The official story is that I did it for the dogs. “Leash freedom!” was our rallying cry.
I tend to emphasize the official story, because the real story evokes John Denver, and banjos, and maybe a pair of overalls.
When we (my pets and I) moved to Southern California two months ago, definitely the biggest change in our daily lives—besides pure geography—was the fact that, of our 2 hours of walking each day, 100% of that time was spent on-leash, and in civilization. And by “civilization”, I mean traffic and noise, sidewalks and fences and yards, highways, traffic lights, crosswalks…each of which presented challenges to my dogs, with very few accordant benefits.
But to say that it was just the dogs that ultimately got us to move back out to the country would definitely only be half of the story.
About two weeks into our new life in the city—some might call where I was a town within L.A., or maybe a suburb, but it was a city by my count—I realized that I was getting particularly agitated, even on our walks. (Perhaps especially on our walks.)
While part of that was due to me living in a garage at the time and perpetually looking for a new place, another big part of it was that it had been two weeks since I had taken any sort of long meditative walk in the woods—which long-time readers know is a key part of my formula for continued mental health.
For some reason, going on walks where I had to negotiate two or three dogs on leashes down noisy streets, through frequent intersections, past manicured flower gardens and yards, often while toting around a nice swinging bag of poop or two, just wasn’t bringing me the quietude and peace of mind I was used to. Go figure.
The bottom line may just be that I’m a “country boy”, as Mr. Denver used to say. Or maybe I’m just so hooked on simplification in my environs that I have shields up against many of the accoutrements of modern life that city folk take for granted (or at least grin and bear). Luckily, I’m independent enough in my work that if the highways bug me, I can just go where they aren’t. Which is exactly what I did. (I know where to find them if I really need them.)
For the dogs, living in the country—specifically, the high desert outside Los Angeles—mostly means that they don’t have to be on a leash when we go for our walks. (Which is pretty huge.) And there are a lot fewer noises to cringe about. Though there is a lot more dog barking…but I don’t think they really see that as a problem.
For me…I’m “off-leash” no matter where I am, both literally and figuratively. So for me the differences start with the quiet and go from there. Open space, visible sky, a place where other living things outnumber people (and where plants outnumber buildings). A big yard. A place where people wave to you when you drive by or walk down the street.
You know—a simple life.
I suppose you could definitely call that a “country boy” mentality. And if you’ve got to put me in one camp or the other, then hand me my overalls and tune up the banjo, Pappy…because when push came to shove, I opted out of city life and instead moved me and the pets right back out to the edge of civilization. (See the picture above if you don’t believe me.)
It’s not that I have a problem with cities per se. I just haven’t found one where my dogs and I can walk out the front door and proceed to wander around freely for hours in the country, with not many people around and minimal noise.
You find me a city like that, and I’d be happy to live there.
At least until it got crowded.
Archives of my column The Not-So-Simple Life can be found here.