Where Exactly Is “The Sticks”?

The town where I live could not be called a thriving metropolis by any standard. In fact, I tend to think of it as a “small town.”  I am not sure that is entirely accurate. Approximately 29,000 people live in MyTown, which spans forty-two square miles. We have multiple grocery stores, banks, chain restaurants, and many traffic lights. We have a Walmart, although the locals often refer to it as “the bad Walmart,” to distinguish it from the four or five other Walmarts within easy driving distance. We even have a “mall.” It is pretty lame, dilapidated, and unpopulated, but it is there. If the Belk department store ever leaves, I think it is fair to say, “there goes the neighborhood.”

While most citizens of the world would not say that MyTown is “small,” my perspective comes from living in Southern California. The relatively small town in which I resided in California housed over 86,000 people- in only about seventeen square miles. My California town was in the midst of an urban sprawl area from the northernmost tip of Los Angeles County to the San Diego County border. It was difficult to tell where one official town stopped and another started. In my current locale, there are certainly towns that abut each other. However, the significantly lower overall number of people rule out the idea of “urban sprawl.” When I lived in Southern California, there was an average of 5060 people living on every square mile. In MyTown, Florida- only 690 people live on each square mile. The feeling is quite different.

Many of the longtime residents in my area see the population growth much more clearly than I do. They grew up when there were more orange trees than people thriving in our 41.94 square miles. To them, MyTown now seems like a city. They see traffic and crime and modernity encroaching. I get it. We left Southern California for many of the same reasons. On the other hand, perspective is everything.

Green was pretty much just a color in a crayon box to me until I moved to Florida. Now, I look out of my window at a beautiful greenspace, complete with wildlife. The developers of the subdivision purposely left it as a conservation zone so I should be able to go my entire remaining life without seeing construction behind me. In the nearly 10 years I have lived here, I have seen sandhill cranes, woodpeckers, cardinals, other unidentifiable (at least by me) birds, squirrels, raccoons, rabbits, bobcats, a jaguarundi, alligators, a couple of different types of snakes, a blanket of baby frogs, and lizards as ubiquitous as paper towels… all on my own property.  As I drive around town, especially in the summer after the snowbirds have left for cooler climes, I see lakes and canals everywhere. I remember my mother used to want to go to the “little bakery in the woods.” This bakery is situated on a major highway. Its neighbors were largely subdivisions. However, all the structures in the area are still somehow part of the “woods.”

It is not just the flora and fauna that I find so “small town” enchanting. The pace is slower, and the people are largely kinder than in my California town. Most people seem to hunker down in their homes, with their families, and enjoy simpler, purer kinds of recreational pursuits. My experience of life is more “out of the house.” My adventures, while certainly not wild and crazy, are a source of amusement and amazement for my Florida friends. I love my little house and I love my downtime in it, but my growing up paradigm was that “life happens outside the house.” Home was pretty much a place for sleeping. I still tend to “out and about” way more than I stay home and “cozy in.” We spend a lot of time Disneyizing, which most people my age without children would find odd. Beyond the Disney parks, I seek out new and different and offbeat ways of enjoying leisure activities. I love my life and my Florida friends seem to love sharing my life from the coziness of their own homes. And I am finding the pleasure of a life lived largely at home, too. Especially when that home has air conditioning.

So, I often wonder whether I really live in a small town or not. Do I live in the sticks or am I just marking time until the pile of sticks is used to build enough subdivisions to qualify us for the kind of urban sprawl I left in California? I hope not. When we moved here, I wanted to live in a town small enough to be easier living but large enough to have services, shopping, and artificial amusements within reasonable commuting distance. I think we did a pretty good job of meeting that goal. I do not think I want too much unfettered growth.

I think it is only realistic to anticipate some level of growth over the years. I think it is a good thing when a community thrives in population and vibrancy, especially if the growth is well-managed. I saw something the other day that made me more secure that we have a ways to go before I have to worry too much about excessive growth. My friends and I went to a small independent restaurant for brunch after church a couple of weeks ago. I took the photo below to demonstrate that it looks like I currently live in a one-horse town… and, in the summer, even that one horse snowbirds north!

Have a great growing day!

Terri/Dorry 🙂

Do you prefer a small town or a larger city? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.