When I was a child, there was a tradition among city-dwellers to have a cottage in the country, a place to go when the pressures of urban life became too strong. My family had a little place like that, too, with a shack instead of a house because my parents couldn’t afford to build a house, and what at the time looked to me like a huge garden.
We had strawberries, we had tomatoes, we had raspberries, and we had lots and lots of flowers. Some of my happiest memories are from this garden as is one of my worst because it’s where I slipped while running on wet grass, hit my chin on my knee and dislocated a tooth so two decades later I had to have the resulting cyst removed from my jaw bone. I also had my first major injury that required stitches there. But let’s stick to the happy memories.
I played with the earth. I planted and weeded, and picked fruit. I learned to respect ants, which had made a really impressive anthill of the sort I’ve only seen in cartoons since then. The ants we have now all live underground. They don’t bother making anthills.
I tortured some insects. I also got tortured by some insects, namely two exceptionally large locusts that on two different occasions landed on me unexpectedly giving me a slight phobia of their genus for life.
And then the world moved on and I grew up and as my mum had told me would happen, I stopped caring for that place. It was the hormone storm era, I was all about existentialists and how meaningless life is and I can assure you mulling over the meaninglessness of life is a lot more appropriate in an urban setting. In the country, there’s too much distraction whether it’s crazy birds singing joyfully when you need to be gloomy and pensive or a flowerbed that’s just started blooming.
Fast-forward twenty years and I’m looking forward to the day when we could move to the country permanently. The world has moved on again. Cities in general might be pleasant places to live in, at least some parts of some cities. The part of a city I live in is getting unacceptably crowded, dirty, and noisy, as the whole place shakes with a building fever. So we escape that every chance we get because we can: my parents finally could afford to build a cottage.
I used to think living in the country was superboring but that was when I was 16 and I liked night clubs. My night club period is long gone and so is the period when I craved real-life interaction with people. Now I’ve got Skype for keeping in touch with friends. I’ve got everything I need to do my job on my laptop. I don’t need to live in the city. I can live wherever I want. Which was one of the reasons for choosing the freelance path, by the way. Now, the mere thought of spending any amount of time cooped up in an office makes my hair stand on end.
Ever since we started coming to the country on a regular basis I’ve been rediscovering a lot of things. The vicious joy of weeding is one. The satisfaction when you clear a patch and free the plants that have a right to be there from the ones that don’t. Yes, I know this sort of judgment is unnatural but I’m a human, not nature, so I judge and weed.
Another country pleasure I’ve found again is seeing an apple tree bloom and bear fruit again after years of neglect. Apricots, cherries, plums, we’ve got them all and it didn’t even take that much of an effort to improve their living conditions. Earth is generous in its repayment for anything invested in it. It is also not generous when it doesn’t feel like it. This sort of thing makes you adopt a more philosophical take on life, in a way, a more accepting attitude to the things you can’t change.
Related to this but a point worth making in its own right is nature’s sense of humour and its unlimited capacity for surprises. There used to be a city saying that as soon as you clean your windows it will start raining. In the country, the equivalent must be that it will start raining right after you water the garden.
Droughts are not uncommon in the part of the country where our place is and water is expensive. We’ve got reservoirs for rainwater… which are full to the brim because it’s been a rainy May this year. Even so, yesterday we just had to water the plants because though it was cloudy all day it never rained. Until we watered the last flowerbed, that is.
As a bonus, I got to experience the longest thunder ever — so long I thought it was an unusually loud and rumbling plane. It wasn’t. It was a minutes-long thunder that ended with the skies opening up and staying open through the night. My okra must be happy. The reservoirs are full again so we’re expanding our water storage. Life in the country teaches water conservation as well, which is invariably a good thing.
And surprises? Take your pick but to my mind they tend to be outtakes from a horror book or film. A gutted bird on the garden path. The feathered remains of a hen. The culprit, a seasoned, long-whiskered orange village warrior who also shat in our garden twice as a claim of ownership.
Twice we met, from a distance. Twice he chose the wise path of retreat. The latest surprise country life has served us is a beehive. In the chimney. We’re dealing with it. The bees are free to move to the other chimney whose purpose is not exactly clear but at least it’s not in use and has no opening in the house.
Country life is interesting though sometimes this interestingness is the sort from the Chinese saying. Or was it a curse? In any case, boring is what country life isn’t. We’re discussing buying a goat for when we move here permanently. We’ll use it as an eco-friendly lawnmower. And possibly produce boutique goat cheese. I hear it’s very popular. The possibilities are endless. As is my appreciation of bees. The apricots are coming along nicely despite the hail that murdered our cherries. That’s nature for you.