In Praise of Small Towns

In our small town, a local business owner and resident dolled-up the old Ford garage for us to enjoy.

Wouldn’t it be great to live in an affordable home with a huge backyard and with sweeping views of a pristine valley in which deer graze at sunset? When you’re exhausted at the end of the day from work, doesn’t it sound ideal to avoid the traffic of your lengthy commute and instead walk up the hill to your cozy home? Do you dream of falling asleep to the coyote’s call and waking to bird song? Especially now that remote work is more acceptable and logistically easier to do, moving to a small town makes sense.

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I love small towns. When on a road trip, I really enjoy pulling off the highway and exploring prairie towns. I search for churches, cemeteries, local museums, and history. I am rarely disappointed by what I find.  As I drive the quiet streets beneath spreading tree branches and admire the spacious residential lots, I can’t understand why people want to live in increasingly populated areas. Especially during this time of the coronavirus pandemic, we think differently about the perils of being crammed together and we consider the perks of fresh air, a big backyard, and a vegetable garden.

Along the railway tracks. Lots of large green spaces in a small town.

I do understand that it’s more convenient for financial institutions, large retailers, and government to have the residents of our vast land centralized and clustered together. This way, all three can streamline (cut) the services they provide and still have us clients, customers, and taxpayers nicely within reach. Density benefits those who provide goods and services because it’s less convenient and more expensive to provide services to a scattered population. Services are often retracted to discourage people from living in rural areas and conducting business there. Our Credit Union has cut its five-day-a-week service down to two days in the hopes it can Servus better by fading away.

A Common Criticism of Small Towns

Small towns are criticized because of their intimacy. “Everyone knows what everyone else is doing.” In these days of increasing isolation, that can still be true but it’s not always a negative. It’s reassuring to know that if you get sick, your neighbours will help you out. People shovel each other’s walks in a small town and keep an eye on one another’s property while one household is away. So, yes, when someone drives by on a skidoo or with a wagon pulled by a matching team of horses, I’ll look and wave and maybe even take a picture. That’s small towns for you.

Other criticisms, valid ones, include the difficulties between people, the gossip, and the resistance to change found in small communities. But isn’t this the nature of human relationships no matter where we live and no matter the size of our community? Aren’t all interactions subject to misunderstandings and pettiness, and can’t they all (ideally) be repaired by patience and forgiveness? Change is hard and gossip is toxic. These facts remain the same whether you live in a city or in a village. The only way to avoid cruel deeds and words, our own and others’, is by living high up in the mountains in a cave alone. Some days, that does seem like an appealing option but it’s no way to build community.

Like photography? Bring your camera and capture some stunning rural views.

In small towns, we’re more familiar with one another and so the stories are closer to us and our families, and sometimes they directly involve us. Human relationships unfold and unravel everywhere in the world, but in a small town we have a front row seat to this constant evolution. It isn’t always pleasant but it’s not often dull.

The Best Stories Come Out of Small Towns

It’s that close up, in-your-face human drama that makes many writers set their stories in small towns. Big events happen in large cities and everyone watches, but in a small town everyone is a part of most events because we know the people involved or we are the people involved. Authors weave stories about the people in small towns and create characters from the relationships formed within the context of smaller places.

I think of the 2004 Leacock Medal for Humour Award Winner, Ian Ferguson’s semi-autobiographical book Village of the Small Houses, set in the remote northern Alberta community of Fort Vermilion. Only this place and the set of circumstances it provided could give rise to these stories. Luckily, this gifted and funny storyteller was born and raised there to write the tales down.

Another great storyteller uses the small Minnesota town setting of fictional Lake Wobegon and its characters around which he has woven several novels. You see, it’s the soil of those close personal interactions within a small group of people who know each other well and know their surroundings into which writers plant their story seeds. The stories are dependent on a small town back drop and small town characters to come to life. These tales depend on closeness and relationships, and on Garrison Keillor to present as hysterical that which small town residents find, at best, annoying.

As a writer – and here I do not compare my skills to those of Mr. Ferguson or Mr. Keillor – I write stories set in small towns and about small town history. Little places on the prairies are stuffed to bursting with stories. There’s murder, suicide, betrayal, sorrow, and lust. Think of that next time you’re gliding down the highway. Depress that brake pedal and swing into that small town. Who knows? You might decide to never leave.

This is a photo of a sharp shinned hawk in my front yard. There are lots of chances to view wildlife in a small town.

George and Views From the Road

One of my favourite spring sounds is a chorus of frogs greeting one another and encouraging the production and fertilization of frog eggs. These guys were singing up a storm in the little slough just north of town last evening. (It breaks my heart when brush and wetlands are plowed over and drained to create more farmland. I’ve got to toughen up if I’m going to live around here. Heck, I’ve got to toughen up if I’m going to live anywhere.)

