The pretend orchardist

Sometimes I like to pretend . . . I’m not me.

Maybe it’s the mindset of a writer. Or, ah . . . maybe I’m just a little quirky. Either way, I like stepping outside myself occasionally to think about life in other places, other environments. That means taking a break from being a 27-year-old suburbanite who spends her days with words — in columns; blog posts; newspaper features — to become the a girl with dirt-stained jeans at work on a family farm. Or the wizened old farmer patiently churning apple butter over an open flame. Or the energetic country kid climbing a hay stack that stretches into the sky.

Having lived in the same town since I was two, it’s fun to imagine life elsewhere. I’m always peppering my boyfriend with questions as we cruise through far-flung places: “Where do you think people work around here? How do they have fun?”

On Sunday, I thought about being an orchardist. The grove was quiet as we climbed the hilltop, away from the din of the festival below — a sequestered spot in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Far from home. Out in the country, away the hubbub and the chaos . . . well, it just feels easier to breathe.

In keeping with my recent farming obsession, Graves Mountain Farm in Syria, Va., was a hay-scented playground. I thought about Amanda Coplin’s novel as we walked the rows of near-barren trees, feeling a cool breeze on my sunburned face. Though I know nothing about crops, I can appreciate the serenity of nature — and feel at peace in the mountains.

When we crested the hill in the orchard, I was so fixated on looking for apples that I didn’t bother turning around. I didn’t look back to see how far we’d come. But that was the best view: of the working farm and silos below; the crowded festival in the distance; the lodge on the hill. Mountains rising up beyond, lightly dotted with the colors of autumn. Lone apples in the branches just out of reach.

Country and city

It’s a familiar story for most of us, especially readers and movie-watchers: the city transplant landing in the country. Whether due to a witness-protection mandate (“Did You Hear About The Morgans?”), a mid-life crisis (“City Slickers”) or to avoid the IRS (“For Richer Or Poorer”), sending city folk to live among their country kin is usually a recipe for hilarity.

While I’m not strictly a city girl, I have grown up close to Washington, D.C. — and always feel more metro than country. Some kids in my suburban town drive tractors around the family farm, sure, and you’re likely to spot Southern Maryland’s agricultural roots on a drive through the tri-county corridor. But for the most part? All the country-music-listenin’, yeehaw-shoutin’ camaraderie hasn’t always endeared me to a slower-paced lifestyle. I didn’t relate to it.

I love London. And New York. And San Francisco. I used to feel at ease navigating subway maps and late-night diners, climbing in elevators to the tops of skyscrapers. Soaking up urban landscapes. People-watching in parks. But though I love visiting cities, they’ve started to make me anxious. The busy sidewalks turn chaotic. Waiting in line for restaurants becomes frustrating. The constant din, the close quarters . . . all make me feel claustrophobic and ready to leave, ready to return to shopping centers with plenty of parking and distinctly less freeways.

On the flip side? Every time I visit somewhere rural, out and away, I’m captivated by the open space and fresh air. The puffy clouds on the horizon. The lack of traffic, lack of hurry. Less of a sense of watching the clock, more just enjoying the moment. My whole mindset shifts into something as tranquil as a fishing pond: I’m at peace.

Part of it could be that my country trips feel like miniature vacations. (In fact, Spencer has bemoaned the fact that I declare everything an opportunity to “be on vacation.”) Being in the country means I’m not in Southern Maryland, which means I’m not at work (where there’s work to be done) or home (where there are chores to be done).

It means I’m away. And that alone is relaxing.

I need to find a way to bring a little of that “country” mindset back to the ’burbs with me.

City vs. country — where do you stand? Somewhere in the middle, like me? Did you grow up in one or the other — and are you on the flipside of that atmosphere now?