Category Archive 'Urban Versus Rural'
10 Nov 2007

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid


The New York Times chronicles the frightening encounters of today’s typical urban wussies with THE COUNTRY.

When Evan Gotlib and his fiancée, Lindsey Pollack, bought a three-bedroom cottage surrounded by pine trees in rural Sharon, Conn., they couldn’t wait to flee their cramped Manhattan studio on weekends to spend their days dozing in a hammock and barbecuing on their brand new 42,000 B.T.U., 60-burger-capacity Weber grill.

But being city people, they did what anyone looking to “get away from it all” would do first, before they even spent the night: they paid $3,000 for a home-security system complete with motion detectors, a one-touch intercom that connects to fire and police dispatchers and an emergency hand-held remote-control device they could leave on the bedside table at night. “I know it sounds ridiculous now that I talk about it, but I just feel safer sleeping with the remote control,” Mr. Gotlib, a 32-year-old corporate sales director for Time Inc. Media Group, confessed, “because those deer are aggressive.”

For many urban sophisticates who trade the big city’s drunken crowds, blaring sirens and claustrophobic living spaces for bucolic second homes on weekends, the very solitude of mountains and forests that drew them in the first place can turn into a nerve-jangling — and sometimes costly — source of anxiety. As much as they adore their country houses, these harried homebodies quail at the thought of stepping out into the pitch-black night or meeting some wild animal or armed local in the woods.

Often their attempts at assuaging those fears are met with disbelief and ridicule from their more well-adjusted family members and friends.

“New York thinking applied to nature equals paranoia,” said Augusten Burroughs, the author of the memoir “Running with Scissors,” from his country house on the outskirts of Amherst, Mass., which he and his partner, Dennis Pilsits, built three years ago. Since then, Mr. Burroughs, 42, has poured several book advances into what he calls his “prison in the trees” in an effort to defend his rustic outpost “from nature in all its malicious glory.” This includes installing an $8,000 lightning protection system and spending $2,000 on various military-grade “tactical illumination devices” — flashlights — and even a pair of night-vision goggles, thanks to some terrifying encounters with nocturnal neighbors.

Late one recent night, Mr. Burroughs had gone out to check the mailbox when he saw two green, glittering eyes, triangular ears “and the general impression of height” in the shadows. When the creature began to walk toward him, Mr. Burroughs ran into the garage, fearing for his life. “Our skinny, gym-polished urban bodies are no match for anything that scratches its back on a tree,” he said. “Whatever it was, it was both curious and unafraid — two traits one does not admire in wildlife when one is alone in the dark.”..

That hyper-vigilance is a normal reaction to the fear induced by the darkness and silence of the country, said Dr. Julie Holland, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine, who owns a weekend home in Pawling, N.Y. “In the city, the street lights are on at 3 in the morning, and you have this sense that if you call the police or the front desk of your luxury high-rise someone will help you,” she said. “There is something inherently unnatural and vulnerable about humans being in social isolation, because out there no one can hear you scream.”

It took Dr. Holland and her husband, Jeremy Wolff, a photographer, a while to get over that anxiety. Even so, encounters with armed hunters are always unsettling, even for a seasoned second-home owner. After disturbing a camouflaged fellow in a tree during a family hike last autumn, Mr. Wolf wrote a letter to the hunting club that leases the land beside his, asking members to “please make sure your bullets don’t cross my property lines.”

And then there was the time he came across a shooting range on his neighbor’s land. So does Mr. Wolff, 48, think there is a difference between himself and the people who live in the country full time?

“I feel I’m more of an intellectual artist and they’re kind of machine people,” he said. “Everyone has their own backhoe up there, and their kids have A.T.V.’s and motorboats. And they all have guns, which scares me.”

Read the whole thing, and laugh.

Hat tip to Steve Bodio.

15 Oct 2007

To Walk With Kings, Nor Lose the Common Touch

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Apparently, if you’re a member of the party of America’s urban elites and you need to visit (shudder!) a fly-over Red State and rub elbows with the Common People, you take care to be immunized for infectious diseases.

