Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Ah, life in the country.
It's the stuff of countless novels and songs, waxing poetic about the graces that come from living out amongst the birds and the trees. Yours truly has even been guilty of making it sound all fluffy and romantic on occasion (amongst all the talk of mice and predatory cats, but I digress...).
If you're pondering a move to the country and think your life will suddenly get blissfully silent, I'm here to kick that notion to the curb. Unless you literally move to the middle of nowhere, of course.
But even then, the country is noisy. Different noise, for sure, but noisy nonetheless.
My Love/Hate Relationship with Noise
I spent 20 plus years living in a reasonably sized city, usually for some reason in the vicinity of emergency medical facilities and firehalls (cheaper rent?). This wasn't so much of a problem when I was single and childless, but after having a baby and the sleeplessness that that brings, then living in a 'courtyard inspired' townhouse development where you could literally hear everything on a summer evening, I got pretty grumpy when it came to excess noise.
The fact we lived 2 blocks from the firehall and directly across from two extended care facilities with all their middle-of-the night ambulance visits didn't help.
So yes, I was a bit sensitive. Maybe overly so.
Which is why the idea of moving to our little cabin in the woods was so entrancing. No more ambulances screaming in my ear at 3:00 am, no more loud conversations at 1:00 am from tipsy neighbours on their decks when I had to be up for work in the morning. Just acres and acres of trees. And quiet.
Or so I thought.
Now, before you think I'm just complaining for the sake of complaining, I'll assure you that I love where I live. And for me, there's something about the sound of human activity that's sort of comforting (especially living in the toolies at the end of the road as we do). But I do know that some of the noises we're bombarded with here on a daily (and nightly) basis, would be the source of city council neighbourhood reviews and official community plan wrangling in other parts of our district. One local business just went through two or more years of political spinning and wringing to get a simple shed built on their industrial site - because the neighbours thought it might have trucks making deliveries (or something equally benign sounding). Pretty crazy - and a good chunk of the opposition came from recently transplanted 'city people'.
To me, these sounds are all more than tolerable compared to what I came from. But to others, maybe not so much.
The Noise in Our Neck of the Woods
We live far away from any subdivisions or towns. Properties are a minimum of 5 acres, but most are more - and few have anyone living on them. But we're adjacent to an industrial zoned area, and that's where all of our non-wildlife related noise comes from.
Here's a rundown of the regular and not-so-regular sounds we hear:
- The log sorting facility down the road - At the end of our road, less than a mile away, are booming grounds, a dryland sort where they sort and grade logs for market, and a log home builder. So as you can imagine, all day long there's the sounds of back-up beepers, big log loading machinery, logs bouncing on the ground (which are strangely loud), boom boats, and every once in awhile, the crazy loud sound of logs being dumped from log barges in the sound. This usually happens in the middle of the night for some reason (less boat traffic?), and sounds like the explosion of a massive thunder storm. The first time it happened, I was more than a little freaked out, thinking something had blown up - til I realized what it was. And of course, there's all the traffic at 6:00 am and 4:00 pm from the workers at these facilities. This goes on generally 6 days a week, but depending on the time of year and the logs being processed, the processing can go on all night long. We're pretty used to it now, but for the first few months, it was a bit hard to sleep when there was a night shift.
- Logging trucks - It goes without saying that a log sorting facility and a log home builder require logs. And that means logging trucks. And not all of them are brand new, if you know what I mean. There was one truck last year that I swear was on its last legs - you could hear it coming miles away (I'm not exaggerating). His clearly-in-need-of-repair air brakes coming down our hill was impossible to sleep through at 4:30 am (yes, he was hauling that early in the summer). Usually they're not that loud, but they are constant. Again, we're used to them now - unless the air brakes go.
- The paper mill at the end of the sound - A few miles down the road is a large paper facility. It used to be a pulp mill, but now manufactures specialty paper. Most of the pollution issues were dealt with years ago, but there are some very odd sounds that come with living within earshot of a big industrial facility. (Of course, earshot across water can be quite a distance). The funniest one is the 'end of shift' alarm that goes off at 5:00 pm every day. It's the soundtrack to Close Encounters of the Third Kind - remember? Do-do-do-do-dooooo... An odd choice, don't you think? And every once in awhile, they do emergency drills at night - nothing more disconcerting than a scary-sounding alarm at an industrial facility at night. I now know that's what it is, but the question I need to find an answer for is whether or not there are any chemicals there that could become airborn in a big earthquake (like the chlorine they used to store there). Must get on that...
- Air traffic - Living in a coastal community, you get used to the sound of floatplanes. It's a sound I actually really love, but I can see how it would be annoying to some - they are LOUD! Then there are the helicopters that traverse right over the cabin on a regular basis on their way to the facilities mentioned above. And the fact we're right under the current flight path approach to Vancouver International Airport - exactly at the point where the jets decelerate and make that disconcerting sound like the engines are cutting out. So yes, for living so far from town, we do have a lot of air traffic noise.
- My dad's mill - As I've mentioned in previous articles, my dad has a small sawmill on the property below us where he custom cuts timbers and decking for residential and commercial customers. Again, I'm used to the sounds of the mill and the truck and loader, but some people might not find it so pleasant.
- Wildlife - I've written about the wildlife sounds previously, and I think most people love the sounds the wild critters make at night. But not everyone is so enamoured - I remember being on a wilderness trip years ago where a woman actually brought a battery-operated white noise machine because she didn't want to be awakened by birds. Or maybe the quiet freaked her out... I can't quite remember. But we've heard some very unusual sounds lately here in the early morning hours - including something that sounds like a humpback whale, but can't be. Some have joked that it's a sasquatch. Others think it's elk. Thing is, it doesn't sound like an elk, or a coyote, or a wolf, or a cougar, or anything else I've ever heard. And it's not a machinery sound. Quite the mystery...
In other areas and parts of the country, you might have the sounds of farm machinery, military installations, main transportation arteries, mining activity... you get the picture. Just because you live in the sticks doesn't mean you'll be immune from noise. It's critical to do your homework before buying or moving. Remember - no regrets!
So the moral of the story is to do you research before buying or moving to our country property. Find out what plans are in the works in your area, what's in the official community plan (if there is one), and what industries currently exist that may expand at some point in the future. And be sure to spend a good chunk of time at your new property both during the day and night, and at different times of the week. A friend passed along that advice years ago, and it had saved them from a number of real-estate mistakes.
Great advice, I think, and so often totally overlooked.
Have you ever moved somewhere only to find the noise drove you batty? Do you have any advice for others looking for their rural dream property? Would love to hear your stories in the comments below!
(Image Credit: istockphoto.com)