Go Home to Your ‘Dying’ Hometown

Or out, away form San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York where the cost of living reduces the quality of life.

From The New York Times:  https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/08/opinion/sunday/urban-rural-america.html

I did, and it isn’t what I expected. I am more involved in social and racial justice, economic development and feminism than I ever was in a big city.

By Michele Anderson
March 8, 2019

FERGUS FALLS, Minn. — My husband and I bought a new home last fall — a 1910 Colonial Revival on the edge of this central Minnesota town of 14,000 people. Down the hill from our place is downtown, which includes the library and a medical clinic. Go a quarter-mile in the opposite direction, and the houses end. You’re surrounded by wide-open prairie, and beyond that is Interstate 94, which gets you to the Twin Cities in about three hours.

We’re still unpacking boxes as we get ready for our first baby, due in late March. A few weeks ago, searching for ideas for what to name our son, I looked through a family genealogy book. The last 30 pages are a transcription of my great-great-great grandfather Walter’s diary from 1883 to 1907. He came to Minnesota via Canada and England and lived with his wife, Eleanor, and their nine children on a homestead in Clay County, about 40 miles north of where I live now.

I read excerpts from his diary out loud to my husband, and we soaked in the rhythm of his life:

Thurs. June 1, finished planting onion seed, planted potatoes. Went to J. Lamb’s dance. Fri. 2, rain. Finished planting potatoes. Father went to Sabin. Sat. 3. took cattle to herd. Helped Chas. Lamb haul manure. Sun. 4, went over to church. All McEvers S.S. were there. Mon. 5, cleaned out stable. Ploughed for beans and corn. Tues. 6, went to mill. Wed. 7, father called. I planted beets around house. Sat. 10, ploughed for turnips.

It was a humble sort of poetry, a reference book for the land he chose to commit himself to. He was a farmer, and he helped establish the area’s first Presbyterian church. And yet it’s strange to know every detail of what he planted, but not what he hoped or feared for his family or his community.

The Interstate splits the original homestead, so I drive through that farmland often. I catch myself romanticizing my family’s “legacy,” feeling both pride for what they built and regret that the land that defines my family was stolen from the Dakota people.

I feel conflicted about my role here. Rural places like this one are facing countless questions about the economy, about identity and about the environment. It’s hard to know what we need to be stewards of and sustain, and what we need to let go or confront, to build a strong future.

I am what you might call a “homecomer.” Wendell Berry, the Kentucky writer and farmer, uses that word to describe people who have spent some time away, usually to pursue better opportunities in cities, and then choose to return to their rural roots.

In a 2009 commencement address at Northern Kentucky University, Mr. Berry encouraged students to consider whether they might be better and more responsible citizens if they embraced the concept of homecoming rather than the desire for upward mobility, which lures them to places to which they have little connection, to participate in a destructive and extractive economy.

Continue reading at:  https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/08/opinion/sunday/urban-rural-america.html

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