Living in the Country


Courtesy of Mike Heath

Above: Davey, one of Mike Heath's resident "weedeaters".

It seems like every summer I end up writing an article about living in the country. Believe it or not, it's not the same as living in the city, or even a small town. In fact, most people who move to the country cite not wanting to live under the restrictions of being in a city as their primary reason for moving to the country. That is a good reason, but I can think of several more. This article is really for those living outside of a town, where the neighbors aren't so close.

Look at the stars. You don't see that cosmic panorama in the city. There are simply too many lights. At one point in time I remember the discussion on "light pollution". That has pretty much died out, but it doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. The worst part is that far too many people moving to the country are bringing lights with them. Face it, it's dark in the country and we like it that way. We like being able to step outside and look up at that vast expanse of cosmos and all the stars, the moon, comets, meteorites, planets, and other heavenly bodies that we really can't identify without a good telescope. If you look long enough you may see a satellite or high altitude aircraft. I've even seen the space shuttle. But then people moved from the city and put up high output yard lights. It's no longer easy to see the stars and all. They've pretty much set the environment right back to what they had in the city. So what did they gain?

Something else about the country. And everyone who wants to move out here needs to understand this. Dogs bark. And they bark at anything. Or nothing. Sometimes they bark just to bark. Sometimes they bark at an errant rabbit. Maybe it's the coyote passing by. Or a car. Maybe it's a piece of dust in the air. Who knows? Dogs bark. Maybe they're in protection mode. Worst case is when they're barking at the skunk that's wandering too close to "their yard". If your dog starts barking at a skunk, you best have a lot of baking soda and tomato juice handy. Dogs bark so just get used to it.

Then there are those who don't like what their neighbors do on their own property. And I have to admit, there are times I don't like some of the things a few of my neighbors do. But, at the same time, I realize that it's their property, not mine. And what they do is none of my business unless it is affecting me. And I don't mean something that may lower my property value, but something that may affect my health, safety, or wellbeing. Out here, a lot of trash and clutter can easily become a safety hazard. Remember the skunks? They live in trash and clutter. Not only are they prone to spray anyone who comes too close, but they carry rabies. There have been several cases of animal rabies in Laramie County over the last few years. I've gone through the vaccine series before and I hope none of you ever have to. The point here is to be considerate of your neighbors, on both sides of that coin. Be responsible and don't use your property to do anything detrimental to your neighbors. Remember as well that we are here to escape the restrictions and rules of the city. So don't complain about everything your neighbors do. We all have to be responsible and watch out for each other. That's something you seldom find in the city, but is critical out here in the country.

Then there are services. I know most realtors don't stress this point, but before moving to the country you need to understand that the services you had in town aren't available here. If you call law enforcement or an ambulance, there are places in Laramie County that could take 45 minutes or more before anyone arrives. You need to be able to take care of yourself. The same goes for our roads. Laramie County has over 1,500 miles of roads to care for. And there are many, many more miles of roads that are privately maintained. That means the government does not maintain those roads. They are the responsibility of those who live along them. Your realtor may not tell you that but it's fact. And the government won't maintain them regardless of how much you may complain. Get a tractor. I live on the last road the county accepted for maintenance more than 20 years ago. I still bought a tractor so I could clear the snow. Between a couple of neighbors and I we usually have a path cleared before the county snowplows get to us. Like I said, take responsibility for being where you are and take care of yourself. The government can't do it all.

Now for my pet peeve. Before I go further you need to understand that I'm not a whacko tree hugging environmentalist, but I do understand how the environment works and how each part has a role to play. I understand how we can bring city ways to the country and really screw things up without even realizing it. This is actually the topic that sets me off every summer to write these articles on living in the country. That is neighbors cutting their pastures short. That is bad for the environment on multiple levels. To begin with it's hard on the grasses themselves. Cutting it short opens the roots up to excessive drying and sunburn. That stresses the grass and weakens it. In a drought it may not survive. Remember the drought I talked about last week? The drought that caused the "American Dust Bowl" struck in 1931 and affected about 75% of the country. That would make it 90 years from when the next severe drought is being predicted. Thirty year cycles. The grass needs to be as strong and healthy as possible going into a drought. Leaving the grass long will also help it retain snow in the winter to strengthen the prairie. Cutting the grass also removes the cover for our ground nesting birds. So we have fewer birds. Fewer birds mean that fewer insects are eaten. A bird needs about six times its weight in food every day. That's a lot of insects. I've heard a lot of complaints about the miller moths this year. Well, a lot of our neighbors from the city are cutting their prairie short and the birds have no place to nest. Fewer birds, more insects. This is a bad year for the moths anyway just because of the environmental factors, but eliminating the birds just makes it worse. By the way, you can eliminate a lot of moths by filling a bucket (an ice cream bucket works well) with soapy water and a lot of suds. Place a bright light about 12 inches over it overnight. The bucket may well be filled with moths in the morning. You'll never get rid of them all, but you can reduce the number, especially in the house. But remember, the miller moths are a part of the environment and play a role in feeding the birds. Eliminate any one element and you affect other elements. Miller moths are a part of living in the country. Get used to it. Long grass is critical to the health of the prairie. Leave it alone.

The question now is why did you really move to the country? If you wanted to get away from the city, then why bring it with you? Maybe it's time to sit back and enjoy country living. Give it a chance if you're serious about being here. You might just find it to be more relaxing and pleasant than anything the city has to offer. And remember, if you have any questions about your plants, ask a Master Gardener. It's what we do.


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