Differing Shades of Rural

I live in the rural Mountain West. Last week, my wife interviewed in the rural east. It was a good reminder of just how different the two are, from a lifestyle standpoint.

I live in a town of 5,000. In a county with 10,000 or so, spanning a county significantly larger than Delaware. To get to the nearest “city” of any significance is Redstone, which is roughly an hour away. But Redstone doesn’t have a decent airport and lacks a lot of the amenities of a lot of cities. So it’s two hours to Summit. To get to the interview out east, it was a five hour drive because that’s what it takes to get to an airport with non-stop flights across the country.

The town where Clancy interviewed had about 5,000. But it was next to another town with about 3,000. Ten miles away is another town of a couple thousand. Twenty miles, a town with twenty thousand. Within an hour, there are more than three towns with over 50,000 people. Within a couple hours we’re talking about bona fide cities.

You may not think about how different it is to live in a small town that is so isolated and a small town with at least some access to “urban” amenities.

But from where I stand, it makes all the difference in the world.

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.


  1. Amen to that. Until you have driven the distances the distances in West you really don’t get the size of it. Even the Interstate system blinds you just how big the West is. Certainly if you drive for 8 hours across the West you are amazed how how far you have gone and the scale, but there are towns and signs and other people. Drive for 100 miles with only one town that consists of a quickee mart and with seeing maybe 10 cars that entire time, then you FEEL the distance.

    • One of the things I had to figure out the meaning of when we moved out here was what a “No Services” freeway sign meant. Basically, an admission that though there is a town and an exit, the town and exit has nothing there but some houses and roads to other places.

    • Having driven across country four times now, I can attest to how empty large parts of the West are. Most striking was North Dakota where you could drive for miles and miles and miles and see no signs of civilization save for the interstate.

  2. One of the things that it is possible to do out here is drive to somewhere where there is no light pollution. You’ll be driving for a few more miles than you had to in the 90’s, but it’s still something you can do on a whim.

    That just ain’t gonna happen back east.

    • I never fully appreciated stars until I moved to Deseret. I mean, I’d seen them. But I’d never seen them look like crushed diamonds on black velvet.

    • I was in Death Valley a few months ago. WOW, seeing all those stars and the Milky Way is amazing. Heck not that far outside of Tucson i’ve seen a jillion stars.

      One of the frustrating things about Alaska is that while we have dark skies, they also have lots of clouds in them so unless you are in a rural part of the state it isn’t always that easy to see a really glorious night sky.

    • This. I learned the meaning of dark in the camping at Scott Lake in northern CA. A storm came in one night, and it got darker and darker, until everything was simply pitch black. Here, unless you really get out into the boonies, as cloud cover moves in at night, it get’s lighter from the reflected light. Even in remote places, you can see the glow of towns and houses in the sky.

    • It will if you go far enough north. And at sea level, north of the 49th, the summer night sky sometimes feels like an indigo-and-light mixing bowl plopped down over you, one that you could touch if you were *just* this much taller.

    • I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, or express doubt that the night north of the 49th parallel at sea level, or in Death Valley, is awesome, but it all goes to the next level when you are at elevation in the Rocky Mountains, because of the comparative thinness of the atmosphere. But if you can’t get there, then by all means go wherever you can see the night sky without lights.

      • I live in the Rocky Mountains at elevation, man. I’ve seen the un-light-polluted sky here, and at sea level on an Atlantic island, and while both are lovely, I prefer the latter.

        While poking around on the internets wondering why that might be, I found that astronomy buffs tend to look for 1) lack of light pollution, 2) elevation, and 3) stable seeing (more common on shorefronts than at elevation) – but which of 2 or 3 is more important depends on what your aesthetics and purpose are. Guess I must be a stable-seeing type.

  3. 5000 people? A town? Does “town” mean “apartment building” where you live?

    • The biggest apartment complex in my town might have 20 apartments. And it’s the only complex; there are some duplexes and four-plexes. Unlike Will, I have large cities within an hour either way. This is as rural as I can imagine getting. Those dark nights skies sound nice, but I would want to live there.

    • My high school had roughly as many people in it as does the town where I live.

      Clancy and I joke that this whole enterprise has been a part of a plot to get me to adjust my expectations as to what constitutes a “big town.”

      Fargo sounds positively cosmopolitan to me.

    • One of my colleagues at my last job lives in a town of 300. He mentioned that one day and, upon doing some quick math, I realized there were more people who lived in my apartment building than in his town.

      Though he surely knew more of his neighbours.

    • Somewhat embarrassing story… Many years back when I started working at Bell Labs in New Jersey, easterners who found out I was from Nebraska operated from the principle that the population was so small everyone must know everyone else. I slowly convinced them that this was roughly the same as assuming that everyone from Brooklyn must know all of the people in Brooklyn, and they quit asking me if I knew so-and-so. One day at lunch a few weeks later a woman joined the group at the table. Someone introduced me: “This is Mike; he joined the department recently and is from Nebraska.” She responded with, “Oh, you’re the second person from Nebraska I’ve met! Do you know so-and-so?”

      And I did.

  4. Our first trip west where we were grown-up enough to actually rent a car was an eye opener. We camped through the Cascade Mountains from San Francisco north, ending in Portland.

    To prepare, we’d purchased road atlases published by DeLorme; a local business; we’d used their Maine, NH, VT, and MA atlases for years. (This was way before the day of GPS.)

    So one day we’re driving. And driving. And driving. And what should have seemed a two hour drive was a seven hour drive. Because the scale of the oh-so-familiar atlas formats was different. Things are a bit sparse out there.

    It is a kind of culture shock. But no matter; in the lower 48, UPS, USPS, and FedEx will deliver; and maybe out, too.

    • My best friend moved from the south to the Pacific Northwest. He and his girlfriend decided that while they were making this trip, they’d “stop by” and visit a friend in southern California and visit me in Deseret. “Stop by” was the term he used.

      I think it looked very different in a car (full of stuff being moved, no less) than it did on a map.

      • I’ve often had relatives from the east coast call to see if we were OK after some natural disaster in Los Angeles.

        • Major League Baseball thinks and the Big East thought that Houston and San Diego belong in the same division.

          • That’s nothing. The NFL used to think that New Orleans, Atlanta, and Carolina belonged in the West.

            Pedant alert: Houston’s going to the AL West, not the NL West, so they’re with teams from Anaheim, Arlington, Oakland, and Seattle.

          • Seattle? Well looking at a map, that’s what… a six hour drive from here? Seven?

          • I don’t know where your here is 🙂 Seattle’s about 12 hours from Oakland, about 35 from Houston.

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