“Your mom is a dike” was scribbled on the wall at about eye level behind the toilet I was peeing in.
We were at the Satellite Diner in Downtown Spokane, Washington, a nice little place with deliciously greasy, fatty, true American diner-style breakfast. I finished my French toast, hash browns, sausage and eggs, and about a quarter of my partner Amber’s biscuits and gravy that she couldn’t quite finish. It was our last cheat meal of our weekend outing before getting back on the healthy eating grind, so I figured I might as well make the most of it.
Back to the message scribbled on the wall.
Now, this is normal bathroom wall literature that can be found pretty much anywhere in the world; in a city, in a rest area in the middle of nowhere, or on a small-town high school bathroom stall.
But for some reason, it really struck me, and the vulgarity of it embodied how I’d felt since we’d arrived in Spokane the afternoon before. We had been surrounded by dirty sidewalks, littered alleyways, the smell of car exhaust and man-made decay, and the occasional shady looking man that had no qualms about looking Amber up and down without even trying to be sneaky about it.
It felt foreign, unclean, and vaguely threatening. I had a feeling in my gut that I didn’t belong here. It was the antithesis to how I feel standing on the edge of a vast alfalfa field, or standing on a hiking trail in the middle of the woods.
As I read that message on the bathroom wall, I was suddenly overcome with a strange feeling of happiness. The thought that came to my mind was, “I’m so happy I don’t live here.”
First off, I’m not bagging on Spokane. Spokane is a fine city, and I’m fortunate to live just a little over an hour away from it. We had a wonderful time going to a Tech N9ne concert at the Knitting Factory that Friday night, bar-hopping, and going for a walk right across the street from our hotel to see Spokane Falls the following morning. Considering we live in rural eastern Washington, it’s nice to have a place like Spokane nearby with all the bigger-city amenities we would ever need.
We live in Pullman, Washington, home of the Washington State Cougars, and it’s a small town of a little over 30,000 people during the school year. That population drops precipitously in the summer months when most of the students head back home, leaving Pullman quiet and peaceful.
During my time as a student at WSU, as well as since then as an employee and Pullman resident, I’ve met many people from the Seattle-area, the Tri-Cities (where I grew up) area, the Spokane area, as well as from cities in California that can’t hardly handle the smallness of Pullman.
“There’s nothing to do here.” “It’s just a bunch of wheat fields.” “It makes me claustrophobic.” “If there was more to do here I wouldn’t be drunk/high all the time.”
These, and variations of these statements, are all things I’ve heard countless times from people who don’t quite fit into Pullman’s small-town atmosphere. And, if I’d grown up in a place like Seattle or Los Angeles, Pullman would be a massive culture shock, and it would likely seem as if time was nearly standing still.
But this article is not for those living in big cities and densely populated areas. This is about those of us who may have grown up on a gravel road in the middle of an apple orchard in the Columbia Basin, or near a mountain stream surrounded by evergreen in the Olympic Mountains, or even the person that grew up living in a quiet neighborhood on Pioneer Hill right here in Pullman. It’s also about that feeling many of us, not just small towners, get when we exit the city and are surrounded by wide open countryside or wild and unpredictable wilderness.
It’s not an easy feeling to convey, as it’s not something that all of us have felt in exactly the same way, such as being hungry or tired. It’s a feeling that you know where you belong in the world. Someone who loves the city of San Francisco may feel passionately about walking through a bustling district with a thousand different places to go.
For those of us who aren’t built for the city, we get that feeling when we step out on our porch and hear nothing more than a sparrow’s song, or the steady chopping of sprinklers on an irrigation circle, coupled with the smell of fresh-air filled with life happening all around you, a sense of peaceful solitude, and a oneness with the surrounding nature going about its business of being alive.
In my opinion, the biggest positive to living in a smaller town such as Pullman or nearby Moscow, and not in a hustling and bustling city, is the ability to get out of town in a matter of minutes, away from congregated buildings and major infrastructure, and hitting the open road in search of countryside, wilderness, or some form of nature.
Here on the Palouse, we’ve got Kamiak Butte a 15 minute drive away. We’ve got one of the most unique landmarks in the western United States in Steptoe Butte just a bit further away, offering panoramic views of the Palouse. Idaho’s northern Panhandle Rocky Mountains are close enough for a quick weekend camping trip, or a long vacation, with enough wilderness that someone could explore their entire life and never discover everything there is to see. And if you want to go a little further east into western Montana, you can find some of the most magnificent nature our mother Earth has to offer. Just google Glacier National Park and you’ll get a glimpse of what I’m talking about.
This isn’t just about the Palouse area though (which my close friends and family will tell you I’m quite fond of, if not obsessed with, given that once I get going on about the Palouse it can be difficult to stop me). The Palouse is my home, but no matter whether your home is in Whitefish, Montana, Eltopia, Washington, St. Maries, Idaho, Joyce, Washington, Baker City, Oregon, or somewhere else rural or wild, there is so much to love about living in a smaller town, or out in the country, and every place has something unique to offer.
I don’t have anything against the concrete jungles that make up cities like Spokane or Seattle or Los Angeles, but for someone like me, no city can compare with the smell of pine trees and wildflowers when I step out the door in the morning, and I’m thankful for the rurality of the place I call home.