There is a place not so far beyond Portland's borders. A place where you can see more than a dozen stars at night. A place where people drink well water, drive pick-ups and wear baseball caps with automotive emblems instead of team logos. A place where deer and skunks romp through backyards. A place where none of them, the skunks, the deer or their human neighbors are woken up every morning at 7 AM by construction
for three months straight
This mystical place is called "the country." It's also goes by "the sticks," "the middle of nowhere," and "Hillbillopolis." This past weekend I had the good fortune to spend time in Manning, a small town 35 miles outside of Portland. In a just a day, I learned a lot about various aspects of country living. How much? Enough to drag this whole thing out over the course of two blog posts. A rundown:
GUNS: Imagine being able to sit on your porch and fire a shotgun in the air without having to later explain yourself to the police. With your neighbors living a few acres or even a few miles away, you could probably get away with firing a bazooka out in the country. Upon arrival, my host handed me a rifle and led me to a make-shift firing range with targets consisting of a mustard bottle, a few law books and a copy of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. Shooting a mustard bottle may not be as fun as firing a shotgun at a worn-out Macintosh but it's definitely in the same ballpark. We had also planned to "kill" a chocolate cake but reconsidered. A word to the wise: if you plan on using a cake for target practice, make sure it's a flavor suitable for gluttonous scavengers of the canine persuasion.
WELLS AND SEPTIC TANKS: Without a connection to city lines, the folks out in Manning get their drinking water from underground wells. The water at the home of my host was filtered and tasted much like what you would get within the urban growth boundary. But without the filter? "Like poop," he told me.
Speaking of which, without any convenient sewer lines, the doodie of country residents falls into septic tanks instead of the Willamette like PDX dwellers. After hitting the septic tank, the fate of all this cornfeed poo remains a mystery. I imagine that pixies specializing in waste management are somehow involved.
THE QUIET: After dark, it's so tranquil in the country that you can hear a pin drop or a hungry bear heading towards the front door from a mile away. Or you could if it weren't for the ringing in your ears caused by too many years spent living in a loud metropolis. It's probably for the best that I only spent one night in Manning. The chances of a grizzly or a rabid dingo sneaking up on me were probably pretty high.
CRITTERS AND OTHER ASSORTED FAUNA: They were everywhere. In the yard, on the roof and, if you count the buffalo burger patties I brought with me, in the fridge. Driving down the road and encountering a flock of deer casually munching on a neighbor's tree is a sight you don't often see in the city. These particular furry freeloaders were even willing to pose for a artsy/creepy photo (see above).
Skunks can also be a problem. My host told me a story about one that decided to take up residency under his porch. As Cletus on The Simpsons tells us, "they's still goes off when they's dead" and disposing of them can be tricky. I forgot to ask how he resolved the problem. The skunk could still be living under there.
CHICKENS: My host had been given the task of babysitting a family friend's chickens. Having never seen live poultry up close, I insisted on trucking out there to help him put them back in their coop at dusk. As I soon learned, chickens are frickin' huge. Look at these things!
Unfortunately, there's nothing in the background to give you a sense of scale. I was expecting the birds to be, maybe, six inches high. Instead the hens were at least a foot tall and their rooster mack-dadddy was even taller. I'll be honest. Being city-bred, I was nervous. I grabbed a broom to coax a few of the stragglers into the coop. After a long day of pecking around their pen, they were happy to cooperate. But if one of them had bumrushed me or had even giving me a "what are you lookin' at, jackass" glare, I would have cowered in the corner. After dark, Bus Mall panhandlers have got nothing on a future McNugget.
We returned in the morning to let them out and the gauntlet was thrown down. Who among us wanted to take up the challenge of catching one of the birds? I immediately opted out but one of colleagues went for it. The chickens easily avoided capture and, after leading him around in circles for a few minutes, escaped by running back into the coop.
Chickens: intimidating and cunning to boot. Sure, you laugh now but if you ever ran into a chicken after 10 PM in Old Town you'd probably start crying like a little girl. It wouldn't even have to be Old Town. It could even happen in your driveway. Mark my words: chickens are scar-e with a capital "E."
I guess that should be "scar-E" then. Whatever.
For more lessons about country living, check back tomorrow for part two.