Sunday, June 03, 2007

Sunday Scribblings: City and Country


My ancestral city: From About.com:Colombia in Pictures


We are city people. We have always been city people. So my parents have never understood the allure of living off the land, of trading civilization for a log cabin in the middle of the forest. They would listen to Americans gush enthusiastically “going camping” and living “a mile from the nearest neighbor.” My mother would say, “maybe our campo is different from their country.”

Campesinos were not rugged individualists, sucking the marrow out of life ala Thoreau. No, they were merely subsistance farmers who lived in small, rural villages, and had always done so. People who were routinely the butt of jokes, seen as illiterate, ignorant of citified sophistication.

For a time, I became fascinated with the idea of being a country person—a sort of more resourceful, shadow self. Even the word resonates like music, describing people who were intertwined with the campo, the woods. I imagined these people possessed a sort of mystical knowledge of how to survive.

I knew that I would not last ten minutes in the campo by myself.

Reading Laura Ingalls Wilder books fed my interest. These people could do seemingly ANYTHING—could tell apart plants, discover which ones were poisonous or edible; could build houses with their bare hands; knew the seasons for sowing and harvesting, and how to sew a dress. Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family faced incredible hardship, but even the daily chores seemed difficult and exotic. Living in a dug out by a creek? Sleeping in the hay? Playing with the pig’s bladder after a slaughter? Amazing.

While I devoured these books about prairie living, I didn’t really notice my parents adjusting to their own version of the frontier—U.S. life. People probably assumed my parents were like “campesinos,"not commanding and glamorous the way they seemed to me. None of the knowledge that had served them so well in their homeland seemed to have any currency here. Although they had lived in a beautiful city in Colombia, no one here had ever heard of it. They spoke haltingly, using small words that must have felt like going back to childhood.

Despite everything, they managed to survive and thrive here. Perhaps that’s why “roughing it” never appealed to them. They spent years roughing it—between jobs and paychecks, sometimes without health insurance, apart from their families.

I’ve lived a pretty privileged life, so I’m wary of the country for a different reason. I’ve always lived in the noisy friendliness of the city, surrounded on all sides by teeming, overabundant life. I love the sound of music trailing loud and flat behind a car, the sound of teen girl giggles down the street. I know how to survive here—when to smile back and when to avert my eyes. How to walk down the street in that easy alertness that marks the citydweller.

The country would throw me back on myself—force me to face my deficiencies. I can’t really see myself in nature; I don’t know enough about it. I am afraid of what I might discover if I take the time to step away from the endless distraction of city living. Here, like it or not, I can always get a reaction. I always know that I exist. In the country, in the middle of the woods, the trees would grow impassively around me. The animals would whisper in their own languages. Plants would be food or foe; I certainly wouldn’t know. I’d be forced to make decisions, over and over again, without any direction.

Is it possible to die of uncertainty?

So, I stay in my life, and try to ignore the reckless allure of the dark woods that lurk just ahead. And I try to ignore the persistent question of my life. My parents were able to forge ahead and clear a trail in a new, incomprehensible land. So why is it that I cannot?

Why am I so sure I wouldn't survive in the dark unknown?
_______
For more explorations of the city and the country, go here.

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13 Comments:

Anonymous fern said...

"So, I stay in my life, and try to ignore the reckless allure of the dark woods that lurk just ahead. And I try to ignore the persistent question of my life. My parents were able to forge ahead and clear a trail in a new, incomprehensible land. So why is it that I cannot?

Why am I so sure I wouldn't survive in the dark unknown?"

Wow...This speaks to me in so many ways..the feeling of wanting to step out of safety zone, but being absolutely petrified of what we would find on the other end...and what we would find out about ourselves in the process. Would we find out that we're not as brave/interesting/different/smart as we think? Probably, which is why we prefer to live with our illusions.
I was always fascinated by living off the land myself, there is something "mystical" about it. It would be such an experience to get back to the very core of who we are.
Thank you for this thought-provoking and well written piece! I cannot even begin to tell you how much I loved it!!!

1:54 AM, June 03, 2007  
Blogger Maryam in Marrakesh said...

I am a city girl living in the country. The country to me now is like breathing in peace. It's like meditation. I can't really explain it.

