Wednesday, March 2, 2011

THE UPSIDE of ISLAND and/or COUNTRY LIVING -- Kristi’s Story

So back to Ti’s original question: What happened to my wonderful life? And more importantly, why do I stay?

Probably the strongest anchor keeping me here on days when I might otherwise have gone screaming into the hills are the kids: Not only mine, but everyone else’s too. Though we had a bit of a rough start with some of the children in Emily’s class, I have learned to really love the local kids. Watching my children and their friends grow up in this beautiful place has been one of the highlights of my life. I would not trade it for diamonds or gold.

In a larger community, children and their friends frequently shuffle to other schools. In our small valley, the kids you start in preschool with are likely many of the same kids you will graduate with. Most of the grades only have two classes, and those kids and parents are together a long time. Emily’s graduating class of 2009 had 47 kids, including the alternative school kids and those who did Running Start. I knew pretty much every one, and was amazed to see that even the “spitters and nose pickers” had grown up to be nice young adults.

Rose is a freshman in high school this year, and most of her best friends she has known since Montessori. Their parents and I have logged in countless hours attending soccer games, school assemblies, science fairs, and field trips together. Though we may not all be the best of friends, we have formed a tight web of support around our children, and we are raising these kids together.

People out here are also pretty healthy. I was 41 when Jannie was born, and I knew at least three other women in the valley as old, or older than I, and having kids. Statistically, that’s pretty amazing. I also see very few overweight children or even adults out here. Most of us are involved in some sort of sport, and even those that aren’t can’t escape all the walking, hiking, skiing and biking that is a regular part of our lives.

The consumerism that plagues many kids in our nation is rarely a problem for us. The nearest mall is two hours away. Not that kids can’t access all that stuff on the internet, but somehow it’s less of an issue. We just don’t have the population base to support the advertising that drives consumer culture. Of course as a consequence, we can sometimes be a little out of it style-wise. City kids might sometimes think the local kids are “uncool” and I’m sure I thought a bit of that on occasion when we first arrived. But I am so thankful to have raised my children in a place where people worry more about four-legged predators then the two-legged variety. And if being “uncool” is the worst thing that can happen to them, I’ll take it.

Another thing I love about living in a small community is the ability to make a difference. I have never lived in a place where people are so empowered to create positive change. If there’s something happening that you don’t like, you can get in there and make it better. Many people do. Small community groups have successfully fought large corporate conglomerates and corrupt government agencies over the course of years, and even decades, and won. Individuals have envisioned wonderful ideas that they proceeded to make happen. We have an excellent ski trail system, an amazing land trust, a state of the art ice skating rink, and a large school garden project, just to name a few. They all started as dreams by a few, only to grow and benefit hundreds, if not thousands. Right now there is an art and community center in the development, which I have no doubt will be a success. If people want to make a difference here, they can absolutely do so.

The natural world is a big draw for many people here, me included. Coming from rainy Seattle to a place with over 300 days of sun a year has been paradise. I don’t care if it’s only five degrees outside. If it’s sunny out, I’m happy. I ride my bike and ski on beautiful mountain trails that take only minutes to get to. Sometimes I ski out my front door. And though I’ve mentioned how hard it can be to make a living in a rural environment, the upside is that we don’t punch a clock.

Lack of regular work means fewer time constraints. As a result, parents seem to have a lot more time to spend with their kids. You can barely get a seat at the afternoon spring and winter concerts in our local elementary school, so full are the bleachers with moms, dads, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors, and friends. They never held an afternoon concert at my daughter’s school in Seattle because few of the parents could come.

I have also enjoyed, more than I would have thought, having a variety of friends very different than me. One of our friends, who is the emergency contact for our children at school, has likely cancelled out every one of my votes since 1979. I have friends who vote the abortion issue (against), and those who have an arsenal large enough they could probably blow up the town. Strange bedfellows, for sure, but I have come to like these people very much. It has been a real learning experience to be able to discuss some of the most controversial problems in our nation with people who disagree with my views, but are interested in what they are. And visa versa. I wish more of that could happen everywhere.

Community in a small place is a hard thing to explain. It’s like a web of relationships that ties us all together, whether we’re good friends or not. Tragedies ripple through this valley and the pain they cause runs deep. We had three beloved men commit suicide last year, and I swear half the valley went on Prozac. Not so much because people were afraid of being next, but because the sadness these tragedies left in their wakes was so huge. You can’t escape other people’s troubles out here. And we all come to the rescue because we never know when we might be next.

Sometimes I wish for anonymity and to be able to walk down the street without everyone knowing my name. But, for the most part, the friendly nods, hand waves, and one finger salutes we all give each other on the road, validates that I’m alive and a member of a community that cares. I guess that’s why I stay.

No comments:

Post a Comment