A field guide to the instant rural guy

  Anyone who has moved to the mountains recently has learned of the existence of a distinct subspecies of human beings known familiarly as "flatlanders."

The first thing that needs to be understood about this group is that it is almost never found at sea level. Only when the flatlander takes residence at a higher altitude do peculiar characteristics -- such as an unwarranted assumption of superiority -- emerge. That characteristic notwithstanding, the flatlander is extremely difficult to distinguish from plain old Homo Sapiens. Fortunately, however, I have borrowed the ways of a sociologist and assembled a handy guide so that everyone can spot the behaviors, purchases and clothing styles that signal what is also sometimes called the "instant rural guy."

Down vests. For raiment, flatlanders favor down vests. Seen in a group they resemble an army of dumplings.

Buck knife. For reasons not yet known to science, the flatlander is biologically compelled to buy and wear a buck knife almost upon arrival in the high country. After acquiring his buck knife, his is further compelled to wear it virtually everywhere he goes, including the dentist's office and parents' night at his children's school.

Accent. Flatlanders appear to carry a genetic anomaly forcing them to assume that people who live at higher altitudes all speak with a southern accent. Therefore, immediately upon moving to the mountains, flatlanders adopt a modified southern accent, often calling waitresses "darlin'," and dropping the letter "g" from all words ending in "ing." Therefore, Flatlanders newly arrived from Los Angeles and Fresno are frequently heard to say they are "goin' huntin'," or "goin' fishin'," or "havin' a hankerin'."

Pickup truck, Hummer, or outsized SUV. As an adaptive behavior, most flatlanders are compelled to buy a truck, a Hummer, or an outsized SUV within days of moving to higher ground. A variant of this adaptation is the desire for all-terrain or 4-wheel vehicular capability, combined with a general reluctance to ever take those vehicles off-road. When the flatlander does venture off-road, it is nearly inevitable that ownership of a 4-wheel drive vehicle will ensure that he gets stuck in a far more remote area than he would have been stranded in had his vehicle not been equipped with that feature. The most common load found in the bed of a Flatlander's pickup truck is somewhere between five and 18 empty beer cans, and nothing else whatsoever.

"God's Country." The flatlander is genetically encoded with the compulsion to refer to his newfound habitat as "God's Country." When pipes are freezing and logging trucks are skidding off the ridges, and the power has been out for three days, the flatlander is the only living thing known to use this expression.

Gun rack. While many non-flatlanders also have gun racks in their pickup trucks, the gun rack of the typical flatlander is easily identified because it holds a Daisy BB gun and a long-handled ice scraper. Tattoos and other emblems. If a flatlander gets a tattoo in the months immediately after moving to the mountains, (and it is almost certain that he will), the tattoo will feature either a lone wolf, a bald eagle or both.

Head gear. The flatlander favors either a cowboy hat or a baseball cap bearing the logo of a feed store or sporting goods shop. Baseball caps are never worn in the reverse position by flatlanders.

Gender characteristics. Despite the ever-growing number of flatlanders in mountain communities everywhere, no known examples of female flatlanders have been found. How the species breeds has not yet been disclosed to science.

Belt buckles. Flatlanders favor large belt buckles obscured from view by an overhanging fold of flab.

Group orientation. The flatlander has an almost neurotic dislike of his own kind. Almost immediately after moving to the mountains, flatlanders seek to deny ingress to other flatlanders intent on moving to his environment. If the typical flatlander had his way, no other flatlanders would be permitted to migrate to "God's Country" once he has established residence there. But native Westerners -- a true endangered species -- only have to wait a while. The instant rural guy will adapt eventually, losing some of his pretensions and becoming just as ornery as a local.

Jaime O’Neill is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He is a freelance writer in Magalia, California, which is not flat.