This morning I had my first really good visit with George, my neighbour’s cat who disappeared last year and then unexpectedly returned months later, starving and full of buckshot. I’m so glad he’s back! We missed each other. Having him around saves me from needing to get a cat of my own!

See how charming he is?

It’s such a beautiful sunny and still day here! I had a quick editing assignment to do, and now I should go sweep out the dusty garage. Before I do, though, here are some more photos. A neighbour lady here in town paints these rocks and leaves them along the road north of town for walkers, runners, and bikers to find as they trek along. I took these the other evening, the same time as I captured the frogs’ song.

I hope you’re having a very pleasant day wherever you are and whatever you’re doing. Take care of yourself and of each other during these very strange days. ~ Lori (and George)

Well I’ve been out walking
I don’t do that much talking these days

On the Lake

Today it’s 5 degrees Celsius with a wind that cuts right through you. Last time I drove by the little lake we canoe on, it was still covered with ice. Maybe the ice and snow have receded a bit since from the lake’s grassy banks, but that’s about it.

Listen to me read this post:

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Going through digital photos the other day, I was reminded of canoeing. We didn’t get out on the lake at all last year. Sad! The lake from the vantage point of our faded red Coleman canoe is a very interesting place. The are beavers, muskrats, and all kinds of birds including huge pelicans that glide silently right over our heads as we rock quietly in the boat. That’s the thing about a canoe: it’s quiet. The wildlife forgets you’re there, and flies or swims really close.

One time, a really BIG beaver swam close to our boat. Even close-up, he looked not much different than a dog paddling along through the calm evening water. We got within about two metres before the beaver realized we were there. As a warning to us and other beavers, or out of fear, he slapped the surface of the water hard with his broad tail before he dove, leaving little droplets of lake water on the lenses of my glasses. That was awesome!

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A muskrat on the lake. This little guy doesn’t even know we’re here or is ignoring us expertly.

Another great thing about the lake which has nothing to do with wildlife or water or canoes is that there’s a concession stand on the other side of the lake where the cabins are and where folks camp, have picnics, host family reunions, and play ball. At that concession stand, they sell the most delicious hamburgers and ice cream in waffle cones. That food booth doesn’t open at least for another month yet.

Today, I miss the lake, but if I went and stood out on that partially-melted ice in this bone-chilling wind, I would die of hypothermia. So I will miss it from inside the house and look forward to the days, not so far away now, when we can join the other creatures on the lake.

If you’d like to share my lake memories to your social media feed, that would be great! Cut and paste this link: https://wordpress.com/post/loriknutson.com/2749 or share it directly to Facebook from this site on WordPress.

What are your favourite summertime activities? I’d love to hear about what you’re looking forward to in the warmer months to come. Thanks for dropping by to spend some time with me on this cold day! ~ Lori

 

Summer Lakes – A Photo Blog

Here is a collection of some of my best lake pictures. I have to give credit to my husband’s cousin, Dale, who took these photos of Anglin Lake in northern Saskatchewan:

 

We’re lucky to have a pretty, little lake nearby. There are pelicans and gulls, beavers and muskrats at Shorncliffe Lake.

Muskrat on Shorncliffe Lake, Alberta
A muskrat on Shorncliffe Lake. These little guys are fairly blind, so if you’re quiet, you can get a pretty close look.

We’re also lucky to store our canoe at our friend’s house right at the lake’s edge because that old canoe is big and heavy! Come along for a very short ride in it right now. It’ll be awesome!

 

Because my dad lives near  Idaho, we’ve visited the beautiful city of Coeur d’Alene a few times. It’s never disappointing. One time, we even got a complimentary upgrade to a lakeview room at the Coeur d’Alene Resort. Spectacular!

 

This spring we spent some time in Jasper National Park and had a chance to visit both Lakes Edith and Annette.

 

 

And this is Lake Maligne also in Jasper National Park. This was beautiful and desolate. Surrounded by grey rocks and dead coniferous trees, it looked like a scene from a post-apocalyptic film.

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Although my dad lives really close to Kootenay Lake, I visited it for the first time just a couple years ago. Astounding! What a huge lake.

 

Me at Dillberry Lake, Alberta

 

Closer to home again is Dillberry Lake, near the Saskatchewan border but still in Alberta. Here I am on a hilltop overlooking the lake a few weeks ago.

 

 

 

 

We’ve visited the wine country of BC’s Okanagan Valley a few times, too. It’s nice to have relatives who live conveniently close to fantastic lakes and great wineries.

 

I’ll end this summer lake tour with some evening sounds from Shorncliffe Lake. Thanks for dropping by!