Thursday, February 28, 2008


The Country-City Balance

Originally published in the New York Mills Herald on 2/20/08 and credited to my alternate identity, Elisa Korentayer.

When I was in New York City, I came to believe that the perfect living scenario was to have a house in the country and an apartment in the city. That way, one could balance out the activity of the city with the peace of the country. I used to dream of having a weekend home in upstate New York. Now that I live in outstate Minnesota, I have begun to dream of having a weekend home in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

I went to the Cities this past weekend to take a class at the Loft Literary Center. I spent three days amid the hustle and bustle of Minnesota’s metropolis, and it reminded me of all of the best parts of living in a city: a wide variety of excellent restaurants, a motley mix of people to watch, never-ending rows of shops in which to buy specialized products. I began to think about how—in moderation—the city makes me feel good.

When I lived in New York City, a yoga teacher of mine explained that living in the city triggers a constant low-level fight-or-flight response, that primitive human response to danger which increases our adrenaline, improves our awareness and reflexes, and readies us to flee. Since city dwellers don’t have the luxury of fleeing the city very often—in fact, many don’t even want to—the heightened adrenaline levels never diminish, and the urbanites are left to cope with the results of a natural human response gone awry. That which served human beings when we were hunters coming upon a lion in the wild, becomes a hindrance when the lion becomes our daily life. I can attest to the fact that when you live in the city, you can never really relax. My shoulders used to live hunched up around my ears, and not even massages, gourmet chocolates, or boutique therapy (purchasing overpriced but aesthetically pleasing items displayed artistically) could ever get them fully back down to proper shoulder-level.

Here in the country, days putter by, meandering through one activity after another. Even when I have too much to do in too little time, my experience of stress here is not quite the same as the stifling pressure of living in a city. In the city there are too many cars, too many pedestrians, too much noise, too much dirt, too much to look at, and too much to do. And this is the norm. Any additional stress, say the subway stalls between stops and you can’t make it to your date on time or the phone lines are down and you can’t call the plumber, any little thing becomes the thing that pushes you over the edge. In the country, our personal stress buckets aren’t regularly filled to the brim in the course of daily life, so small stresses don’t have to drive us over the edge. This is a huge relief on a person and a body. But once it becomes the everyday, then the relaxing effects of being in the country are no longer so noticable.

Once upon a time, I used to look for any excuse I could find to get out of the city. My body thirsted for nature. Leaves. Trees that weren’t imprisoned by concrete. Blue sky not marred by buildings. Ground where you could actually see the soil. When I finally found some nature, I was overcome by my acute sense of ease. Now the country has become the norm. I look out my window to see trees and meadows. There are roads by my house, but few cars seem to drive them. I can often hear a pileated woodpecker in the woods by my house. I enjoy these small gifts, but they have become less of an acute thrill and more of a way of life. As such, I have begun to crave the stress of the city—in moderation.

Here in the country I am struggling with the reverse problem—needing the excitement of the city to shake me up. When I was in the Cities this past weekend, I felt vivid, vibrant, and imbued with urban energy. That which once dragged me down into a malaise of continued overstimulation became an intoxicating treat. I began to see that while living here in the country, I will need to seek out the city every so often. Thankfully, now that I have become used to the rural way of life, even small cities—ones that in my New York City days I would have scoffed at—are booming to my country sensibilities. I have become a fan of Fargo, and can while away many hours there. But my heart is set on the Twin Cities as my personal urban escape. Perhaps one day I’ll find someone with an empty apartment who needs a visitor there one weekend a month. If you know anyone, send them my way.

You are amazing. The way you describe the lifestyle comparisons of city / country life is just beautiful.
You truly have a gift and I can't wait to read more of your earlier posts.
While I live in a very rural area myself, I understand the need to flee to the city once in a while to get that energy fix.
Glad I found this site and congrats. on finding your peaceful balance.
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