Wednesday, November 21, 2012

City Fella Turned Country Boy

Editor's Note: Boyd Sutton spent his youth overseas with his family, moving frequently throughout Europe and the Middle East. A graduate of Pennsylvania Military College (now Widener University), the Program for Senior Executives in Government at Harvard University, and the National War College, he retired from the Senior Intelligence Service in 1997. He spent 11 years in the U.S. Army and 26 in the Central Intelligence Agency. He and his wife of 44 years now live on what used to be her family’s farm near Siren where their life is enriched (and controlled) by two horses, two dogs, a cat, acres to mow, fences to maintain, gardens and flower beds to weed ...

Coming to Wisconsin– Making a Choice (Part 2) 

      But retire to where? As I said earlier, while I worked in the city, I’d become a confirmed country boy. We lived on 11 acres way back in the woods off the beaten path in the foothills of Virginia’s beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. It was plenty of property to support two horses, two dogs, and a cat, though it was mostly wooded, so no pasture for the horses. We both liked the remote location, one-and-a-half miles from the nearest paved road, but only three miles from I-66 and a straight shot to built-up areas and their advantages. One option was to stay put.
      Another option we considered, but not hard enough, as it turned out, was to move elsewhere in Virginia to get closer to the wonderful horse trails in the state and national parks. That would entail a substantial cost for purchase of land, on top of whatever we’d have to do for a house and outbuildings. We added up our assets and decided that was probably not affordable.
      On the other hand, my wife’s family in Wisconsin owned a former dairy farm on 160 acres, plenty of pasture, and lots of shoreline on a large, deep lake. Lots of room for horses and easy access to fishing, boating, and swimming, which, at the time, really appealed to me.
      The horse trails we enjoyed in Virginia were gradually being cut off as city folk bought small properties in the countryside and immediately put up fences. These weren’t fences to keep in horses or other animals. They surrounded their properties, like dogs marking their territory.
      When we first moved there in 1975, we could saddle up at home and ride the trails for hours, freely crossing friendly folks’ properties. By 1997, most of the trails had been cut off by fences put up by displaced, largely unneighborly, city folk.
      Our area of Wisconsin didn’t offer many trails—unless you trailered to them—but the many unpaved roads at the time weren’t a bad substitute. And, on 160 acres of mixed woods and fields, there’d be plenty of room to ride close-by. And, we would not have to buy land.
      Virginia had hot, humid summers, with temperatures routinely at 98 degrees and equal humidity. It’s winters were relatively mild, with normal temps in the 30s and 40s (and still humid).
      Our research on Wisconsin’s weather was encouraging. Lots of 68 degree, sunny days in the spring and fall, relatively mild summers, with lower (than Virginia) humidity. When we looked at the data in 1996, the summers near Siren included an average of only 12 days with temps at or over 90 degrees. (That turned out to be bad data.) Yes, the winters were cold—really cold—but, as a retired couple, we didn’t have to get outside much. And we both preferred excessive cold to excessive heat.
      The lure of more land, pasture, a home by a lake, and all that 68 degree, sunny weather was strong. And I really wanted to put as much space between myself and Washington, D.C., as possible. I guess we decided to move to Wisconsin and leave Washington in about equal measure.

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