07-05-10 - Country Living

Probably because I've been reading Tanizaki (wonderful) recently, and also because my neighborhood has turned into a construction yard as all the god damn home-improvers have kicked into high gear for the summer, I have been fantasizing a lot recently about living out in the country.

The woods have a wonderful silence to them; the boughs are baffles, muffling sound, making the air heavy and still. I imagine having a clearing in the woods so a bit of light can get in. In the clearing is a japanese style pavillion, dark thick wood braces and paper screens. It is empty of all clutter, my private space, quiet and peaceful, where I can just think and work and be alone.

There are actually lots of huge wooded properties for sale out not too far from Seattle. I think the best nearby place is out in the Snoqualmie river valley, around Duvall/Carnation/Novelty Hill. You can get 40 acres for around $600k which is pretty stonkering. 40 acres is enough that you can put a little building in the middle and not be able to see or hear a neighbor at all. It also seems like a pretty good investment. It's inevitable that the suburbs will get built out to there eventually, and then all that land could be worth a fortune. This is why I've never understood living in traditional suburbs; if you go just another ten miles out you get to real country where you can have big wild property with woods and gardens and isolation, for less money!

But then I start thinking - if I'm going to live in the middle of nowhere, why live in the middle of nowhere near Seattle? It's too far to really go into the city on any kind of regular basis, so I may as well just live in the countryside in CA or Spain or Argentina or somewhere with better weather.

Living in the country is really only okay if I'm married or something. If I'm single I have to be in the city. Even if I am with the woman I love, moving out to the country is sort of like retiring from life. It's changing gears to a very isolated, simple life. That's very appealing to me, but I don't think it's time for that phase of my life just yet.

Lately I have been taking lots of walks around Seattle U. It has pretty nice grounds, with lots of little hidden gardens tucked behind or between buildings where you can stroll or sit. I love the feeling on a college campus. You can just feel the seriousness in the air. Even when there are lots of kids around there's a feeling of quiet and solitude; maybe it's because the big buildings create a sort of echoing canyon that changes the sounds.

I miss having deep intellectual problems to work on that you really have to go and think about for a long time. Even though I'm sort of doing research right now, it's engineering research, where my time needs to be spent at the machine writing code for test cases, it's not theoretical research. It's really a delightful thing to have a hard theoretical problem to work on. You just keep it in the back of your mind and you chew on it for months. You try to come at it in different ways, you search for prior art papers about it. All the time you are thinking about it, and often the big revelation comes when you are taking a hike or something.


Tom Forsyth said...

I have 2.5 acres of woodland with coyote and deer, but live 20 minutes from the office. I can't see my neighbours unless I stand on a stool and crane my neck, but there's a QFC 2 minutes down the road. Sometimes the burbs are a perfectly decent option - you just have to pick your burb with a bit of care.

Actually the coyote are kind of a pain, and the deer eat all the flowers. Also, the fucking woodpeckers bang on the iron chimney cover at 5am, and the squirrels assault you with pinecones every spring. Careful what you wish for.

Aaron said...

The real country is a nice place to visit. You need a lake house or something. I think it kinda sucks to live there long term though. I'm not sure having kids makes the country more appealing. Not to me. Small town schools in this country are a scary, scary thing.

Aaron said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
cbloom said...

Yes, one huge problem with the country is that there are other country people around. Which is why you never leave your compound.

Aren't all schools scary these days? I just assume that kids have to be home-schooled or something now. I think home schooling is horrible for a kid, but I'm terrified of what I've seen of our No Child Gets an Education schools these days.

Thatcher Ulrich said...

I grew up in the woods (really the edge of a suburb) and it was great for kid interests. But the problem with that as an adult is you spend your life in your car. Sure the woods are nice when you're home but eventually you get bored or need something. The car environment is such a aesthetic downer. My favorite places to live now are where you can meet many needs within a reasonable amount of walking. The real estate costs more though. CB has the problem of sensitivity to neighbor noise which is another problem but it seems surmountable. One of the quietest places I ever lived was in Brooklyn. My office faced the back garden (interior of the block) and there was nothing going on back there. Our bedroom was adjacent to the street but it was actually dead quiet after 11pm or so. But it was pretty dark in that apt.

cbloom said...

Yeah suburban car culture is a no-go for me. Doing errands in a car just makes me instantly miserable. Doing the same errands by foot or bike makes me happy. Country living would only be tolerable if I became a hermit and never left the compound. And while that sounds very appealing to me, it probably would actually make me profoundly miserable.

Tom Forsyth said...

In Europe being carless is a perfectly rational choice. In America you're basically screwed unless you choose to live in the ghetto inner city with all the freaks and wierdos (see CB's previous posts on the downsides here).

The best you can do is make sure you spend as little time as possible in your car. Although us petrol-heads tend to figure out the "long way" to do all our errands - so it's 5 long boring minutes to the QFC, or 20 fun tire-squealing minutes to exactly the same shop - your choice.

(protip - when buying a house - avoid those ON twisty hilly roads - you'll have idiots like me screaming up and down outside all day long. Buy a house just OFF the twisty hilly roads, because then you can be one of the idiots)

Aaron said...

Re scary schools: I've seen what home-schooling does too. I'll take public schooling (plus good augmentation at home) for 1000, Alex. You could try a charter school, but they're no better on average: http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Education/2010/0629/Study-On-average-charter-schools-do-no-better-than-public-schools

It's way easier to avoid your neighbors in the city than in the country. In (a real) city no one gives a fuck what you do. In the country, everyone is looking at and judging what you do, especially if it's even remotely interesting. So yeh, you gotta stay in your compound for sure.

Again, the country is great for vacation/getaway. Summer house, cabin in the woods, etc. It's just too inconvenient and unpleasant over the long haul for daily living.

Every kid I ever knew hated living in the country. After we grow up we love it in retrospect, once it's all blured together to nostalgia. But at the time it was mind numbingly boring once we'd hiked all over everything nearby and shot at all the birds and killed everything in the river 50 or 100 times over.

cbloom said...

"Again, the country is great for vacation/getaway. Summer house, cabin in the woods, etc. It's just too inconvenient and unpleasant over the long haul for daily living."

Inconvenient maybe I buy, but I think Amazon fixes a lot of that. You basically never have to go shopping ever any more.

Unpleasant? What? I just want to be able to sit with my beloved lappy and work on algorithms and be able to open my window and have sweet fresh air, and hear nothing but the sound of birds.

old rants