Willfully Guided: A Rural Lifestyle Can Grow Independent and Resourceful People

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In late July I spent some time in my hometown in Alaska. We also camped with my sister and our kids on our family’s beach property in Anchor Point, AK. I grew up riding my horses on this beach, practicing barrels and horsemanship patterns at low tide against the backdrop of four active volcanoes. Alaska and horses are the two things that have definitively shaped me as a person.

In Washington, our brokerage, Coastal Realty, has just finished being the title sponsor for the 2023 Lynden PRCA Rodeo and I created our sponsor video to the song “Buy Dirt,” written by Jordan Davis and Luke Bryan. Besides being a catchy little ditty, the song keeps popping into my mind when I’m cleaning stalls, putting out round bales, or sitting on a beach overlooking the Cook Inlet. I’ve never lived in a city or in a subdivision other than a short stint my freshman year of college in an off-campus dorm. As a result, in Washington I spend a fair bit of time as the Government Affairs Committee Chair for the Whatcom County Association of Realtors helping to preserve rural lifestyle. I personally can’t imagine what life would be like if I lived in a suburb, though I don’t discount anyone who does. It isn’t lost on me how much one’s childhood experiences shape their perspectives.

In the 1940s, homesteaders landed on the beach in Anchor Point with dreams of claiming land and living off it. In my early childhood, a largely subsistence lifestyle was common. My family used horses to hunt moose and caribou and filled cans and the freezer with salmon and halibut each summer. My family’s property I sat on this past summer was the original homestead of the Kyllonen family; one of the original homestead cabins still stands. In 1887, California gold prospectors dug ditches and washed the bluffs with water cannons to expose the heavy gold. Recently, our kids dug in the coal deposits and sifted the black sand, panning for gold, imaginations on fire. It felt so good to see them running barefoot on the same beach, learning to love the wide-open space Alaska still offers.

In Washington we have 57 acres where my husband, kids, and I have built a home and horse facility from scratch under the watchful eye of Mount Baker. Forty-five of those acres are still largely untouched outside of the trails we have carved to enjoy with our kids and horses. As a Realtor, my business partner Blake and I help clients find their own piece of paradise where they can raise their families, enjoy their horses, garden, and live a rural lifestyle. The Pacific Northwest, though different from Alaska, is full of natural beauty and wilderness and we enjoy the nuance of each individual property with its unique characteristics. “Buy Dirt” feels like my theme song.

In my position as the GA Chair, I have experience with both new and existing planning policy and code. The push in our nation is to build in and build up, both to create affordable, efficient housing and to decrease the human footprint in the environment. I do understand the need for urban planning and protecting precious resources. On the other hand, as I watched my children splashing through the frigid surf, I wondered what happens to our nation when a generation of children who have never panned for gold or galloped their horse in the sun on the beach become adults. Dirty-footed, wild-haired children grow into free thinking and imaginative humans who’ve learned cause and effect and the importance of working together toward a common goal. 

In this nation we need less politics and grandstanding and more problem solving and working together. I know there are wonderful people who grow up in cities who bring an important perspective, though I often wonder how people can live so close together and still be so disconnected from each other. I’m also certain that the experience gained from raising animals, tending crops, and preparing a ranch for winter grows the type of competent, community-minded people that our society desperately needs. Unfortunately, those folks don’t have a lot of extra time to put forth policy, and the policy being created draws society farther from rural living. 

I don’t claim to know the solutions to any particular problem, but I do know that bringing young people onto the farm and into the wilderness, teaching them skills, and giving them experiences is a step in the right direction.

See this article in the September/October 2023 online edition:

September/October 2023

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