The laid back, unspoiled setting of Highland County life has attracted many newcomers over the years. Waking up to a refreshing, mountain morning. Breathing the fresh, moist air as you open the door and step out on your porch. The rare highs of 85 to 90 degrees in the summer, and the burst of colorful foliage in the fall. The frequent sounds of soft bird tweets that joyfully flow to your ears.
Yes, life here is unique and precious; however, it requires a certain commitment – which has come as a surprise to a great many AFTER they’ve moved here to our rural community. But for many, the “pains” and inconveniences of mountain life are far outweighed by the beautiful benefits.
Some of the pains? We are an hour away from the nearest Wal-Mart and even farther from the closest Target. Some basic medical and dental needs can be met here at our wonderful Highland Medical Center, however, advanced care must be had at nearby hospitals – Bath County Community Hospital (approximately 45 minutes away), or Augusta Health, Sentara RMH Medical Center, or the University of Virginia Medical Center, all of which are over an hour away.
But, our meat usually comes straight from the farm, and our fish straight out of the river. Life here is pure and safe. Everyone knows your name, and we wave at every car we pass on the road. If we meet you on the sidewalk, we’ll likely say “Hi! How are you?”
Highland County is a wonderful place to live, but new neighbors beware, it can take some getting used to! Here is our top 10 list of adjustments new residents should expect:
1. WE MOVE AT A DIFFERENT PACE THAN THE REST OF THE WORLD. Everyone works hard. No doubt about it. But, our skilled laborers in the plumbing and electricity department, though they are wonderful, are limited in quantity. There are a few busy companies that provide excavation services. And, we have a couple excellent construction companies. As a customer of local businesses and services, you’re supporting hard-working neighbors and their families, but sometimes patience is key. However, we must say, if you’re having an emergency and let a local business know, they’ll most likely do their best to accommodate you. If your basement is flooded, you will probably get moved up on the list. But, if the light switch in the back bedroom stopped working, you may want to get your name on the work schedule and expect to wait a bit for the service call. If all else fails, ask an experienced resident or the Highland County Chamber of Commerce for advice. They’ll likely point you in the right direction of a capable and available handyman.
2. OUR RESIDENTS TEND TO WEAR MORE THAN ONE HAT! Most of us have multiple irons in the fire. For instance, the person that runs this blog might also run a dance studio that teaches local kids the Appalachian tradition of Clogging. Or a cattle and sheep farmer might be the DJ at the local radio station. Years ago, you might have called on the guy that runs the gas station to come by your farm and do some veterinary work. (This is another reason things may move at a slower pace – everyone is juggling multiple projects and multiple jobs!)
3. WE DON’T RELY ON CELL PHONES. There is service in the Town of Monterey and a cell phone booster in the middle of McDowell. Other than that, don’t count on it. Oh, and when there’s a high concentration of usage in town (i.e. Maple Festival or the Highland County Fair), you may not have great service or any at all. (And for some, limited cell phone service is absolutely blissful.)
4. YOU’RE PRETTY SAFE HERE. Some visitors and newcomers remark how “weird” it is not to hear emergency sirens. We have some crime, but most likely, you’ll find it on a scale that’s almost unnoticeable. We are not exactly Mayberry, but we are pretty darn close to it. (And when the sirens do scream out, everyone stops and sends positive thoughts to their neighbors in need.)
5. YOU’LL NEED A 4-WHEEL DRIVE. You can get by without a 4-wheel drive if you have all-wheel or front-wheel drive, but having 4-wheel drive makes life so much easier. Snow tires in the winter? Highly-recommended. Most times, residents will have a set of warm-weather tires for the summer and snow tires for the winter. Just switch them around as needed in spring and fall to save some dollars! (Our local garages will be happy to help you!)
6. YOU’LL LEARN TO RESPECT THE WEATHER MORE THAN EVER. Getting snowed in with a grocery store a mile away is one thing. Packing it in for three or four days in below-zero temps 20 miles from the nearest convenience? That is something entirely different. You’ll learn to watch the weather and be prepared for each and every element predicted. (I recommend buying in bulk and having a large pantry.) It may sound intimidating, but it’s actually pretty nice to get snowed in sometimes. (Unless you have livestock to feed. But, even then, it can be enjoyable.)
7. SOME NECESSITIES AREN’T CLOSEBY. You’ll likely rack up extra miles on your vehicle since you’ll drive at least an hour to the nearest city. On the bright side, you get to leave “the outside world” behind when you cross those mountains to come back home. (Plus, the things not available in town, you can usually order online and have it delivered straight to your door by UPS or FedEx.)
8. YOU’LL GET TO KNOW YOUR NEIGHBORS AND COMMUNITY. Highland has more newcomers now than ever before. And, we like meeting new folks in our community! We like to know who you are, where you’re from, and whether or not you have family ties to the area. We want to know what brought you here and how long you plan to stay. We’re going to welcome you and sincerely hope you thoroughly enjoy living here!
9. OUR COMMUNITY THRIVES ON VOLUNTEERISM. You can offer a helping hand to any of our local organizations or simply support your neighbor. Either way, you’ll benefit tenfold since helpfulness and support is a constant cycle in our hometown. You’ll also come to understand you’re living in a community that, though rich in beauty and culture, struggles with poverty. (However, if you ask most of us, we don’t always recognize it.) Without the help of local organizations offering scholarships and programs for youth, families, and the elderly, a lot of our residents would experience disadvantages. Also, be aware while you’re helping others, others will be there to help you in your times of need.
10. PEOPLE OFTEN HAVE NICKNAMES. For some, given names are merely a suggestion, and nicknames aren’t often listed in the phone book. So, if you meet a person, it’s helpful to get their real name or phone number on the spot! And if you have trouble finding contact info for a recommended worker or service provider, reach out to the Highland County Chamber of Commerce for assistance. They’ll be happy to point you in the right direction
BONUS TIP: Loneliness can be a thing… If you’re an extroverted, social butterfly, we’ve got more options now than ever to visit and mingle especially during the warmer months. But when the snow sets in (approximately December through March), everyone tends to stay tucked indoors as often as possible (when they’re not working on the farm or going to work, that is.) If you need that social interaction in the winter, plan for it. Host get-togethers with neighbors, or visit the local dives on special event nights. Join a local book club! Someone is always looking to visit in the winter, you may just have to get a little more creative to do so. (Which can be fun!)
All in all, this is a different way of life. But, it is GOOD living. You may have to make some adjustments, but we think the payoff is distinctly divine!
About the Author
Crysta Stephenson grew up in the Meadowdale and Vanderpool areas of Highland County. She loved it so much that she returned to raise her daughters on the family farm, Glenwood. She received a B.A. in mass communications with a minor in history from Mary Baldwin College. For 13 years, she honed her journalism skills as a staff writer and editor at two small Virginia newspapers. Her second career - also lasting 13 years - focused on managing two small historical museums here in Virginia. These days, she juggles lots of odd jobs including writing and museum assignments that give her time to enjoy life and admire the accomplishments of her daughters, Rebecca and Suzanna, and play with her grandmutts, Alex and Snoopy. She splits her time between her family home in Highland and her apartment in Augusta County.