| Aug 14, 2008

Feature Article - July 17, 2008

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Feature Article - August 14, 2008 What is Rural Life? Part 2

This is the second article in our summer series about the idea of “rural” as it applies to our region.

Evolution on Craig RoadBy Inie Platenius

“You’re moving to Verona? You’d better think again!” our city friends warned us. “We know some people who tried that and they weren’t welcome out there at all. And unless your great grandfather settled there, you won’t be welcome either.”

That was 1969, and although our friends’ dire pronouncement was exaggerated, it carried some truth. Our individual neighbours were kind and welcoming, but breaking into village society was a gradual process that took considerably longer than it had in more urban places. Everyone was pleasant, but the sense of wary caution was never far from the surface. Now, 40 years later, the biggest change I’ve seen in our rural way of looking at the world is that we have an easier acceptance of newcomers. A generation full of technological changes has made the sense of “us” (old-timers) and “them” (newcomers) much less marked.

In the generations that lived here before we moved to Craig Road, it had been economically feasible to have a mixed farm, put up your preserves, entertain yourself in the evening and still pay your property taxes. It wasn’t easy, but it was possible. In that climate, people relied on themselves for almost everything and on their neighbours when they were in trouble. In this culture, the arrival of any newcomer was cause for wariness. If you have three neighbours and one of them doesn’t pull with the others, it makes a much bigger difference in the social fabric than if one of the 30 people on your city block doesn’t row with the crew; hence the strong reserve and even suspicion of newcomers that develops in a rural culture. By the time we arrived in 1969, the way of life that had created that cultural mindset was dying, but it takes a lot longer for the mindset itself to change.

The biggest factor in that change was simple population growth. In 1969 there were fewer than 20 houses on about four kilometres of Craig Road proper, and a dozen or so cottages on Howes Lake. Cottagers came in the summer and on the day after Labour Day, the lake was perfectly silent. Today most of the cottages have become permanent homes, and seven or eight new bungalows line the road. This growth does not in itself make for a more open culture, but how these new people make their living does. In 1969, four of the properties on the road (including ours) had clearly been working farms, though only one remained as a serious operation with a milk quota. On the other three, the owners took off hay each year, but mixed farming on the rocks and swamp was a dying way of life. Before we bought it, our farmhouse had been on the market for two years, and its 180 acres of land seemed to be an afterthought in the realtor’s pitch. When our neighbour’s farm went on the market the next year, it sold as a summer home. Fewer than five men (and no women) commuted to Kingston for work, and a trip to Kingston was a big deal. Only one or two women worked out of the home and several of them didn’t drive at all.

Interestingly, today Craig Road still hosts two serious farms (though not dairy) and the same number of people take the hay off their properties. The difference is that none of these farmers expect to make a living from their labour. One of them is a long-haul trucker and the others are either retired or commute to jobs in the city. Today, the commuting traffic by our house starts before 5AM and flows steadily till 8:30, and virtually every woman of working age has a job. That single change in demographics has gradually eroded the “beware the stranger” mindset.

Ease of transportation has made another inroad into what used to be a very big difference between us in the country and them in the city - our buying habits are much more similar to one another. In 1969 it was often impossible to find a head of lettuce in either grocery store, and we had to travel to Tamworth or Kingston for a case of beer. On the other hand, I could buy shoes, table linens, wedding gifts, and wallpaper off the shelves at Walkers General Store and interesting clothing at the Verona Dress Shop. Today, on any day I can buy half a dozen kinds of leafy greens at the IGA, but no shoes or jackets (except of the hunting or gardening variety) anywhere. Ease of transportation makes it much easier for fresh produce to come into the village, but also makes it easier for us to go out - to Walmart and Costco. Even our rural diet, our dress and our furnishings are more similar to city folk than they were 40 years ago.

What we didn’t realize when we first had the brilliant idea to move out to the country was that we were the beginning of a small wave. Until he was three, our son was one of only two children under high school age on this whole road, but within five years the neighbouring farms had filled with young families – back to the land idealist baby boomers whose arrival began to change the rural fabric even more. Some of us were insufferable, even to one another - know-it-all condescenders whose behaviour made us realize why the long-time locals could be so chilly. But some of us genuinely wanted to become a part of the community, and over time we did.

Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4

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