perhaps the greatest difference between rural and urban life is the notion of time and space. hours are still hours and miles are still miles, but their use and perception are decidedly different. at least that's what i've come to notice living in out here in god knows where, america.
i remember first noticing this in college. i grew up in what you could call a rural part of america. ok, well it wasn't that rural, but rural america was closer to me then than i am to a grocery store now, so go with me. i never noticed how different the pace of life could be in two places only 90 miles apart.
in winston-salem, meals were things eaten between meetings and classes. they generally lasted only twenty minuted because there was always something to get back to: a paper, a meeting, an important episode of joe millionaire or the real world/road rules challenge. (i hear your judging laughter. just remember who thought the hills was riveting television. not me.)
when i would go home for a weekend, time seemed to stand still. the nights were longer. the days were filled with conversations that meandered from topic to topic with few, if any, discernible shifts. meals were events. this was, in part, due to the fact that most of them involved witnessing and/or participating in the cooking and cleaning as opposed to grabbing a sandwich and fries, gulping them down, and sending the tray down a conveyor belt.
when we did eat out, it was leisurely and filled with conversation. friday nights out for hamburgers and sunday lunches at a local sub shop were never less than an hour, and nothing seemed wrong or wasteful about that use of time.
i'm thankful to know the same is true with my in-laws. i'll hazard a guess and say 40% of our time in their home is spent in the kitchen, 40% is spent on the sun porch talking, and 20% is spent doing whatever else there is to do. it's fantastic. i don't know exactly what it is about small town and rural life, but the sense of time runs counter to the time our urban friends feel.
time doesn't just slow down at meal time. you'd think rural americans were all buddhists with the way they live in the moment, and by living in the moment i mean having a conversation at the post office counter or on the sidewalk in the middle of an afternoon walk. i spent three hours with a woman talking about quilting and her family this morning. i can tell i'm adjusting back to life in rural america because i loved every minute of it.
but it's not just time. space is different as well. when you live in rural america, there's generally a lot of space between you and whatever it is you are headed towards or whatever it is you need. this is especially evident when driving. the roads are straight and the horizon is flat.
in atlanta, or any city for that matter, your sight distance in a car is often impeded by buildings, billboards, or buicks. you can generally only see as far as the next apartment complex or shopping area. the same idea applies in appalachia only its not buildings that block your view, but rather mountains, so while you might not be able to see very far, the only thing coming into your view is nature, not neon lights.
here where we are, you can see literally as far as is humanly possible. if a human eye can discern a shape or a color in the distance, that shape or color can be be seen.
this depth to the view has the ability to play tricks on you when you drive. a stop sign in the distance may appear to be a couple hundred yards away when in reality its a mile away. i can't tell you how many times i've started to slow down for a stop sign only to end up creeping in first gear for a couple of blocks.
even more than the illusion of distance, there is literally more space to be seen. there are more stars to be seen here than i've ever seen before. the other night, our neighbors built a little fire in the yard and we sat out there drinking, getting to know one another, and enjoying a cool evening that i hope means fall is near. late in the evening, robert, our next door neighbor, and i walked down toward the bayou and looked up to see what we could see. i was speechless.
there had been very few occasions in the last three years when i was graced with a night sky like this one. no clouds. no rain. no street lights dimming the view. no buildings or advertisements blocking the great unknown. we could see the milky way. i don't think i remembered until then that you can see the milky way.
it's a similar feeling to standing at the ocean and thinking about swimming to england or mexico or whatever landmass is closest to you beyond the horizon. you simultaneously realize how small you are in relation you are to everything outside you and how amazing it is that you even have the chance of comprehending all there is out there.
rural life offers a different way of thinking about and seeing time and space than urban life - longer, broader, and a hell of lot more relaxed. sure, there's a lot to be said about the productivity that a faster pace of life breeds, (i'm just as waspy and driven by the protestant work ethic as anybody) but there's also something to be said for being able to see as far as the eye can see and for being able to enjoy a meal and the company around you. i'll take that any day.
path photo by boone, town photo from here