One of the items to study in advance of fleeing Big City Life is this little matter of communications.  As luck would have it, the communications landscape has changed remarkably over the past 10-years in rural America.

When we first moved to the countryside in early 2003, internet connectivity was very poor – dial-up at 56K was possible, but more often (because of poor line quality) we were saddles with typical 34.9K rates.  We also spent eight years waiting for the phone company to deliver promised DSL service.  Except, when they did, it turned out to only be slower than expected with only 500K or less download speeds and about 100K up.

Fortunately, we were able to solve the problem (with a thick layer of money being applied) that got us a private microwave link via 3-hops from fiber, and this one reliably gives real 3-UP/3-DOWN service.  It’s fast enough for video conferencing with clients using Skype, a good part of the time.

On the other hand, we’re so far out in the dingle berries that we don’t seem to have cell service with any reliability.  Even now, about the best we can get is AT&T up above the greenhouse in the garden area, and occasionally on our large deck we build on the front of our mobile.

We often joke with people about how this is like living in a third world country although maybe some countries are ahead of us in real rural phone service.  For example, “54-percent of India’s mobile users [are] from rural areas,” says this report.

One tip when you go looking for bug-out or “flee-the-city” land and an old home on it:  Look for something which has some hilliness to it.  Another hint is to look for land which isn’t more than a miles or two (and not any hills in-between) the homestead and the highway.

The reason?  There tends to be good cell phone service along more heavily travelled roads and, consequently, homes may have better wireless options close to them.

Cloning the R.E.A., II

The other day I mentioned how some parts of Africa (Nigeria) were moving full steam on rural electrification using something of a rhyme off the USA’s Rural Electricity Administration which brought power to farms across America and not only helped to bring the farming communities into the 20th Century, but also laid the basis for a lot of infrastructure improvements to come.

Well, today, here’s another example, only this time out of the Philippines where rural electrification is a very big deal.

Keep an eye on where the local power company is putting in big power installations when you go property-shopping.  No one (except me, perhaps) seems to ask their local power company’s planning department up-front about where they figure to be stringing up lines and new service in future years.

Of course, it’s as obvious as the sun coming up:  When the power company puts in lines, it means either more people, or more industry, is expected shortly.  And, since one of the things anyone going rural needs to think about is the future value of their property, given everything else being equal, closer to the power backbone is just as important as being near some communications infrastructure.

Break-Away County:  Siskiyou

Keep an eye on the developments in Northern California where the country commissioners of step-child Siskiyou County have announced their intentions to depart from the California fold and possibly become part of Oregon, or actually go on into some uncharted territory of governance.

Reporting in the Press Democrat, which is a fine non-big-city paper in the Santa Rosa area north of SF out toward the coast, we read about the issues and wonder how many rural counties around the US have the same sort of complaint list about how States treat rural areas.

Besides watching to see how the theater of Siskiyou Country Secession works out, there’s another point here:  If you are presently locked into Big City or Unsustainable Suburban Life (BC/USL living), one of the best ways to get a real feel for what a local community is like is to bookmark some of the local newspapers in cities you are thinking about moving to.

Many small towns have a little different view of things than Big City papers and even more interesting are the letters to the editors.  These often reveal mindsets that you’ll either find a) agreeable of b) totally offensive.  It should weigh heavily on your decision on where to move, particularly if there are two, or more, states in the running.

We happened to select Texas where, near as we can figure it, saying the word “marijuana” is a kind of personal affront to some residents of the Bible Belt.  On the other hand, while a social issue like mary-jane is a non-issue in places like Washington State or Colorado, there are negatives to each of those places when you’re looking at a 10-year (or longer) planning horizon.  Colorado is mostly out of water and Washington is down wind and down-current from Fukushima, so Texas looks pretty good, in some ways.

Rural Pastimes

As long as we’re on the topic of quality of life, it’s worth noting as a kind of wrap-up of the present American Condition, that life in rural areas proceeds at a much more measured pace than in the BC/USL areas.

We noticed this week a piece about how the Pioneer Quilt Guild was planning a meeting up in Ponca City, Oklahoma and thought “You know, there’s as good an example as you’ll ever find of how Life’s different out here.

