When I was in college, I dated a guy from Fairfax County, outside DC. He and his friends from UVa made fun of me and my hometown of Winchester, VA, saying we were a cow town. I was incensed and offended. They pointed out that at one location, there were cows within the city limits. They thought this was worthy of derisive laughter. And I supposed I agreed with them, or I wouldn’t have been embarrassed.
Now I live in a town with numerous horse trailers, paddocks, sheep, and chickens within the city limits, or at least very close. I haven’t seen cows, but a sign on the ridge west of town warns drivers to watch out for roaming cattle. When I left pottery class yesterday, I noticed that one of my classmates had hay in the back of their car. Several of my new acquaintances raise chickens and eat and sell fresh eggs. And it occurs to me — not just because of the eggs, but it helps — what exactly is wrong with living in a “cow town”? In what ways and why is it inferior to living amidst suburban sprawl, where nearly every square inch is paved over or subdivided?
I may have recounted this before, but it bears repeating. The university a mile from my home is known as an agricultural school. Temple Grandin, the famous autistic woman who redesigned cattle handling facilities across the country, works there. At football games between Colorado State and the University of Colorado in Boulder, the Boulder kids shout at their rivals, “Go back to your cow town!” To which the Aggies reply, “Go back to California!” Since the Buffs are infamous out-of-staters riding into Colorado on trust funds, the retort rings true (though obviously not for everyone).
This response also makes me proud of my neighbors, the Colorado State kids, most of whom came from a farm somewhere in rural Colorado, who exhibit the typical careless drunkenness of undergraduates everywhere, but who, when sober, always wave and say hello when they see us walk by. They’re in general a very polite, down to earth bunch, for college kids. I compare them mentally to the often spoiled, beautiful, and less-than-genius undergraduates at UNC Wilmington, where we used to live, and they definitely come out ahead. Maybe that’s unfair, and of course I’m generalizing. But so were the snobby kids from UVa who teased my friend Joy, whose pronunciation of the word pie rhymes with the sound sheep make.
I find that the people I have met here are durable folk. My pottery teacher told us that when they lived in a cabin in the mountains, they had no electricity. Her children did their homework by the light of a kerosene lantern. Does this make those children less intelligent than their better-heeled counterparts in Great Falls, Virginia (median home price: $900, 000)? I doubt it. But it does make them more resilient and better able to handle adversity, because they already have. What happens when the lights go out in the high-end suburbs?
Please understand. I’m not knocking my friends who live in cities and suburbs. I own a house in one of those suburbs. I lived in the DC area for twelve years, and it has so much to offer: music, theatre, museums, excellent schools. But the city hasn’t cornered the market on culture. If you look, you can find art and music pretty much everywhere you find people. And I like this better. I like fresh eggs and the smell of horse shit and the grubby integrity of people who live in the country. You can call me an Aggie if you want to. I don’t mind.