In 2002, Kristy Athens and her husband were living in Portland. They grew a garden, they planted fruit trees, and they trained hops to climb up the side of their garage. But that wasn’t enough. They wanted a more rural life. So in 2003, they took the plunge and bought seven acres in the Columbia River Gorge.
“We just fell in love with the place,” Athens explained to Think Out Loud’s Dave Miller. The attractive amenities of their new rural home were, in a way, opposite to those of their old house in the St. Johns neighborhood of Portland. Athens said that their rural home “was on more of a slope that went down to the White Salmon River. Probably an acre and a half had woods on it… there was just a great variety of landscape.”
Although their new home proved to be an ideal place to live, actually living there proved to have a steep learning curve. Athens and her husband wanted to raise chickens, but didn’t think about having to kill them. They had a wood stove, but hadn’t really considered where they’d get their wood.
They lived in the country for six years before deciding that they were in over their heads: The house and outbuildings needed work they couldn’t do or pay for; their job prospects were slim; and growing crops had proven difficult.
After returning to Portland and digesting their experience, Athens authored the book Get Your Pitchfork On!: The Real Dirt on Country Living. The book chronicles their adventure in rural living and compiles a long list of do’s and don’ts that those thinking of skipping town may not have considered.
“Unlike the back-to-the-landers of the 1970s, my generation wants the organic, natural pleasures of rural life without sacrificing the culture and convenience of urban life. In other words, we may hawk our garden produce at a farmer’s market but we are not about to give up good coffee or The New York Times…. Unlike the ‘70s crowd, we have no intention of ‘dropping out,’ Athens says.
Now back in the city, Athens misses the peace she found in the rural setting. “You have a personal relationship with everything on your land.” These not-easily-attained comforts still call to Athens and her husband who intend to move out to the country again. However, the next time, Athens wants to focus not only on living off the land, but living with the people in the community. “My plan is to listen for a lot longer period of time before I start talking. And just absorb and just try to get a lay of the land before I try and insert my ideas where the land should go.”
Listen to the whole conversation with Kristy Athens on Think Out Loud.
This article includes contributions from Think Out Loud’s Dave Miller.