Life on the very edge of civilization here in the far reaches of eastern Pierce County is like living in a different world.
This is rural living at its finest. Here the only gated communities are behind the metal pasture gates that dot the landscape and stay shut at the end of gravel driveways. Private roads snake their way in and out of the foothills and back pastures where the local population has set up housekeeping. Houses are mainly owner-built and designed, and sited to take advantage of the lovely views of rivers, mountains and farmland.
Most people who live here will tell you they moved “out here” to raise a family in the fresh air and natural environment. It all sounds so ideal. And in many ways it is, but it comes with many challenges. When my husband and I moved here many years ago to build our dream home and raise our four little ones, we were filled with idealism and enthusiasm. It’s a good thing we had so much energy, too, because with all of the traveling we had to do just to maintain our rural existence, we needed every bit of it.
Living here entails planning. Trips to the mall are long drives that need a whole day. Lists are mandatory. Things have improved due to recent development, but it is still 10 miles to the nearest Home Depot. The mall is just as far away as it has always been and takes a good 40-minute drive. Tacoma is an hour and Seattle even longer. This is no fun with a minivan full of pre-teens listening to their favorite teen-bop music at ear-popping levels.
My husband and I thought we were doing the right thing moving out into the country to raise the kids. Too bad the kids didn’t feel the same way. We didn’t quite think it through that we would have to drive the kids everywhere.
When you live on a gravel road in the middle of bear and cougar country, you think twice before you allow the kids to walk anywhere. Every morning and afternoon, whether I felt like it or not, I had to drive the kids to the bus stop and wait for the bus. It was either that or I worried all day if my children made it down the long road and steep hill to the bus stop in the middle of the forest.
When they were all in different schools and coming and going at different times, it made for a much-interrupted schedule. It was a good thing that in our “Life Plan,” we agreed that he would be the primary breadwinner and I would be the stay-at-home and part-time worker type.
Subsequently, the bus stop became a sort of social center for the neighborhood. With houses all tucked into private gated driveways out of sight, the only time neighbors get together is at the school bus stop or the chance meetings when driving past somebody at the top of their driveway. Conversations focus on wildlife sightings, the “road committee” (we all contribute to the general repair and maintenance of our private roads) or the weather. People generally “keep to themselves” out here, and nosy inquiries are frowned upon.
The kids hated that they couldn’t roller-skate, ride a skateboard or a scooter on the gravel driveway. Even riding a bike was a challenge. In the years when bicycles had skinny tires and many gears, it was impossible to navigate the rough gravel road and the steep hills. When bicycle designs moved toward mountain bikes and BMX, it was a match made in heaven for our rural terrain.
It is only now that my children are all young adults that they appreciate their rural childhood. They fondly remember the days spent climbing trees, building forts and swimming in the glacial creek, of seeing elk and bear wandering through the backyard, of waking up to the sounds of chirping birds instead of traffic.
When I hear them reminiscing with each other at family gatherings, I can almost forget those long, deafening trips to the mall.Karen Frost, one of six reader columnists whose work appears on this page, is the mother of four grown children. She lives in Buckley with her husband and assorted pets. She blogs at beatriceeuphemievintagecottage style.blogspot.com. Email her at email@example.com.