My Way News:

It got the GOP’s engines revving – a Democratic official suggesting staffers get immunized for several diseases before heading south from Washington and into the Red State wilds of NASCAR country to conduct research at a pair of races.

The reaction on both sides illustrates just how valuable candidates for elected office consider the votes of NASCAR fans who pack grandstands by the thousands every weekend and the donations of business leaders who spend millions to sponsor the sport.

It started last month, when an official with the House Committee on Homeland Security suggested that staff aides get immunizations before visiting health facilities at Alabama’s Talladega Superspeedway and North Carolina’s Lowe’s Motor Speedway, where the Bank of America 500 was run Saturday.

In an e-mail, a staffer who works for committee chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., noted an “unusual need for whomever attending to be vaccinated against hepatitis A and B,” as well as “the more normal things – tetanus, diphtheria, and of course, seasonal influenza.”

The note didn’t explain why the committee saw such concern. It didn’t mention NASCAR or the races at the tracks at all. But the implication was enough to draw a snarky complaint from Republican Rep. Robin Hayes, whose district includes Lowe’s Motor Speedway.

“I have never heard of immunizations for domestic travel, and … I feel compelled to ask why the heck the committee feels that immunizations are needed to travel to my hometown,” wrote Hayes.

Thompson responded to Hayes that such immunizations are “are recommended for public safety professionals working in areas such as hospitals, holding areas and similar locations.” But the staffers were only scheduled to visit a few health care facilities – not work at them.

“What do they know about NASCAR that we don’t?” said Dr. David Weber, a professor of medicine and public health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

09 Jul 2007

Another Rural Tradition Banned

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They weren’t recorded, registered, taxed, or regulated. Naturally, urban-dwelling environmentalists hated the river shacks of rural South Carolina, and they recently succeeded in persuading the Palmetto State’s greasy pols to impose a permit system incorporating a sunset law completely eliminating these private refuges of individual freedom from South Carolina’s waters in five years. The state’s governor expressed regret at the death of a rural tradition, but he wouldn’t stick his neck out by vetoing the new law.

These days, Huck Finn would not be permitted to raft down the river to get away from Aunt Polly and her civilized regime of rules. Old ladies of both sexes have long since taken care to extend the jurisdiction of the Leviathan state right down every river’s main channel, and up every tributary and every backwater, lest some free American escape from civilization and its discontents, or evade its taxes and its rules.

New York Times:

For who knows how long, people have plopped these river shacks into watery coves and curves along the South Carolina coast. They permanently anchor their shacks miles from the nearest landing and use them to fish, hunt or just get off the grid for a while. Some contraptions are so modest that to call them shacks is too kind, while others are so well appointed that they all but cry out for granite countertops and potpourri.

It all sounds so innocent, so idyllic — so American, in a Huck Finn kind of way. That is, until you consider that the river shack owners are essentially laying claim to public property without paying license fees, taxes or, in some cases, even respect. A few people use the river as their personal toilet; others abandon their shacks, leaving the structures to rot amid the natural splendor.

But environmentalists who see these shacks as an affront to the concept of resource management recently succeeded in lobbying for their extinction. This spring the state passed a law requiring owners to seek permits for the structures — recent surveys counted at least 170 on several rivers and Lake Marion — with the stipulation that in five years all shacks must be removed from the water. …

The issue even posed a dilemma for Gov. Mark Sanford, who ultimately decided to allow the river shack bill to pass into law without his signature. While he supports land preservation, he explained in a letter to legislators, he wonders about increasing gentrification, and “the idea that someone could tie a bunch of 55-gallon drums together and stake out a house on the waterway is representative of what I would consider the magic of ‘old time South Carolina.’ ”

But Patrick Moore, a lawyer working for the Coastal Conservation League, which led the legislative fight against river shacks, sees no dilemma. “The idea that these shacks are some sort of entitlement of our natural heritage is, frankly, an insult to that very heritage,” he says.


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