When I was growing up I was very much a country boy. We hauled wood in the fall to fill up the shed so we would be able to heat the house in winter and kept a pretty large garden to make sure we had lots of vegetables to eat. I lived at the end of a deadend dirt road a long way from anywhere and aside from walking along the road I could go for a mile in any direction through the bush without seeing anything resembling civilization at all. Certainly the outskirts of Thunder Bay isn't the most remote place in the world; there is an awful lot of further north available. That said, compared to 90%+ of Canadians I grew up in a country setting.
Now I live in pretty much the most civilized part of Canada there is: A highrise condo at the intersection of Yonge and Eglinton, pretty much the middle of Toronto, the largest city in Canada. I have no need for a car because I can get pretty near anything I want right nearby and almost every place I would want to go that is further than walking distance is best reached with public transit. If I went out and got a car I would have to pay 15 grand for a parking space and 25 bucks a day to park it somewhere other than my own space, so the cost is quite prohibitive even if you ignore the price of the vehicle itself.
So I have gone from country bumpkin to city slicker, which is typical of country teenagers who finish highschool and go off to University far away. They very often stay in the big cities and do not return, which is incredibly obvious when you take a flight from Toronto to Thunder Bay right before Christmas as you see all the 19-29 year olds flying home to see their parents. I found it interesting when a short while ago some of my relatives told me that they thought I had really gone cityboy on them and would never head back out to a rural area where my roots are. I really got to thinking about where I want to live and how I want to live and found out some things.
Firstly, I really would rather live in the country. This isn't the same kind of desire that all kinds of Toronto residents have to possess a cottage a few hours drive away from the city itself. I have no desire at all to be parked on a narrow lot on a lake 3 hours away from the city with neighbours on all sides. What I really want more than anything is silence. I want to live in a place where I can go walking in the winter and when I stop moving and the crunch of snow under boots fades away that there is an absolute lack of sound. That ability to walk a short distance and be utterly, completely alone is something I miss more than I can say. I take a walk each day to drop off and pick up Elli from daycare and on these walks I can hardly even talk to her with all the traffic noise. We end up shouting back and forth to make ourselves understood and that is really unfortunate. I would love those walks to be something really special but until we get home the noise and bustle of the city make it extremely difficult to communicate.
There are a few major problems with country living though. One is philosophical in nature, and the others are practical. The philosophical issue is owning a car. I really love the ability to simply walk wherever I want to go. I very much dislike having to deal with a car's upkeep, breakdowns or replacement but I also don't particularly fancy trying to bring home several bags of groceries in a harsh winter storm on a bicycle. The idea of not owning a giant hunk of gas guzzling steel has so much aesthetic appeal but so little practicality when considering modern country living.
The practical considerations against moving to the country are powerful ones. Firstly of course Wendy is doing a PhD in Toronto. Until that is done I can't move anywhere country like at all. Once she is done she will still want to work in a facility containing a 10 million dollar magnet too, which is a pretty hefty restriction on where I can go. The other practical concern is my friends, who happen to live mostly in and near Toronto at the moment. I love having these people nearby because so few people in the world really speak my language. For example, last year I wandered over to The Philosopher's house one day and we had the following chat:
The Philosopher: I found something great on the internet.
Me: Okay, hit me.
The Philosopher: It turns out there is a neat way to divide up infinite subsets of the naturals. You sum the infinite series of the reciprocals of any given infinite subset of the naturals and if that sum converges it is said to be a small infinite subset. If the sum diverges it is said to be a large infinite subset.
Me: Wow, that is a really good definition. It is good for anything?
The Philosopher: Doesn't seem to be, it is just interesting to think about.
There are plenty of other topics we discuss (and disagree) on, but there just aren't a lot of folks around who can speak this language to me. Being in a place where I have friends that can understand what I say is a wonderful thing, and very hard to replace.
So in essence the city itself has no appeal. I just don't care for the things a city offers, like big sports teams, shopping, endless variety of nightlife/bars/restaurants and constant bustling activity. I can get all the incessant stimulation I can handle with a high speed internet connection; I don't need it in the physical world around me. So how do I resolve these conflicting desires in the long term? Surely that is a question I cannot answer right now, though it does seem possible that communication with people at great distances will increase in power and customizability so much in the next few years that physical proximity will fade in importance. I can already stay in close contact with people far away by email, forum, facebook, phone and blog, what next will come along to facilitate close personal relationships at a thousand kilometer range? Perhaps I will truly be given the option to live in a remote place that has the silence and emptiness I remember from my youth but allows me to maintain the relationships that have become to important in my adulthood.
World, I command you: Innovate!