A writer gives up the rat race and finds peace in the country
When contributing editor Joseph Hart announced that he was moving to a little town called Viroqua, we were not only sad to see him go but also worried that he would regret the decision. He was leaving behind his home and a blossoming career, after all, and it was easy to believe that his urge to slow down might be replaced by a desperate need for stimulation. Save for a few folks, such as assistant editor Laine Bergeson, most of us find that our uneasiness has been replaced with a touch of envy. As you'll read in the following essays, Joe is thriving, personally and professionally, and is part of a growing movement dubbed the rural rebound. And Laine. . . . well, let's just say she remains a tad skeptical. -- The Editors
As a teenager in the Minnesota backwoods, I couldn't wait to move to the city. A gawky, bookish, sometimes snob, I probably would have had a difficult adolescence wherever I lived. But it didn't help my social standing to be one of the only kids in high school whose dad had a Ph.D. Or that my back-to-the-land family lived in a couple of cabins without toilet, telephone, or television. At school, I ran a gauntlet of hostility every day, and I blamed all my problems on the narrow-mindedness of small-town life.
At 17, I moved to Minneapolis and found the glittering glass and steel of that minor metropolis was everything I had dreamed of. I loved the way the sidewalks soaked up the summer heat; the cacophony of radios, cars, and hissing buses; the whirling, cosmopolitan mix of immigrants from Africa, Latin America, and Asia. Most of all, I liked the anonymous freedom of being alone in a downtown crowd. Urban America is rife with struggle, but it's also egalitarian: At some level, everyone in the mass is an equal.
For the next 15 years, I had one urban adventure after another: I slung hash at a punk-rock cafe, made art on street corners, marched in protests, attended shows, wasted long afternoons in coffee shops, made good friends and girlfriends. I found my career, met my wife, had kids. I became, if there is such a thing, a stereotypical, urban Gen-X knowledge worker.
But through it all, I missed the rural life. I had felt like an outsider in my small-town high school. Living in the city didn't annul the alienation. Among yokels, I had been a prig. Among my urban peers, I was a yokel.
Or if not a yokel exactly, separated by a philosophical gulf that I attribute to my rural upbringing. The city is a contrived environment right down to which trees are allowed to grow where. Some days I would look around at the houses and streets, the people with their haircuts and cars and jobs and worries, and I would think none of this is real. This sense of unreality is a symptom of traumatic shock, and it was that palpable to me. I missed the real: the night sky, winter air, room to roam, a sense of privacy.
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