Monday, November 14, 2005

Green Acres is the place to be

Note: Much of what follows is an oversimplification. Generalizations and stereotyping run rampant. I apologize, in advance.

I’m spending as much time as I can up in the foothills. I'm getting to know it, being in the now up there and all that. Consequently, my perspective on living in the Bay Area is changing. It still feels real fine; but it’s beginning to be put into perspective. They say traveling broadens the mind, but splitting your life between two worlds is an entirely other experience.

I’m sure I’m like many other folks who live in the Bay Area: we are convinced this is the be-all/end-all place to live. And it certainly does have a lot going for it. I haven’t made it to the new de Young yet, but I most certainly will. However the one thing that the Bay Area is not – and can never be again - is small. Sometimes there’s just too much of everything here.

An offshoot of this is seeing how tight rural communities are. There are fewer coincidences. You meet a new neighbor and he turns out to be the guy who helped you at the Mt. Aukum General Store last weekend. You find out you have relatives, by marriage, less than 5 miles away. You meet someone knew, then you meet another new acquaintance somewhere else, and it turns out these two also know each other. When you see Bay Area musicians you know playing in an intimate venue, it feels like you’re tighter than ever.

After a while, you begin to expect connections.

People also seem to spend more time talking to you. Book sellers discuss plots, what they’re reading now; ask who your favorite authors are. Even in urban indie bookstores, those types of dialogs tend to be perfunctory, pat and succinct. There is an art in the rambling conversation.

An insurance agent stops by, ostensibly to take pictures of the house, but ends up talking for 45 minutes about planting fruit trees on northern versus southern exposure slopes. An indication of my non-rural roots is I noticed it was a 45 minute conversation. A shutter installer tells you about a Georgetown bar with a ‘honeymoon suite’ on the second floor whose bed has a string that dangles down through the floor. The string is connected to a bell suspended above the bar. Classy, but somehow appropriate for a region where it's difficult to find a crowd, let alone disappear in one. Another new neighbor introduces himself by discussing in detail his fleet of inoperable vehicles. He has plans for them, but I suspect he’s had these expectations in the works for years. Yet another neighbor invites us over with the offer of free horse manure. People who work in foothills wineries all give you their number.

In the city, in the ‘burbs, there seems to be more concern with what you do; how you fit in the mix, measuring relative accomplishment and if there is any purchase in knowing you. It’s sometimes subtle, but it permeates so many social interactions. In the country, it seems to be more about just what you are. Bullshit meters are possessions held with pride. Or, it could be the opposite side of the measurement coin: maybe country folk think they actually have it made and consequently don’t feel a compulsion to ‘network.’ Perhaps they are just resigned to their lot in life. In any case, the social webs have different spins.

Maybe because the communities are small, people seem to act more outwardly friendly & social. The probabilities are certainly better you’ll meet again somehow, somewhere. It just doesn’t pay to be an ass – word will get around. In the city, anonymity dominates. You can pick your scenes and the scenesters you hang with. In the country, what you see is what you get. You either like it, or leave it. Being a country hermit is not unlike living in a city.

THE LAND, up there, is omnipotent. It figures into everything and everyone. It is an active participant in whatever you do. The Bay Area may be blessed in it's relative close association to and appreciation for open spaces. At least compared to most other US urban centers, the Bay Area does get it. But managed open spaces have nothing on the real outback. Desolation Wilderness - for the wild at heart.

One thing is noticeably different: rural bird feeders go untouched.

Nothing new in any of this - just some first-hand experiences. And I know it plays similarly in many other locales, urban and rural. Same, same.

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