Seeing the changes that have occurred over the past two years due to Covid-19 and how it has influenced people to move away from the cities and out to the less settled suburban, semi-rural, and rural areas, i.e. “The Countryside”, I figured I should go through some of my previous posts about country living and write an update to shift the focus to those issues people thinking about a move to the country should seriously consider before doing so.
Considering how many people have already abandoned the cities and larger suburbs as a means of getting away from Covid, and particularly in light of so many of those same folks being able to work remotely, I thought I should update my previous efforts to let them know what they’ll really be getting themselves into before they decide to make the move. The last thing those of us living out here want is folks moving here with the wrong idea of what it’s like living in a small town, and then have them trying to turn our towns into clones of the very places they spent their time and money to get away from, something that will not endear them to their neighbors. It has always been an issue when folks from away move into town and the first thing they do is try to make it more like “Back where we come from”. As many of us have asked those folks in the past, “If ‘Back where you come from’ was all so friggin’ great, then why did you come here?”
While a lot of what I’ll be covering pertains to New Hampshire, much of it also applies to Maine, Vermont, western Massachusetts, and Upstate New York (‘Upstate’ defines as any part of New York that isn’t part of the Metro New York Area and Albany corridor). You're on your own when it comes to other rural states, particularly those down south. Each area of the country has its own rules when it comes to country living, but there are also some universal rules that apply no matter which state we’re talking about.
There are a lot of topics about 'country living' I can cover, many of which I've written about before. Since the focus of this post is a bit different – helping someone decide whether or not they will move out of the city and to the country rather than helping those who have already made the move – some of the subjects I’ll be covering will have a different take than seen in my original posts. These are not in an specific order, but I am presenting them in a (hopefully) more useful order to those contemplating a move.
Let’s get started, shall we?
Get used to the idea of dirt roads. Most small towns have 'em and many have more than a few. Don't expect the town to pave them just for your convenience. Most times it's cheaper to leave dirt roads as dirt roads. The town will grade them a couple of times a year to keep them from becoming too bumpy or rutted. Two towns in which I resided in the past had their share of dirt roads, with one having about a 80/20 mix of paved and dirt roads and the other about a 50/50 mix. In both cases my home was on a dirt road and that was fine with me.
Get used to the idea of dark. You won't necessarily find streetlights along roads in many small towns except near the town center and at some of the intersections. It can get dark, and I mean really dark at night. When you look up you'll be amazed at the number of stars you can see. We try to keep it that way. The last thing your neighbors need or want is you lighting up your property like Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium. It will just annoy them and spoil the view of the night sky.
The folks who own one of the houses just behind The Gulch are from away and tend to leave their outside lights on all night, even when they are back home in Massachusetts. (The lights are on a timer. They also have a burglar alarm system.) They say it's because it will help keep burglars away, but I have to explain to them that most of those kinds of miscreants don't break into someone's home at night. They'll do it in broad daylight when nobody is home because it's easier to see and choose what stuff they're going to steal. Breaking in at night is likely to get a burglar shot by the homeowner.
As a side note, I checked with our police department to find out how many residential burglaries take place in our town and found that last year there were 7. The argument can be made that Covid affected the level of property crimes since the year before (2019), there were 16 burglaries. Still, when only one home in a neighborhood has its lights on all night, it signals to anyone paying attention that no one is home. (If you walk through our neighborhood after 11PM on any night, you will see that the outside lights on just about every home are off. There is one exception, and it is an acceptable exception as the homeowner works 2nd shift and rolls in from work around midnight. Once they’re home their outdoor light goes off.
There are farms in small towns and they sometimes produce interesting smells and sounds, sometimes around the clock. They also operate sunrise to sunset, and sometimes longer. Get used to them. They've been here a lot longer than you and this is their livelihood. They won't take kindly to a newcomer trying to tell them what they should and should not be doing. If you can’t handle that then don’t get a home anywhere near a farm.
Sometimes there are logging operations going on in some towns out in the country. If so you'll see very big trucks loaded down with lots of logs. Get out of their way. With a full load they aren't going to stop very quickly and unless you're also driving a logging truck any argument over who has the right of way will end with them winning and you losing, big time.
Forestry out in the country isn’t any different than farming. Trees are crops and are harvested now and again. If that’s something you can’t handle, or worse, something you are against, reconsider any thoughts about moving out to the country because you aren’t going to be happy and you’re going to piss off a lot of your neighbors.
Hunting is a fact of life. If you're a bunny-hugger and think hunting is wrong, keep it to yourself. If you can’t, then maybe living out in the country isn’t such a good idea. If you think you’ll be able to change people’s minds about it, you’re wrong.
