Thursday, May 12, 2011

Country Mouse/City Mouse

Here we are in the city. We have a small front and a back balcony, two bedrooms on the second floor of a small apartment building, a sidewalk with no end visible in either direction and a modest shared back courtyard that’s primarily for obese junk-fed city squirrels, urban birds who nest in third-floor eaves and dog-owners following behind their companions with disposal bags.

When we moved to our home in rural North Carolina three years ago, we had grand plans for self-sustenance. We set up a makeshift greenhouse and grew our own veggies from heirloom seeds – often picked and crunched right off the vine by our toddlers. We built a coop from salvaged materials and populated it with a few buff orpington and barred rock hens who supplied us with lovely eggs. We lived in our kitchen – something I’ve come to believe is almost a redundant claim.

But as much as we loved everything about our home, we were never completely self-contained. It was a personal thing, a personality thing – we’re very social people. So we would drive to our closest city several times a week for dinner or drinks with friends; for playdates at parks; for live music.

Gradually, we seemed to be making our small country footprint more of a carbon drain than a green living dream. And we began to wonder: Are we country mice or city mice?

Now in Richmond’s thick museum district, I’m walking much more than I did in all the time we lived on our one acre 20 minutes into North Carolina country, where busy country roads without sidewalks made it impossible to even walk the short distance to the grocery store with young children.

Every city block is an explorative adventure – hidden bars, bodegas, florists, bike shops, sidewalls peppered with curious graffiti. The light posts are pierced and littered with fresh flyers and old ones on their way back to becoming pulp. Parks and playgrounds creak to be discovered. Artistic events happen close enough to leave the car at home.

Gardening has definitely become a challenge in minimalism. Our 25’ x 40’ plot has been condensed to a cluster of hanging tomatoes and a handful of peppers in planters. As we figure out what works, we’ll add an herb garden and a barrel of salad greens and attempt to trellis vining vegetables.

We can’t legally keep chickens in the city, and don’t have the space even if we could, but we’re lending our voices to the petition for our city neighbors at CHICKUNZ who do.

I’m still undecided on the country vs. city mouse issue…why does it have to be one or the other?