Small Towns and Slow Lives

Vermont is offering people $10,000 to move and work there. That sounds appealing to me, although I admit it would sound appealing even without the financial inducement. We spent a week in the hills above Woodstock, Vermont last summer, and the desolation, the quiet, and the slowness of life formed the perfect anodyne to my normally hectic, crowded lifestyle.

I’m not sure when it started, but for some time now, I’ve been dreaming of small towns and slow lives in the same way I used to dream about being a published writer when I was young. I call it my midlife crisis. No sports car for me—give me wilderness, acres without another house in sight; give me small towns where everyone knows everyone else, and news from the town spreads outward from the general store.

Not long ago, I was explaining these feelings to a friend. I couldn’t quite put it into words so I grabbed a napkin (we had just finished a barbecue dinner), pulled one of the ever-present Pilot G-2s out of my back pocket and sketched out the following diagram:


I have lived much of my life in urban areas, or the suburbs of large urban areas. Moreover, since leaving home for college, my life has gotten steadily busier to the point where at times, the pace of things is frantic.

It seems to me, therefore, that my days pivot around two axes: how crowded my space is, and how crowded my time is. The y-axis on the drawing, the urban/rural axis, represents space density. The x-axis, the busy/bored axis represents time density. I’ve lived in that crowded upper-right corner for a long time. It’s no wonder I am craving something different.

I imagine that people who grow up in rural areas sometimes dream of living in the big city the way I dream of moving to the country. It’s the grass-is-always-greener syndrome. In reality (outside my rose-colored imagination), rural living would have its challenges. But I admire people who are able to make the change. I recall reading fondly of E. B. White, who, after years in New York City, gave up writing regularly for The New Yorker and moved to Brooklin, Maine. There, he ran a little farm, which became the subject of his One Man’s Meat column in Harpers, to say nothing of the stage for Charlotte’s Web.

What would I gain from living in the country? Swapping the sounds of car motors and airplanes and helicopters overhead for the sounds of birds, the whine of insects would be a start. I love the sounds of the country as much as I detest the background noise of the city. I’ve learned to tune it out, but it takes an effort. It would be nice to listen for a change.

Life is fast in the big city. I’ve been running that race for a long time, and I’m ready for a slower pace. I used to think busy was a good thing—cramming as much into every day as possible. Just look back at posts I wrote 5 years ago and its everywhere. Now things are different. I’ve been frantically busy long enough. I’m ready to slow things down. I’m ready for a calendar that doesn’t overwhelm me each time I look at it.

But the pace of life isn’t changing (much), and the country will have to wait a while longer. This is part of the reason I started to write again. In stories, just as in my imagination, I can live where I want. My characters can slow down their lives, even if I can’t slow down mine. And while it isn’t quite the same thing, it does help a little.

Still, I am looking for ways to move that stick figure version of me close to that daydream version. I think I’ll get there someday, but the road is still a long one.


  1. What about moving to a place like Middletown, Md, which is rural, yet close to a bigger town (Frederick, MD) and about an hour from DC or Baltimore? Not that I’m projecting my daydream ideal on you or anything…. 🙂

  2. Ah yes, small town living. Been where you are now, and now I am (almost) where you yearn to be. Our little slice is a smallish “mountain town” in Arizona. I say that just to note it since most folks assume this state is comprised solely of sand, cactuses (yes, that is the proper plural), and one very large crack in the ground.

    The problem with small scenic towns is that foreigners are always trespassing on their way from A to B. If your town happens to be the last services stop be prepared for hoards of RV’s in the parking lots and rude city dwellers in the super market.

    All of that said, however, it is everything you hope it will be. People really are friendlier and the pace is slower. Sunsets are stunning and the heavens put on a show not to be missed every night.

    There is one problem, however, and it is irritating me more than it should. I can defeat the squirrels that try to raid the bird feeder, but not the chipmunks. They are too light for any of the devices to be effective, and it is costing more than I want to know to offset their theivery.

    Yes, this is my biggest issue with small town living. I’ll live with it.


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