Looking around our own area, in East Texas, what we notice is that there is a lot more attention paid to community involvement in the rural communities.  Maybe that’s because when misfortune comes-a-calling, people have to pull together more so than in the Big City/Unsustainable Suburban Living (BC/USL) model.  In the latter, you have no choice but to lend a hand, but in the big city, seems like we’re always reading about how people are bushwhacked on the street and regular citizens continue on about their affairs, seeming immune to the really ugly underside of humans being exposed around them.

Just another reason to subscribe to a rural paper, even if you can’t actually flee the city yet:  People do things other than text.  They quilt, the build airplanes, they help each other, and actually take vacation time.  But in the rural setting, the vacation is all around you the minute you put the tools down.

Last night, after a hard day of work around our place, the Mrs. and I decided to have a glass of wine and sit out on the north deck which will soon be turned into a new 10 by 20 exercise and “three-seasons” room.  As we were sitting there, a herd of deer came up from down on the lower part of our land when they live.

A half dozen females led the way, then a matronly doe, another half-dozen yearlings a few minutes later, and then three or four of the really young animals.  Finally, after the “family on parade” has passed, along came the males – about a four-point and an eight-point.

That, my friend, is what BC/USL people pay big money to see.  But they don’t usually have time to kick back, have a second glass of wine, and notice one of the bucks butting a ham radio pole that holds up one end of a wire antenna, nor do they eye the movement of the animals around the garden since they deer put a good dent in this year’s crop.

These may be minor “deal-points” as you weigh out the case for – and against – living in one of those oversized chicken coups we call condos in a Big City.  Some things are different out here, just like when we lived on a sailboat for a number of years.

There’s a difference between a “period of non-work” where all you’re doing is resting, eating and sleeping so as to be able to get up and work some more and real living where you work, then rest, spend some time on your hobbies and self-interests, and then go do more work.

Economists (which I am, in a way) tend to equate quality of life with disposable income.  Yet, the practical observation is that happiness seems more closely related to how much disposable time we get as the non-monetary part of living.  What’s a half-hour of contemplating a sunrise over a mountain worth if you had to put a dollar to it?

An old poem, that seems to have no clear author, yet it’s widely known in rural areas, is this:

I bargained with life for a penny
And life would pay me no more
Though I begged at every tide
When I counted my scanty store
For life is a just employer
And will pay you what you ask
But when you have set the wages
Then you must bear the task
I worked for a menial’s hire
Only to find dismayed
Whatever I had asked of life
Life would have gladly paid.”

If you’re stuck in the BC/USL world, when’s the last time you did an audit of what your real income is?


Notes on the Rural Life: Communications — 3 Comments

  1. Very nicely put.

    Also, -really- like the “human” test for the Reply Posting. Sooo much easier than the distorted text & number thing found in many places!

  2. Sounds like you have decided to stay put in Texas, and as you are noticing rural life ain’t all that bad. I would think some folks couldn’t handle it, it is a bit challenging but once the challenges ( fears ) are dealt with life falls into a rhythm. My list of things to do, when looked at on a one by one basis is brutal, but getting ready for winter seems to be our yearly goal at this time of year. While it sounds like we’re “preppers”, most country folk are working the garden, canning, pickling, servicing the heating systems and fuel. Did some repair work on the chimney last month, and while we were at it raised it up another flue length. Being in N.E.Pa. ( lots of quality anthracite ) as soon as winters over we refill the coal bin ( easily a two years supply ) ( hand fed no power needed ). We have electric baseboard hydronic units, but try not to use them. I will run the generator a time or two, and make sure my fuel cans stay full, exercise the snow blower. Two of my three vehicles are SUV type with all wheel drive. Which reminds me the apple crop will be coming in later this month or early next month. I’m sure you get the idea, the list can go on and on, but it’s not just me it’s most of the folks living out here. There is much truth in your comments about community and helping others. As stated earlier life out here ain’t all that bad.

  3. Hi, One of the reasons people hesitate about moving to the country is poor internet connectivity, esp if you need it for your job. How did you set up your own “private microwave link via 3-hops from fiber?” I am looking forward to future posts.

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