While driving along if you happen to notice a pasture beside the shopping mall, where cows graze contentedly Guess what! You're about to enter the country.
For those planning to live or travel anywhere near the country, you should be aware of one thing the signs.
After living 10 years in these gloriously confounded, middle-of-nowhere wide-open spaces, I'm finally able to recognize them.
It's not like the movies, though, where horse and rider (with full mane and thick hair fluttering behind them in the breeze) are seen galloping effortlessly in tall grass.
Note: Tall grass on movie sets conceal graded roads. Because if the horse and rider were in the real country, there would be fresh manure piles, wheel ruts and gopher holes to look out for. And if they found one, down they'd go.
In the country you'll see playful four-legged-variety kids. Chasing one another in the meadow and calling out to their mamas, they'll sound a lot like your own kids.
Cobwebs and their spindly inhabitants will cover the eaves, filling every crack and corner with their handiwork.
At the quick mart you'll read a sign: "Soda, Beer, Ice, Milk, Snacks, Worms."
On a neighbor's gate: "Rancho Costa Lotta."
Roads don't have names, they have numbers. Like the poor couple who had so many kids, they just started calling them, Boy Three, Boy Four, Girl Eight, Girl Nine, and all the way past a couple dozen.
Every time it rains, you lose the electricity.
When an old rancher hits his thumb with a hammer, he mutters "dad-burn-it," instead of one of those awful four-letter words.
Perched on the front porch will be an assortment of necessary paraphernalia for country living: a large bag of potting soil, mud-splattered, knee-high rubber boots; garden tools, food and water dishes for the gopher patrol, and an old, beat-up stove from a previous century (providing more empty spaces for those spiders to weave their webs in).
When using a familiar term of en-"dear"-ment for your spouse, a local asks, "Ya' call your husband 'road kill?' "
The sign welcoming you to Greeley Hill reads "Population: Friendly Elevation: Just Right." A pedestrian waves as you drive by.
In front of a house, words are scratched on brown cardboard: "Fresh eggs for sale." And maybe even lambs, horses, puppies or pigs.
When passing more than three cars on the road in 15 minutes, you can't help but think: Wow, it's getting crowded around here. Five or more cars is a definite sign you've hit rush hour.
Something needs fixing and you're handed a roll of duct tape. I'm told it'll fix anything.
The guys and gals at the hardware store greet you by your first name. Either you're a repeat customer (darn these old houses), or half the employees are related to your neighbors, or the people you work with, go to church with, etc. As the owner of an old country house, you can't help but spend so much time there, buying tools and supplies for all those home improvement projects. And in a small town, everybody's related to somebody.
During a spring rain shower, you can stand outside and breathe deeply, the scents of drenched earth and fallen rose petals, instead of warm, wet pavement.
Ever tilt back your head and gaze at a sky full of stars? Only in the country can you actually see them. Had you ever noticed there were so many? And not just a sprinkling of stars above you, but the Milky Way stretched across diamond-studded blackness.
I ask my husband, as he makes another trip to that hardware store: "Couldn't you get the stuff to cut a big hole in our bedroom ceiling? You could put in a sheet of glass, so when we lie in bed at night, I can fall asleep gazing at the stars."
After all, that's what they did in "Swiss Family Robinson." Too bad country life can't be like the movies.
Debbie Croft writes about life in the foothill communities. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.