I took a decidedly round-about route to get to the Abbey of St. Walburga, in Virginia Dale, CO – I really wanted to see the northern parts of North Dakota, which required me to shoot into Montana as well. I came home by way of Chicago to stop to see family members. All told, I think I saw more of America on this trip than on any other I’ve taken.
I am always amazed by what I find out while driving. While any sociologist – heck, anyone with eyes – knows that there is a lot of diversity in the way people live in this country, it’s not really clear until one gets out there to see it. It is especially true that there are some styles of life that just do not appear in the media – TV, radio, newspaper – much at all. Driving through the country, though, one sees them.
In my drive across North Dakota, and as I returned by way of Nebraska and Iowa, I drove through the location where
much of our food is grown – especially corn, beans, and wheat. Farms are widely dispersed across the landscape. The towns are small – so small that most of the chain and big box stores have not come to them, even Wal-Mart. I’m sure the people in these locations belong to clubs or organizations, work hard, have families, watch TV – maybe satellite instead of cable. But I have to wonder what they think when the scene on their screens touts one consumer fad after another, most of which are not available or useful in their locale. (One could debate whether these items are really “useful” in many places.)
There is an ongoing exodus of people from small towns and farms into bigger cities, often drawn by the images they see on the magic screen. Some have seen this as simply inevitable transition: technology makes farming so efficient that only a few are needed in the rural areas, with the rest better off finding work elsewhere.
I went to morning Mass at All Saints Church in Stuart, Iowa. There were just a handful of us there – but really, no fewer than one often sees at daily Mass in a city – but the people knew each other, greeted each other, asked about each other’s families and projects. It was certainly a novelty to have a stranger – they asked if I was new to town, or just passing through. And they said, “Stop by if you ever travel this way again.”
As prices rise for petro-products such as the fuel and fertilizer used in farming, the gasoline needed to bring food to market, as we become aware of the benefits of locally grown food that is more natural, and especially as more and more people begin to seek the social support of real, small-scale communities, we may find that the folks who live in those small towns possessed some skills for living, for maintaining connections, for being a true neighbor, that we will have to re-learn in our more anonymous urban areas. It’s good to know there are some people still there, ready to pass that wisdom along to us.