The Romance of Rural Living vs the Reality  

April 10th, 2020

By Karen Osburn, City of Geneva Historian 

Some friends of mine recently had the chance of a lifetime. After living in suburbia for many years they had a chance to “farm sit.”  My friends have recently retired and were thinking that living on a small, self-sustaining farm would be a good way to settle into retirement.  After a month of herding goats, chasing chickens and dealing with animal waste they decided that living in a suburb isn’t so bad.  Their experience reminded me of what my life had been like before I moved to Geneva.

A piglet and lamb sitting together in the grassBefore moving to Geneva in 2004 I spent the majority of my life living in rural areas. My first 18 years were spent on a street where there two clusters of four or five houses, a couple large apple orchards, a dairy farm, and more than one Standardbred racehorse training tracks.  I loved the woods, ponds, creeks and wildlife around me.  I was very disappointed when the land around us was sold and suburban housing tracts started to spring up.  As far as I was concerned the place, I lived was no longer home without the dairy cattle, apple trees and wildlife.

My limited experience living in a city after marriage was not at all pleasant and I made up my mind to move to the “country” if I ever had the opportunity.  In my mind the open spaces of woodlands, pastures, farm fields and rustic living equated peace, tranquility and beauty.  I yearned for the “freedom” of rural living. Give me a driveway that disappears into the woods!

The opportunity presented itself to purchase acreage in the Finger Lakes area, in the hills close to three of the “Little Finger Lakes” and we jumped at it.  My dream home was becoming reality! The image I had of country living when I was 26 was unencumbered by the reality of few government services, soil that was mostly clay and shale, wildlife that destroyed my plants, or living so far from your neighbors that their barn could burn to the ground and you would not know it until the next day.  From my point of view the deer were beautiful, it was wonderful you could keep livestock on your property, have a bird feeder, and there was space for a beautiful garden!! I might even get goats and chickens and I would certainly get a horse!

a person being chased by a chickenWas the country experience everything I hoped? Yes and no.  I will confess that in my mid-twenties I was strong and able to handle wrestle with problems I would prefer not to tackle today.  The idea of triumphing over challenges was attractive and satisfying. So, I jumped in with both feet encased in knee high rubber boots.

The most beautiful things about living in the hills of the Finger Lakes are the wildlife, the views, the plant life, the privacy, the night sky with no light pollution, the changing seasons, and the quiet.  When you see a Whitetail doe with quadruplet fawns playing outside your window it is hard not to smile.  When you see the impression of owl wings in the snow where it touched down to grab its dinner it is a reminder of the circle of life. When you can buy local meats, produce, and often catch your own fish dinner out of a lake a mile or so away there was, for me, enormous satisfaction.  I planted blueberries, bought heavy cream in gallon jugs from the local dairy to make my own ice cream and butter, and met other women who did the same sorts of things and compared notes. Each fall I planted more daffodils along the driveway and in the field hoping to eventually “naturalize” the pasture.  I planted 100s of blubs over the years. This place was my own little bit of paradise.

This place also became my frustration, my money pit and place I could not see myself living in retirement. Let’s start with animal life.  There are lots and lots of animals in the country and the majority of my experiences were wonderful, however when you wake up in the morning to find your neighbor’s horse eating out of your birdfeeder, or are driving home at night on a road with no street lights and you come over the crest of a hill to find the road filled with escaped cattle it gives your heart a bit of a jolt. Or when you find out the hard way that your neighbor’s escaped pigs have gone wild and they trample through your yard “barking” at you the realization hits that there is often a fine line between domestic and feral creatures.

a pig covered in mud standing in a mud puddleAs for wildlife, most of it is great!  However, bears will eat your birdseed, snakes and mice will find their way in your house, and some spiders are large enough to make you (me) shriek! Deer will eat you out of almost everything but daffodils unless you liberally and strategically use welded wire fence.  Then there are skunks and if you have a dog…. Well use your imagination.

Infrastructure is another difficulty we encountered in building a house in the country.  When you build where there are no sewers, public water supplies and only 11 houses on a road three miles long you soon gain some knowledge about septic systems, perk (drainage), water wells, the cost of power/telephone polls and difficulty in obtaining access to Wi-Fi, cable, and cell phone reception. When the soil around your house is all clay and shale you may need to bring in tons of sand and gravel to create a leach bed for your septic tank.  If your driveway is 850 feet long you learn to stock up on heavy or bulky items before winter sets in and you need to cross country ski up to your house. You soon learn who to call when you are stuck in your driveway or you need to get it plowed. The towns do a good job plowing and maintaining roads, but there are lots of miles and you need a tough vehicle to get you where you want to go. The things we take for granted in Geneva are still not readily available in some areas of the Finger Lakes.

I could go on and on about the realities of country living, but for me the opportunity to lay out in my yard and watch a meteor shower overhead, or observe a comet at night when I walked my dog, or watch the fawns play in my yard makes any unpleasant realities bearable. I am delighted I had the chance to live my country living dream.

A mother duck herding her ducklingsHaving said all this I want to emphasize that I love living in Geneva.  In my 60s it is nice to be close to stores, doctors, hospitals, libraries and to have city water, sewers, fire protection, fire hydrants, great neighbors and publicly maintained streets and sidewalks.  It is nice to know that when the power goes off you won’t necessarily be the last to get it back on because the power companies need to fix the most populous areas first. It is also nice that when the power goes off you still have water because you don’t have a well pump that relies on electric to provide water to your house.

I have been fortunate to have the best of both worlds. I have lived in the country and I now live in a wonderful small city that lets me drive to the country in less than 10 minutes. I can’t ask for more.

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2 responses to “The Romance of Rural Living vs the Reality  ”

  1. Joanne Wisor says:

    Thank you for a reality check.

  2. Norma Press says:

    Your descriptions are vivid, charming and humorous. Thank you!

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