3:08 PM, June 03, 2007  
Anonymous Deb G said...

This is great! Thank you for sharing .

3:31 PM, June 03, 2007  
Blogger Becca said...

A marvelous exploration of your outlook on city v. country. I grew up on the Little House books as well, and sometimes tried to mimic Laura and Mary's play - but substituting clothespins for my Barbie dolls just didn't cut it for long!

I'm admit to being a little afraid of the country, because I would be totally out of my element. I really liked this paragraph:

"In the country the trees would grow impassively around me. The animals would whisper in their own languages. Plants would be food or foe; I certainly wouldn’t know. I’d be forced to make decisions, over and over again, without any direction."

You have a wonderful way of turning a topic to look at it from all sides and discover some very deep meanings.

Lovely post :)

3:45 PM, June 03, 2007  
Blogger Tammy said...

I learned in the country who I really am and I never miss the city. I enjoyed reading your insightful post.

6:19 PM, June 03, 2007  
Blogger Bug said...

I love the theme of your parents working on their own frontier, and this line: "I love the sound of music trailing loud and flat behind a car, the sound of teen girl giggles down the street."

Very nice SS!

9:40 PM, June 03, 2007  
Blogger gautami tripathy said...

"So, I stay in my life, and try to ignore the reckless allure of the dark woods that lurk just ahead. And I try to ignore the persistent question of my life. My parents were able to forge ahead and clear a trail in a new, incomprehensible land. So why is it that I cannot?"

My dad too did the same thing. And I have never been able to that. I ask myself that all the time and find no answers.

I loved your post, your reflections and your insights.

9:58 PM, June 03, 2007  
Blogger Jessie said...

it is interesting for me to read this because, in a way, we are probably exact opposites. you are the city mouse and i am the country mouse.

one time (fairly recently) we walked across a busy street together and i remember being struck by the easiness with which you did so. i remember thinking to myself: "wow, she does this as though it is 2nd nature." meanwhile, i was feeling a little overwhelmed and not able to concentrate.

it is interesting...there are so many ways of seeing and experiencing the world. and i can't help but wonder if i will ever come to understand the city to the same degree as i understand the woods. i doubt it.

these are beautiful words, m. they capture much.

10:42 PM, June 03, 2007  
Blogger Amber said...

Yes, I agree with Jesse. They are beautiful words. I admire a person who can be so at home in a city, as I admit I never could. All the people and noise make me want to hide. It is funny how different people are! I always think about people living in high-rises, and wonder how they do it!

Your words about your parents, here...Wow. How brave they were! To just pick up life and try it all in a brand new strange place. I wonder if I would ever be brave enough to take a chance like that?

:)

11:47 PM, June 03, 2007  
Blogger Crafty Green Poet said...

I think there are at least three different types of 'country' anywhere, there is the romantic view; the reality for people with at least a decent income andthen there's the bleak reality for people who have to work their fingers to the bone to survive. I love the countryside, but am glad I live in a city with lots of lovely riverside walks.

12:58 PM, June 04, 2007  
Anonymous tammy vitale said...

Tree language isn't hard - they whisper all the time. You'd learn quick enough! And all that lovely energy they exude - especially the old oaks and the big tulip poplars. I can't imagine living in concrete canyons with carefully placed trees - like dogs on chains. Now I look out my window and see nothing but wild green everywhere and at night the frogs sing. Once we had a whip-o-will. That was very cool. Not for many years though.

9:46 AM, June 05, 2007  
Blogger Molly said...

This is a lovely post!

11:57 AM, June 05, 2007  
Anonymous Tag said...

Wicked cool post.

I learned a new set of survival skills 15 years ago when I moved from the country; yes my nearest neighbor was precisely a mile away, to the big City of Chicago. I chose to live in the shadier parts as that is where I learned the most about what makes a city throb with life.

The truth is there are people; the majority, who could neither really make it in the City or the Country. We call thier land the suburbs. It is a special land void of culture and energy; pain and suffering; love and joy.

If you are truly in tune with what it takes to survive in the City, you too would do fine in the country. I'm sure you would survive and thrive!

peace.

2:16 PM, June 06, 2007  

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