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Don’t let country life Thoreau you

Mike Drummond

City dwellers make seven mistakes when they chuck it all and relocate to a rural setting. I have the physical, fiscal, and psychic bruises to prove it.

Mistake No. 1: Assuming that every rural resident is a dimmer version of erstwhile TV simpleton Gomer Pyle. If THEY are so dumb, how come YOU are the one who just figured out this is a great place to live?

Mistake No. 2: Assuming rural employment opportunities are vast and varied and as highly compensated as those in the city. Remember BYOB parties? It meant bring your own bottle (or bong, perhaps). Most rural economies have a similar imperative: BYOJ – the “J” is for job.

Thanks to the Internet, telecommuting is possible. But even if you produce more than three hours of work per day (the average output of in-house office workers) you still need in-office “face time” with your boss. Without it, you become easily expendable during the next corporate shakeup. If you don’t schmooze, you lose.

Mistake No. 3: Assuming you can easily switch vastly disparate careers in middle age. Changing horses in midstream is usually a bad idea. Now that you actually have horses and a stream (or at least a seasonal creek), it’s still a bad idea. After a few months without work and a new mortgage ticking, you may be desperate, not disparate.

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Going from urban Rotary Club president to presiding over a rural rotary mower for minimum wage can cause a gnashing of teeth that has nothing to do with depressing a clutch and everything to do with the clutches of depression.

Mistake No. 4: Assuming your favorite hobby can become your livelihood. You may bake the best bran muffins ever, but can you bake enough to move the world, so to speak? Quick: How many tole-painted bird houses equal one car payment? If you can sell them.

Mistake No. 5: Assuming that you, who learned construction theory at the feet of PBS’s Bob Vila and Norm Abrams, can successfully act as general contractor and chief nail pounder on the place where you and your soon-to-be-former loved ones plan to spend the rest of your lives.

Those TV guys have something called editing, not to mention major corporate sponsors footing their cost overruns. Do you? Or do you plan to whittle a Tudor mansion from the chaparral with a Swiss Army knife a la TV’s MacGyver? “America’s Funniest Home Videos” is waiting to hear from you.

Mistake No. 6: Assuming that life in the country is exactly like life in the city, only with more trees. There are also deer, skunks, rattlesnakes and other fauna and flora too numerous to mention. And fewer street lights; no sewers; and no instantaneous police, fire, or emergency medical care.

Those mobile home-dwelling, frontyard-junkyard, barking dawg, mouth-breathing inbred relatives of Gomer on the next parcel over – the ones you have avoided since you arrived – may be your only real hope in an emergency.

Mistake No. 7: Assuming that owning the toys and trappings of a latter-day country squire makes you one. No amount of jaunty high-end catalog attire is going to muck out the stalls or turn the compost for you. Thoreau’s admonition against endeavors requiring new clothes certainly applies here. He didn’t say, but I’ll add: Beware of owning too many “dry clean only” labels!

But even if all this is true, don’t Thoreau in the towel! I’m guessing you knocked down all the trees on your new property. Enjoy the view.

Notice how that “new guy” on the next lot over is going through the same thing.

ooo

Mike Drummond is a Nevada County writer whose column appears on Tuesday. You can write him in care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945; or e-mail him at miked@theunion.com.


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