HERE'S WHAT YOU SHOULD DO if you are thinking of moving out of the city to a small town or to the woods or to a small town in the woods. Read all the books. Read Gene GeRue's "Ruralize Your Dream: How to Find Your Ideal Country Home" and "Small Town Bound" by John Clayton. Make sure you have chosen the right topography and micro-climate. Don't go to the mountains if you belong at the sea, don't freeze if you like to fry.
Make sure you know what the people are like in your new home. You wouldn't want to move to a xenophobic place where strangers are constantly in danger, and a stranger is defined as a person who can't trace his family line back to the 1700s there.
In other words, don't move to a place where you might look out of the window of your swell new farm house at night and see the effigy of a tall pagan corn god burning in the field next door. You hear screams and a sound like the march of the soldiers from the Wicked Witch's Castle in the Land of Oz. Do-weee-doop, doo weeeee do. And next morning your great aunt is missing. The one who's been sleeping on the day bed, the one who empties the fridge at night. You find false fingernails embedded in your front door jamb and a piece of chocolate cake in the shape of a clenched fist near the incense cedars.
So don't move to a place where all the people look alike, men and women. Like Barney Fife from Mayberry, say, or Goober. Unchallenged by outside genetic influences for three hundred years, a little on the eighteenth century side, furtive and seasick. And where all the establishments have the same family name. Johnson Hardware. Johnson Mortuary. Johnson Court House and Motel and Jail and Hospital. One building. You wouldn't want to move there even if the head Johnson looked like Aunt Bea; and he might.
Make sure you have plenty of money before you move or that you have a job that will allow you to tele-commute as you look out onto a pasture/ocean/mountain while tap-tap-tapping on your keyboard. An investor guy. A computer gal. A children's book scribe: "Little Tommy loved his new house in the tiny town and all the furry things in the nearby woods and did not mind the strange looks he got from his new friends after he had taken a bath. He did not mind that all his new friends tried to lick his face."
Yes, you will need money where you move. Usually more money than in the city. So have a great job that will transfer to the woods or have a trust fund. Why so expensive? Think about the transportation expense of getting the goods to Wooly Absence, California and the tendency of some only-game-in-town, woodsy merchants to gouge you blind. But even if you don't have money to spare, and if you don't read Gene's or John's book and you don't check out the Johnsonesque natives before you pick it all up and put it in the U-Haul, what the hell, move anyway. Maybe you need to get away from so damned many plans. Maybe it's time for...surprises!
Here's to the Grand Act Of Whim. Every life needs one. You have—admit it now—spent your life doing the right thing, the practical thing, working it all in sequence. You are living the good life as defined by every focus group, demographic study and Martha Stewart, the Queen of the Anals; but somehow it doesn't feel right. Why? Because your life has become all plan and rote. It's time for asymmetry, counterpoint and the enlightening cacophony of woodsy silence. The only noise you'll hear in the woods is the birds and what is bubbling in your own brain. It's time for that. It's time for a head-on collision with the stuff of your life. You have to leave town to shake things up. So pick it all up and move to Gamegut, Montana. Do it fast and without thinking.
Unpack there and breathe the champagne air for a while and say to yourself, "Gosh and golly. Air!" Watch the birds. Feed them. Experience the snow. Experience the Big Snow. Look out your front window, the one chopped through the logs, and try to find your vehicle, the one you parked close to the house for convenience's sake before the big snow came, forgetting that it's the road that's convenient for a vehicle. Experience the panic of not being able to find the car in the snow. "What is that large lump near the tree?" [See lumpy photo, below.] And finally, after digging through the hundreds of cubic feet surrounding your car and hewing your way to the road, why don't you fall on the ice and break your wrist while trying to make your way to the post office? And why were you trying to get to the post office so desperately? Why is it the most important building in your Johnson-ass town? Because it's where civilization arrives each day in the form of your mail-subscription "New York Times." Civilization: same etymological root as city, civil, citizen, all those minor, three-thousand-year-old concepts; and it's what you will miss in the woods. What, in fact, you discover that you require in your life. Ironically, it's what your move to the woods means. Surprise.
So all this whim and randomness and breakage and even the chaotic inconvenient snow are okay because they shake things up, introduce you to what emerges when you have to change your plans, your rote mind. And guess what? It might become the defining moment of your life. Moving to the wilds lets you know who you are and what you need. (It might be the city that you need, but you can't know that because you have lived there all your life. Its streets and buildings have become your exoskeleton. It's time to change your body. To become hairy and amorphous. You are not a grid. Move.)
Make no plans. Check no micro-climate. Don't consult your Johnson Finder. You want surprises now. You want mistakes. For example, make the mistake that dramatic scenery, the woods, the green and the snow (read Nature) are all you need in life, and that civilization and your friends in the city do not mean a thing. Hell, you'll have the birds. You must move to discover this. Mistakes can be good for you.
The wilderness does not lend itself to all your swell plans. It won't be decorated, Martha. It's name is chaos. All the mythologies had a time in the wilderness for their main dude where rote minds were torqued into rebirth. Jesus. Mohammed. Moses. Take yours. I have had mine, and I am moving back. To the city and our old street from seven years ago. But it's a different street. A different L.A., a different universe. A different me. All because of a new vision acquired during my time in the wilderness. The most important time of my life. ###
Originally published in country CONNECTIONS, ON MY ROAD; June 1997
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