I could type for hours with stories of Cougars, Grizzly Bears, Wolves, The Elements, and Cantankerous Neighbors. Allow me to introduce myself. I am a resident of Yaak, Montana. It is a tiny little town in the extreme northwest corner of Montana, not far from the Idaho state line. For the most part, I have raised and am raising six children here in these wilds. I have been married for 30 years.
This article focuses on my experiences in the Yaak River Valley–commonly called “The Yaak”–but it encapsulates some truths that are applicable to moving to nearly any rural area in the United States.
We are the exception to the norm. We moved up to the Yaak River Valley in our early 20s and we figured out how to live. Most don’t. Most folks come up here with a lot of “citified” ideas and ideals. They don’t last long. Now, more than ever, it is important to know how to get along with your neighbors.
For years, I stood back and shook my head wondering what people were thinking. After 25 years of homeschooling, my eldest two are now nurses serving our population locally. They have provided us with 6 grandchildren. Three of my children own land in Lincoln County. After working primarily in Emergency Medicine for 25 years, I became a Real Estate Agent. At first, I really questioned why after all those years, feeling fulfilled in Health Care, that I would do such a thing. It hasn’t been long on the job that I realized I am specially tailored to do what a lot of people can’t. I get along with the neighbors. I can go most places in this county helping folks buy and sell which is not the case for many. I understand how we think.
We are living in very precarious times. Now more than ever, getting along with the people down the road or the people next store has become paramount. It doesn’t matter how prepared or well-sourced you are. I don’t care about your skillset or your resources:
“…for better is a neighbour that is near than a brother far off.” Proverbs 27:10B
I’m going to cite some common mistakes that I see people making when they come here. It is my hope that if you are considering relocating to a community like mine, that you can keep some of these ideas in mind and save your self untold frustration. Some of what I am telling you can influence whether or not you make it where you’re going.
“The Retired Leader”
By far, one of the most common mistakes that I see is made by the “Retired Leader”. These are men (and women) who were very successful in business or in other fields. They are ready to retire and move to a rural location. They were respected in their field of service. They are looking for something to do. Some of them weren’t. Some of them are just looking to have “left their mark” and a feeling of accomplishment. Whatever the reason, they are perpetuating the wrong attitude. These are folks who take up important positions on the School Board, The Fire Department, The “Clubs”, The Church. They immediately want to govern us and they want to bring their ideals with them. There is nothing wrong with wanting to serve on boards or help out in the community. It’s the attitude that they perpetuate and the ideals that they slowly want to incorporate. I understand older folks have in them the desire to have left behind a legacy. They are nearing the end of their journey on earth and they want to have left behind worthwhile accomplishments. Some of them have regrets that they didn’t influence their own children differently. These innate desires are not bad. They are good. It’s the execution that causes the problem. Things are not the way they were “back in the day”. What may have worked for you “before” is not what works here.
I would be rich if I had a dollar for every person who moved here and wanted to “guide me” in some direction. The truth is that if you have lived here for any amount of time “making it”, its us who has things to teach you. Please don’t presume that because you have been successful in some area somewhere else, that it gives you the skill set to manage us. Please do not come here with the idea that you are going to change (or educate) us, because you won’t. You might decide to “initiate” citified rules or management, but in the end you won’t be thought of as important. You are setting yourself up to be mocked. These are harsh words, but we are living in harsh times.
