The term rural conjures up a number of images, depending on where one is from. While the federal government considers rural a town of 2500 folks or less, Webster’s considers it a place in the country, whatever that means. Growing up, we thought of it as the boonies, someplace where there wasn’t a house every 60 feet, paved roads, or indoor plumbing.
I grew up in Houston and went to school there, so technically I’m a city boy. However, I’ve spent my time in a lot of rural areas, from summers in West Galveston (only store was Seven Seas) to Matagorda to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Spent a lot of time living and working outdoors, from trawling shrimp, raking oysters, floundering, and fishing in the coastal bays, to working 200 pecan trees on some family land. My family has always been landholders here in Texas, from a 500 acre grant my great-great-grandfather received for being at the Battle of San Jacinto to my current small holding of 32 acres outside of Johnson City.
I consider Johnson City to be rural. It’s only about 50 miles outside of Austin, and just down the road from Fredricksburg (a booming metropolis of over ten thousand souls), yet still has a strong out in the country feel. The area isn’t as populous as small towns in East Texas, but it isn’t as open as West Texas either. Big enough to have some advantages, not big enough to support a WalMart. In the parlance of astronomers searching for the perfect planet, it’s a true Goldilocks town – just right.
Rural means you don’t have the services a lot of city people take for granted – high speed Internet being one of them. You have to rely on well water (I’ll discuss that further), a septic system, rural electricity, and satellite TV. But rural also means that you can’t throw a bucket and hit your neighbors house. In a lot of cases, you can’t drive a golf ball and hit your neighbor’s land, much less their house. Which is really nice when the neighbors decide to have a beer and AK-47 party (fortunately, that hasn’t happened here, yet).
Being rural, you can sit on the back porch of your barn (all good barns should have a covered porch) and watch the wind blow through the grass. Our farm has a good descent of around 100 feet from top to bottom, and a breeze is blowing most of the time. We have cedar, which is good (when it forms a break) and bad (when the pollen mixes in with that breeze), salt cedar (false willow – always a bad thing), and beautiful oaks. Rural means leaving traffic sounds and city lights behind, and exchanging them for hawks, great horned owls, deer and turkey, and awesome night skies. It also means giving up cement and asphalt roads for dirt trails and caliche roads. The latter, after a heavy rain, will bind you and everything you own to the ground, and if you stop moving, will swallow your boots. You know you’re living la vida rural when the mud stops leaving your truck in clumps about the time you get to town.
Good neighbors, and being a good neighbor, is a must. Rural folk, while being cussedly independent, still rely on each other more than city people do. Having neighbors you can hire for different projects is a great asset. Trenching 250 feet from well to power pole with a shovel is a daunting task; getting your neighbor to do it in a couple of hours with his skid steer makes a lot more sense. Everyone helps with burn piles, partly out of the joy of retuning cedar to the soil in a good way, and partly out of self-preservation.