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Guest Opinions

A Good Home in the Country

Written by Mary Flitner
    When I was a little kid we had a dog that was a real nuisance. He chased livestock, tore stuff up and bit people. One day that dog mysteriously disappeared, and when I asked my dad what had become of it, he said seriously, “Well, it went to a good home in the country.” Years later I learned the dog had been laid to rest in the back 40 of our ranch and since then I’ve known that a good home in the country might mean something different to each of us.
     Here in Wyoming, it equates with rural sprawl and those dream houses outside of town. We struggle with desire for growth, fear of change, respect of private property rights, hope for order and distaste for excessive governing. Living in the country isn’t as simple as it seems.
     There’s a Native American viewpoint that suggests we should weigh our impact on a place seven generations into the future, with reverence for our surroundings. The “new” place must be entered with humility and respect for what has gone before and what is to come. Unfortunately that doesn’t hold true in many of the 40-acre ranchettes and remote subdivisions that require roads, utilities and community services.
     How the countryside looks is definitely part of the equation, but it won’t describe what kind of neighbors live on the property. The long-range impacts created by a dwelling, a business or a development project aren’t always immediately visible. Ugly, shabby shack-towns are annoying, but in the long run they may not be permanently harmful. An eyesore can eventually be removed with a D-8 Caterpillar or a box of matches, leaving the area to a fairly natural state. Other times, the owner slowly takes pride in his progress and works to improve the setting as his time and money allows.
     In contrast, an expensive asphalt-rock-log “next to Forest” business development or residence may add value to a community, and often a wealthy newcomer brings energy, stimulation and new ideas to our community (not a bad thing). If the business fails, however, or the owner tires of the West, the problem remains: an empty, hard-to-sell monument, a big blemish on the skyline. In Wyoming and Rocky Mountain states, of course, the foothills, meadows and river valleys, which are the most desirable for “ranchettes,” were previously the winter refuge for wildlife or domestic livestock. Buildings that perch on bluffs and rimrocks bring their own set of problems for wildlife corridors, erosion, utility providers, local services and road maintenance even though the view is spectacular.
     In the olden days, homes were located within the workplace, usually a farm or ranch. A home in the country was practical – placed for shelter and convenience – next to the road, snuggled out of the weather. Close enough to the barn or corral to make things easy in bad weather. Close enough to the main road so that the kids could get to school, so that people could get to the doctor or the grocery store. There were no plate-glass windows and not much regard for the panoramic view.
     Who can be blamed for wanting a home in the country - a beautiful view, room for the kids to play and maybe a place to keep a dog and a horse? Sadly, these homes in the country are often just a place to sleep, where the local road warrior rests between trips to his job in town, travel to meetings and the kids’ school activities. Or perhaps the home is a vacation spot for a retiree who commutes from his real home in another state. Either way, many traveling homeowners haven’t got much time to appreciate the setting, much less contribute to it.
     As I see it, good homes in the country belong to people who have stepped up to an understanding of an area: local culture and needs, rural traditions, histories, agricultural values, wildlife habitat and visual harmony. They learn about schools, taxes, fences, ditches and water rights. Because they understand the obligation to give back to the resource and the community, these people commit their hearts and minds to the place they’ve entered.
     Our growing rural communities aren’t measured by wealth or appearance. At the end of the conversations, I always wish there were a way to plan and zone according to what is in people’s hearts and minds instead of what is on the outside of their buildings. That’s my dream for a “good home in the country.”