Since moving from California to the Ozarks many years ago I have talked to and read about hundreds of urban refugees whose first move was to the wrong place. Which is why I wrote a book showing people how to get it right the first time. Which is why I feel frustrated and sad each time I hear about a failed move.
The laments are predictable and reflect core values. “We found this really neat place with awesome scenery, pristine air, low prices, and it was only twenty minutes from a town with super shopping/schools/libraries/restaurants/organizations. Two months after close of escrow we realized we were in a world of high brows/low brows/rightists/leftists/anti-intellectuals/ snobs/hillbillies/rednecks/bible thumpers/heathens/militarists/homophobes/sexists/interbred . . .”
Can you relate? Well, hold on. The locals may not be your kind of people but they were there first and this is America, the land of the somewhat free. Were you forced to move to that place? No? How carefully did you check it out? You drove through on vacation? You read about it in a magazine? Uh huh.
I do understand. We live in the time of stress. Mass layoffs, incivility, blundering bureaucracies, overwhelming technology, mass declining buying power in stark contrast to those who make more in a day than we make in a year, senseless crime, now including children killing children. Angry with these conditions, thousands flee to rural venues. Many vow to live “the way I damn well please and screw those who don’t approve.” Some wear T-shirts with anti-culture slogans and ball caps that say “Shit Happens” and drive oversized-tire-clad pickup trucks with window rack guns. Sure they’re reactionary. Aren’t you?
Examine yourself. Are you open minded, tolerant of diverse values, beliefs, lifestyles? Are you a loner or highly social? Self reliant or in need of services? Truly looking for change or just looking for now in a rural setting? Do you really want to join a vital community? What is the nature of your ideal community? Finding, building, preserving community is an essential part of our human condition but we are unpracticed. Consider carefully your motivations to join a strong, existing community.
If strong community is a high priority, consider one of the hundreds of intentional communities. If you are a social animal and thrive on frequent stimulating conversation, a small town will fit better than sparse countryside, where neighbors and friends will be miles of rough roads distant.
Most rural people welcome new residents. It is wise to accept early invitations even though you are busy getting settled. If you wait until you “have time” you may find that invitations have stopped. There will be opportunities for service. Volunteer fire departments, PTAs, 4H clubs, recycling groups, food buyers’ co-ops, churches, schools, libraries, service clubs always need help. Service is a way to show the community who you are and for you to understand it.
Do not expect to change those who preceded you. As for your well-researched, perfectly logical, totally irrefutable solutions for saving the world from destruction by ignorant and greedy people, keep them to yourself or write a book. Show what you believe by your conduct. In Little Town Blues, Raye C. Ringholz writes of the different priorities of outsiders from locals in a small Utah town: “Not of the predominant Mormon faith, environmentalists and vegetarians as well, they still live comfortably and are accepted in the tight-knit community of ranchers because they don’t attempt to force their ways on longtime residents.”
Moving a second or third time before finding home is financially, psychologically and chronologically expensive—and unnecessary. There are myriad ways to determine the nature of a place. Advertise in the local newspaper for contacts by people who have recently moved there. Call newspaper editors, bankers, insurance agents, county clerks, sheriffs, school superintendents and chambers of commerce for inside information. Read the local paper, especially editorials and letters to the editor. Notice how much space is given to school reporting.
Visit the place. Listen to talk radio. Purposely get lost. Drive into a likely looking homestead and explain your situation. Keep doing this until you find someone who takes time to talk to you. A day spent this way will illuminate local conditions and attitudes. And you may start friendships that will flourish after your move.
Keep your money in the bank if you have any naggy feelings about a place. Caretake or rent for a year before buying. During this time you will experience the place during its best and worst weather, discover the people, find all available properties and learn property values.
The biggest blunder rural migrants make is not thoroughly checking out the nature of their potential community. Do your homework. As Kit Carson said, “Be sure you’re right, then go ahead.”
Gene GeRue writes from Hurricane Hollow in the Missouri Ozarks. He is the author of How To Find Your Ideal Country Home, now in its third edition. His professional mission is helping ruralite wannabes escape cities. He strives weekly and strongly to build the world’s thickest pizza.Return to Ruralize your dreams