I had planned on renting a house in the West Virginia mountains for one year to learn what kind of mountain man I was, but because of a landlord problem, I stayed for only two months. Even in that short amount of time, I gained a lot of knowledge about country living and what type of home I should seek in the future. Here are eleven things I learned…
1. It’s a solitary life
If you move to a rural area alone and have a stay-at-home job, you will be alone. Unless you make an effort to have social interactions, which involves going to a job site, your neighbor’s house, or to a store, you will not speak face-to-face to anyone all day long.
I consider myself a solitary type who needs a lot of alone time, but the feeling of isolation on the mountain was extreme. I started to crave meaningless interactions with store clerks, and actually tried to have conversations with them as if I were a lonely elderly person (it turns out that just a couple minutes a day of meaningless small-talk contributes to a feeling of being “social”). You will need to have an introverted nature to go several days without talking to people. If you move to the mountain with your spouse and children, on the other hand, you probably won’t notice the decrease in social interaction.
If you work from home, living in the country is similar to the initial weeks of the coronavirus lockdowns. Funnily enough, my mountain experience was a sort of training that allowed me to endure the actual lockdowns without much trouble.
2. There are more consequences for not being prepared
If something goes wrong in the country, you have to wait longer to receive aid or a resolution. Power outages are longer. Streets take longer to be plowed after snowstorms. Police take longer to respond to your emergency call (if at all).
When my power went out for a day, I realized how unprepared I was. Electricity powered my well water pump, so not only did I have no power but—when the water tank emptied—no water either. I didn’t have a relative’s or friend’s house down the street where I could shower or charge my phone. I realized that I would need a water backup plan, a portable battery system, and also a small generator. These items aren’t expensive, but they do take some foresight. In the city, I never had to think about coming up with an emergency plan.
You will also need a 4-wheel-drive vehicle, not just for the snow but also the rain when you may have to deal with muddy roads on even your own driveway. In the case of safety, you will need some type of home defense strategy and also a first-aid kit, because you won’t be able to count on the local authorities. If you take a purely city mentality into the country, you may find yourself in a crisis that could threaten your life due to a lack of preparation.
3. I don’t need as much land as I thought
Before moving onto the mountain, I figured I needed at least five acres of land (though ten would be better). Maybe I will become a farmer with three chickens that necessitate all that space.
I didn’t ask how many acres the home I lived in had, but based on the size, I guessed between 2-3 acres. After only a month, I realized that it was all I really needed as a single man. One day, I finally looked up how many acres the property had: one acre. On that one acre I had a ton of trees, a storage shed, more lawn than I wanted to take care of, and enough space for multiple garden beds. Even one acre may be too much. When I look for a future house, I will consider plots starting at half an acre.
4. Old habits die hard
I thought moving to the mountain would instantly transform me into a mountain man. I’d chop down trees for the fun of it, make bookshelves, and repair my cars like an expert mechanic. Instead, I simply carried over my city lifestyle into the mountain. I woke up, read my books, and worked on the computer like I had been doing for years. The only thing I really added to my routine was watching birds.
After some time, I did start doing yard work, but it would always be secondary to my computer work and tasks that took place inside the house. Only towards the end of the second month did I start using an ax.
5. Manual labor is more satisfying than computer labor
It feels good to publish an article like this, one that started as an idea in my mind and morphed into a finished product that other people can gain value from. It also feels good to complete a live stream, but I noticed that I received more satisfaction from doing something physical like raking leaves or rehabilitating a dirty fire pit. I believe this was the case because the result of manual labor is three-dimensional, existing in the same plane as you, instead of only a digital screen. You can visually see, touch, and even smell the fruits of your labor.
It’s pleasing to tire yourself from work, complete the work, and then sit down on a chair to rest while admiring your work. When it comes to completing computer work, however, you simply minimize one window where your work was completed and then open a new window to do more of the same.
6. Everything is cheaper
Rent is cheaper. Home prices are cheaper. Groceries are cheaper. Restaurants are cheaper. Even gas is cheaper. I experienced a 10-20% discount from the city on the same goods and services. Why were they cheaper? Doesn’t it take more money to carry goods into the mountains? I’m not an economist so I don’t know, but I greatly enjoyed the discount.
My monthly living expenses in a USA mountain home was maybe only 50% more expensive than living in the center of a fun European city, and the former includes having two cars. Granted, I didn’t party in the mountain (there was nowhere to party, anyway), but based on the same income, going from Europe to the mountain wasn’t a tremendous blow to my budget.
7. I like birds
I did enjoy the mountain beauty, silence, clean air, and overall country living, but I most valued being able to feed and watch my birdies. Seventeen different species came to my home, from the little chickadee to the stout pileated woodpecker. When it was time to move out, I was deeply saddened to take down my bird feeders. I felt like I was abandoning my avian friends. There are many birds in the suburbs as well, and I continue to bird watch, but there is less intimacy and connection when you’re not feeding them.
I did learn that if you want to attract birds, it’s best to have a lot of trees. Better yet, be on the edge of a forest. When I look for a future home, I hope to find one that is as suitable for the birds as it is for me.
8. You get to know your neighbors
In two months, I talked more with my mountain neighbors than all of my previous city neighbors combined. Even in my late 20’s, when I lived in two houses in Maryland, I don’t recall ever meeting a neighbor. In Europe, I didn’t have a conversation with a neighbor that lasted more than thirty seconds. The less dense the living arrangements, the more conducive it is to getting to know a neighbor. I find this to be the case in national parks as well. The less crowded a park, the more likely someone walking by me will say hello.
9. Vegetable gardening is like magic
I bought the book Square Foot Gardening and was getting ready to start planting vegetables. I was amazed to learn that you could mix up some dirt, plant seeds, and then from that dirt grow your own food that is better than what you can buy in a grocery store. I was waiting for a big catch, but the only one I could find is that it needs some manual labor and patience. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to start gardening, but in the future it will be one of the first things I try.
10. You don’t necessarily become more spiritual
By moving to the mountain, I thought that prayer would automatically get easier, and that I’d become a monk in the world with no additional effort. This did not happen. Prayer got no easier and instead of praying more, I ramped up my internet usage. I wasn’t perusing harmful content, but being away from physical temptation and the secular horde didn’t instantly make me feel closer to God. What did was using my will to pray more and give doxologies to God when observing the nature in my backyard. Faith is a decision, a matter of will, so don’t think a new environment will give you what you should seek no matter where you happen to be.
11. I don’t need to live in the mountains
The mountains are beautiful, but it’s not necessary to live in or near them. I wasn’t receiving direct joy from the fact that my elevation was higher or that I had a nicer view. When I seek a new home, I will consider ones on flat land at sea level. The best part of being on a mountain is saying to others that you live on a mountain, but it’s more of a bonus than a necessity.
I thought I had to live in the mountain for one year to know what type of home I needed, but two months was enough. A half-acre of land with a lot of trees and birds located a couple of hours from my parents will be sufficient. If God deems it, I will find such a home and say goodbye for good to the European cities and the American suburbs, and adapt to a greater level of isolation where I can continue to work on my salvation.