Sunday, July 31, 2011

We are urban people, mostly, but.

Was at a writing group session yesterday, and made up a story about a farmer's son who went to art school but had to settle back on the farm and who, in disappointed old age, builds a giant scrap-metal lawnmower next to I-5 in Siskiyou County. That's in farthest northern California up beyond Mount Shasta near the Oregon state line. Felt like an ordinary story to write -- I was going for the Garrison Keillor thing though people said it didn't sound like Lake Wobegon style. Anyway, it made me realize that in an urban group it's out of the ordinary to tell stories about places that are outright rural -- meaning not suburban, not even outer-suburban, but all the way out there.

You probably saw this week's statistic: only 16 percent of the U.S. population is rural. The NPR Marketplace story I've just linked has a demographer feeling the astonishing need to explain that "rural America's going to remain a viable part of America." I mean, it is where the fuds come from, it must have some use.

I'm thinking of the scenery in that film, "Napoleon Dynamite." The scenes where this geeky kid goes running through fields under the tawny gold hills of the northern agricultural Great Basin. Set in Idaho, but it's so much like the Klamath Falls and Tule Lake country.

Beautiful places. Not necessarily always friendly to people like me or my friends or colleagues or family. But beautiful.

There are mortally genuine reasons for your basic Fear of Redneck. But in researching a book that has a lot to do with rural bigotry, I've learned that people who live in the deep country are a political and moral mix, with friendly as well as unfriendly sides -- those sides sometimes showing equally within the same person. The countryside isn't fully a foreign country.

No point saying this maybe. I'm just saying.

1 comment:

  1. We spent June in Virginia, in a county whose population has not changed much since 1880. Even there, the demographics are becoming less rural in the sense that people are clustering in towns and trailer parks rather than being spread out more evenly over the countryside.

    The vacation house we stayed in felt removed from everything, with the nearest neighbors a mile or more away, and the nearest grocery store or Walmart a 20-minute drive. The thing is, this is a radical departure from the same area as it existed 100 or 150 years ago. The two mile stretch of road between those neighbors (whose permanent population today is 0) once housed three or four farms, each with two or three families. Given the size of families back then, the population along that road likely approached 50-100 at times.

    I wonder what this kind of transformation does to politic?