’s visits don’t really replace a real time visit, but it is better than no visit at all.

In the country, getting around is a barrier if you have no car or can’t drive. If you can get internet connection that breaks the isolation. That was probably the one saving grace for my emotional well-being in moving back to the country. Sure, platforms such as Facebook have their problems. But if you live five miles from the nearest coffee shop AND work from home, being connected saves your sanity. Since I work online now, it makes self-employment easier; I can work from anywhere, and be at home should my kid need me.

But there is not substitute for fresh country air, even if occasionally tinged with a manure-esque bouquet.

Aging in a rural area means isolation, or at least that’s the perception. But you know what? You can feel isolated in the city as well. I have friends experiencing this right now.

One older friend of mine lives right in the heart of downtown Portland. She’s outgoing: very involved with restorative justice, helps people in AA, and overall makes a point to get out in the community. But still she feels isolated. And if someone as outgoing as she is feels left out at times, how do others less gregarious feel?

According to Aging and Healthcare in Rural America, 20 percent live in the country. Politically rural areas are historically ignored. Yet much of the U.S. Economy depends on resources in rural areas.

Finding community in a rural area is something people of all ages experience. But being older typically (though not always) means some limitations. However, access to community and amenities does not have to be limited. The will of the individuals who live in these areas often determines interaction possibilities, and the spaces to gather. Back in the old days we could do that with a phone call (or calls).

Lack of amenities has to do with the perception of living in the country. By that I mean those willing to provide the amenities may not want to live in these areas. Or those living in the area already may not be the ones who would offer amenities ( grocery, medical, and other products and services). Amenity-keepers can be found in many places and not reserved to city-only locations. Willingness of the the people who live in these places to create resources and offer services is integral to community development. I came across one article that considers these ideas and how to coordinate them. Rural areas are often ignored, even though the U.S. infrastructure depends heavily on the resources provided by these area

Everything pictured here was grown on our place. The apples are from trees that are about 120 years old.

Everything pictured here was grown on our place. The apples are from trees that are about 120 years old.

Proventials have often been on the receiving end of jokes. Country folks are often written off as simple, uneducated, vaguely incestuous, at times violent. But these attributes can be found in any area, among any group of people. Personally, I have noticed many urbanites are more concerned about their investments, real estate development, and upward mobility and are less culturally and artistically aware as I had hoped. The return rate on the overpriced condo complex that (oops!) has no parking or view of anything takes precedence over quality of community life.

I still can’t believe I am back in the country. I fantasized about living in New York or Washington D.C. and Portland, at different times in my life. I was able to live overseas for four years, incidentally in cities that are the size of Portland, Oregon.

It was good that I was gone for the time that I was. It was important for me to come into my own identity, and separate myself from my heritage. Now I’ve established who I am, I can return to where I spent my formative years. I appreciate where l live now.

From my home office I can watch tractors and sprinklers in the fields. In the winter, I make a fire in the stove, and work (not always easily) with one of our three cats on my lap. For now, we’ll enjoy the wide-open spaces until the inevitable day when the developers begin to encroach on our bliss. Until then I’ll sit here on the porch, playing “Here Comes the Sun” on my guitar, and enjoy the seasons.

What are your thoughts on the urban-rural divide? What are your experiences living in rural areas vs. living in an urban setting, especially with development changing urban areas quickly? Have experience with growing older in a city or the country? How easily is healthcare where you live? Walch Comm. wants to hear it!

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*Fiber optic high speed internet is available in Molalla, Oregon, and has been for some years. Canby, Oregon will be expanding fiber optic high speed internet in 2019 and 2020. Portland, Oregon as of this writing still does not offer high speed internet.