For some reason, folks who come from a bigger city think that they don’t need to respect (or need good relationships with ) their neighbors. They often times come with the idea that they only want to associate with a certain group. Whether your “group” is church people or those embracing alternative lifestyles, you will not make it here disrespecting others. Again, the people who live here are the ones you need to consider “successful”. Do not reject someone initially because they are of a different belief system than you. In the city you might only associate with them because of business or for purposes of evangelism but here they are your neighbors. Find some common ground with them if you hope to survive. They don’t have to believe like you. You don’t have to believe like them, but don’t blow them off because they are different. Take the time to be respectful regardless of what they drive, how they look like or how they present themselves. First impressions can be a world of trouble for you. If someone presents themself to you in a friendly manner, then do not be rude. If someone talks or looks different from you do not be rude. If someone is rude to you, don’t waste your time getting offended and don’t try overly hard to “work things out”. Give them some space and try again later. Come with the attitude that your survival here is directly related to getting along with them. Let me give you a couple of examples:
1.) A new person purchased some wood from a local mill and didn’t pay all that he owed. He didn’t realize it, but the mill owner told the mechanic who told the laborer who told the store clerk. His direct actions created an effect of proportion which he could not have possibly known. Expect that if you got huffy with one local, ten others might treat you differently because of it. Consider your actions wisely. A tiny bit of money, had a ripple effect that might cost this person for years. In the city, you can easily go someplace else. Going someplace else will cost you a lot of headache here.
2.) Another newbie came in with a Citified attitude. She took things that did not belong to her. She complained about somebody “shooting guns”. For the next month, the neighborhood was angry about what she took. She immediately identified herself as not being one of us by her own actions. In the city, she might think its her right to take things, not so here. Your actions are weighed. The neighbors told each other what she did. For weeks the neighborhood decided to exercise their right to the 2nd Amendment. Would you want this kind of welcome? Probably not. We do not have ordinances here like you do in the city. No policeman is going to magically appear at your doorstep. You darn well better respect the neighborhood you are moving into.
Another almost comical thing that I see is the groupee. They come and immediately want to “join the network”. They think that the network works like it does in the city. For example, if you are a prepper/survivalist, you might show up at an organized prepper/survivalist meeting. These people exert a large amount of effort “trying to locate” their people. When they ask me “where is the group”? I smile and try not to pity them. You are not going to find a special “organized group”, show up for an hour and leave. Many of these people looking for their “group” burned their bridges a very long time ago when they behaved rudely to their neighbors. They didn’t understand the power of community living. You don’t find real devotion and dedication showing up for an hour in an organized militia group or any other kind of meeting. You can try for years, but you will come to the same conclusion after years of trying. If you were decent with your neighbors, then you already have your group. We do not “form groups” like you do in the city. Our people do not operate like yours do. Our people have real depth. Expecting to organize us for an hour and not actually taking the time to get to know us is a very big mistake on your part.
Some Good Tips:
“A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” Pr 18:24
– “Showing yourself friendly” is a policy for me. Make some effort on your own part. Go in with the attitude that you are going to have to “sow” more than what you are getting from somebody else. Help an elderly person stack their firewood (not looking for anything in return). Loan out a tool and give somebody the benefit of the doubt. Give a heartfelt compliment of something good about the person (even if you have ten other criticisms going on on your head). Start putting good deeds into motion. Expect nothing in return. Let your behavior be known for good. Make effort when you have nothing to gain by it. Nobody has to be nice or good to you just because you’re you.
– Do not underestimate us. Remember that we have lived here for a long time. We don’t have the same need for appearances that you do. We aren’t competing with each other. We don’t go into a lot of debt showing off. We have a strong sense of comradery. If you pick a fight with one of us, you have summoned us all. Come with an attitude of humility. Respect that we have figured out how to live here with less income and less resources than you. We are a powerful force because we are one, despite our differences in politics, economic status or religion. There is no rule telling us we have to be nice to you. Its you who have to be nice to us.
– Ask God to show you a different perspective.
1 Cor 19-22 ” For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”
Sometimes, adapting a different perspective is critical to your making it here. The Word of God tells us that we are all “right in our own eyes”. You might have a great case of why you are right. It really doesn’t matter. In the end, you’re wrong because you couldn’t get along with the people around you and it could cost you dearly. Every day, I ask God to show me how to love people more. The more that I do this, the more I see less of what I want and the more enabled I become to follow the thought patterns of others. Again, it doesn’t matter if you’re right. Find common ground with the people around you because you are standing on it. Do not think like a city person, train yourself to think like us and you will find what you are looking for, survival.