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When we moved from the big city life to the mountains near Butte, Montana to realize a life long dream of opening the Fish Creek House B&B , I kept my eyes open and my mouth shut and and paid very close attention to other people s botchery. Personally, I d really rather watch someone else screw up than have to do it myself.
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What follows are 10 lessons from my now I know better collection. Perhaps these lessons learned will ease your transition from the city to wilderness.
1. Know thyselves. If you are a couple who bickers over which way to hang the toilet paper roll, don t buy raw land.
The path from raw land to indoor plumbing is fraught with hundreds, if not thousands, of decisions. If you can t pull as a team over the little things, how will your relationship survive decisions like where to sink a well (that one can be worth, oh, $20,000), where to put the kitchen, do we buy or rent equipment, do we build a log house or glue it up out of egg cartons? We built hte log house to make our Bed and Breakfast dream come true.
We have several guys (one of our neighbors included) sitting around our county amidst their half-finished projects all by themselves because the little woman couldn t handle it and ran off mid-construction. On the other hand, we have another neighbor couple who knew that they weren t cut out for the house building process. They bought undeveloped land and put a manufactured home on it. Save your marriage (or whatever) and buy a house.
2. Know thy neighbors. You may be under the false impression that since you are moving from more crowded to less crowded conditions that you will have more privacy and that neighbors matter less. Au contraire.
When looking at rural property, you will find yourself driving down many a dirt road. If there is more than one home on that road, it is a neighborhood, like it or not. Look closely at the homes and residents on that road. If your house catches on fire or you hack your leg off with a chainsaw, do you think you can depend on them to help? Fortunately here on our road up to the Fish Creek House, we have the greatest neighbors that’d help you out in the proverbial New York minute
When we were searching the great wilderness for our dream property,we drove down some rural roads that actually triggered the theme from Deliverance in the back of my brain. Find some excuse to go chat up some of the neighbors before you buy. Introduce yourself and ask them how bad the winters are, whatever, just get a feel for the folks you may have to trust with your life and property.
3. Know thy driveway. I rarely see this subject discussed, but in the country, the length of your driveway can make or break the whole experience.
On the other hand, our driveway is a winding 700 feet long. We can t even see the road. We love it. But we also live at about 3000 feet and see a lot of snow all winter. This is OK with us because we have good plowing gear and 4-wheel-drive cars.
It also cost big money to put gravel on that much driveway, which is necessary in our area if you want to use your driveway year-round. We have a neighbor who has been out here for years who had to park at the end of his driveway half the year due to the snow and mud until just last year when he got a 4-wheel drive. A long driveway is great for privacy and air quality, but if you actually want to use it, it will cost you.
4. Don t share. If you are in such a hurry to move that the only way you can afford it is to go in on some property with another buyer, don t. This is a recipe (pardon the pun) for disaster.
5. Kill some trees. We are tree-huggers who moved to the woods. As we wandered around gawking at all the pretty trees, we decided where to build our first building, a 24 x 40-foot shop. By now, we were one with the trees and couldn t bear to part with any of them, so we sited our shop where we could take out the fewest trees.
The trees were happy but now along with Fish Creek running through the property, we have a greenhouse for our organically grown produce, a barn for our horses, round pen and arena. So guests are welcome to bring their equine companions.
6. Do the wave. In the city, avoiding eye contact can be a survival skill. Congeniality can get you shot, or at the very least, panhandled.
Not so in the country. Out here, the wave is the primary social currency. Wave at everybody, whether you know them or not. If you see a guy standing by the road holding an axe dripping with blood, smile and wave cheerily. He might be butchering a deer and may choose to share some with you. If you don t wave, you could be Mother Theresa and everyone will think you are growing something illegal in your basement. Which leads me to . . . .
7. You will earn a reputation. The reputation is a quaint concept that no longer applies to the concrete jungle. You can be any kind of scuzzball you want in the city and no one cares. In fact, some people think it s cool and they ll probably give you your own TV show.
Out here, you will earn a reputation whether you are a hermit who only comes out once every five years or the mayor. You can care about it or not, but if you ever want to do business, or anything else for that matter, your reputation will precede you, so consider how you want to be known. Be aware that anything you say will be held against you and it will also be spread all over town.
8. Guns are part of the culture. Guns are loud. In rural America, people have guns and they shoot them. You may no longer have freeway noise in your bedroom, but it could sound like the Battle of Gettysburg in hunting season.
One of the newer residents on our road is a pacifist-tree-hugger-gun-hater.We’re in great hunting territory and even have a shooting range where our resident NRA instructor who also tests guns and gives shooting clinics. People travel far and wide to attend these as well as to take advantage of having gunsmithing services available . If you can t live with that concept in a rural area, you might be happier either in town, where everyone needs a toilet paper permit to you-know-what, or on a road with (shudder) codes and covenants. At least you know then that your neighbor won t be raising hogs on the property line and shooting them at three in the morning.
9. Pets the good, the bad, and the ugly. Out here in the hinterlands the term pet food has a whole different meaning. Sure, it s great to live someplace where Fido can run free, but just remember, so do the Fido eaters. Let s face it, most of us city transplants grew up on a TV diet of articulate, well-dressed animals. But in reality, cougars, coyotes, bears, and even large predatory birds are all on the lookout for a nice fat Fido or clueless cat to snack on. While the thought of Yogi Bear pick-a-nicking on my animal is too gruesome an image for me to entertain, I ve been here long enough to know that the risk is part of the natural life of animals.
10. Electricity is not a fact of life. It is the luck of the draw.
We provincials, especially we of the woodlands, are the recipients of periodic phone and power interruptions. Trees fall on lines, aliens sever them with anti-matter beams. The utilities can even go out for no apparent reason in the middle of summer. Maybe it s just a drill. If you have big, full freezers and no backup, you will be having one heck of a steak feed that night.
Go with the flow, is the name of the game when you’re living the country life. Fortunately at the Fish Creek House, we offer a combination of luxury with a taste of the rugged outdoors.