Hunting is necessary to keep deer, moose, bear, turkeys, and other wildlife populations in check. Without hunting many species would starve to death since their natural predators are no longer in the area in any number to keep the populations in check. One could make the case for restoring the natural predators, but then you have to worry about the wolves, mountain lions, and coyotes coming after you, your kids, and your pets, and the bears breaking into your home looking for food
Cell phone service- In your dreams. While cell service is better than it was when I first covered this topic years ago, it can still be spotty in some areas, and totally non-existent in others. It's something I warn folks about when they go out boating on Lake Winnipesaukee because there are a lot of areas on the lake where there is still no cell service. The same is true for folks who are hiking the trails in New Hampshire.
If you’re expecting 5G service, you’ll be even more disappointed. While most of the countryside will get it eventually, coverage won’t be any better than the present 4G service. It also won’t be the very high-speed service you get in the cities or large suburbs. None of that will be deployed out in the semi-rural and rural areas because the cell companies won’t see a return on their investment.
So if you need to be connected via your smart phone 24/7 you may want to reconsider a move to the countryside.
Internet service. Service availability and data speeds will vary greatly. In some cases service may not be available from ‘wired’ terrestrial providers at any price, so your only option will be either fixed wireless or satellite.
As with 5G service, fixed wireless will be an option only here and there. Satellite ISPs are another option, but be aware they have their own issues including lower data rates, higher costs, higher latency, and some also have data caps. (Starlink, a system owned by SpaceX, is coming up to speed and will be much faster and more reliable than existing satellite-based services. It is not yet fully deployed, but it’s getting there.)
In some of the less thickly settled areas wired service is likely to be DSL. This is particularly true if there is no cable service in that area. Yes, there are upgrades taking place in a lot of the rural and semi-rural areas, funded by Washington as part of the response to Covid-19. This money is being used to fund the extension of CATV systems and Fiber To The Home by telephone companies, cable companies, and some electrical utilities. But those build-outs are not happening quickly and not everywhere. (My town has received some of those funds, some of which will be used to fund replacement of old copper DSL lines which serve some of the islands and shoreline neighborhoods on the Big Lake and other homes which are presently unserved/underserved because of franchise contract limitations.)
If you need reliable high-speed Internet service then you will need to determine if the town or towns you are thinking of moving to have the level of service you need. If you can’t be sure it will be available, then perhaps you should reconsider your move away from The Big City.
Food delivery, in this case pizza, Chinese, Thai, Mexican food deliveries – Don't count on it. In some cases the nearest ethnic food restaurants may be a few towns away. Sometimes the local general/village store makes pizza for pickup, but don’t count on delivery.
If you can’t live without Uber Eats, Grub Hub, Door Dash or some of the other food delivery services, then living out here in the sticks isn’t going to be for you.
Guns. In a lot of states, guns are common in the countryside. Here in New Hampshire (as well as Maine and Vermont) a lot of people own guns. A good percentage of those also carry them regularly. If the thought of average citizens carrying guns in public makes you nervous, then it would be best for you to consider staying put.
Wells and septic systems are all you'll find in most country towns. Many don't have a municipal water supply or sewage treatment plant. Your well is your water supply and the septic system takes care of your waste water. You will also need to become familiar the following terms: leach field, distribution box, Rid-X, submersible pump, well head, water softener, dry well, and pressure tank.
If any of this bothers you or if you feel municipal water and sewer are the only way to go, then you’ll definitely want to reconsider relocating from the city.
Where I live there are some private water systems for some neighborhoods, though no sewers. There is a sewer system that surrounds the Big Lake because septic systems for homes on the shore were polluting the lake. Federal funds by way of the Clean Water Act paid for sewer system and treatment plant. Once you get away from the shoreline it’s all septic systems.
Critters are not the ‘cute and fuzzy’ animals you see on TV. While you will see some in the city environs, there are animals out in the countryside you may have not encountered before. Some are annoying. Some are destructive. Some are outright dangerous and can injure or kill people.
If the idea of animals like skunks, raccoons, snakes, weasels, fisher cats, coyotes, coy-wolves, mountain lions, wolves, and bears make you nervous, then you might want to rethink your move from the city. Not that they’re everywhere, wandering just outside your door waiting to pounce, but they are out there.
Of those I’ve listed, I have seen all of them except mountain lions and wolves here in my town. But I have seen trail cam photos showing there are mountain lion here. And since we also have coy-wolves – a coyote/wolf hybrid – it means there are also wolves around here somewhere, too.
Don’t expect the Fish and Game Department to do anything about them just so you feel safe. They’re here to protect the animals, not you.
If this is a problem for you, then you will definitely want to reconsider moving out to the countryside.
If you still want to make the move from the Big/Medium/Smallish City, at least you’ll be doing so without blinders, understanding at least some of what you’re getting yourself into. However, there are still things you need know in order to make a go of it. These ‘things’ are something I will cover in follow-on posts.