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The Rural vs Urban Dilemma

Updated: Aug 27, 2020

We live in a world where it seems our entire vocabulary is transformed with each passing development.

A couple of years ago I had rotator cuff surgery.   This major medical procedure is common in professional sports circles.   But since I had never so much as thrown a baseball in my life,  I felt personally insulted that this indignity was thrust on me at this stage of my life.   And I said so.   Loudly.   To anyone who would listen,  and much to my orthopedist’s amusement.  

Unwelcome new phrases crept into my everyday vocabulary such as “pain management” , “physical therapy” and “bone spurs”.

And then of course there is always “shots fired”,  “active shooter”, and  “shelter in place”.


More recently I have added  “social distancing”,  “self-quarantining”,  “economic cataclysm”,  “social isolation”,  and my personal favorite,  “quarantinis”  (recommended for end-of-the-day therapy).

All this has got me to thinking: I’ll bet social distancing means a very different thing to city dwellers than it does to us out here on the edge of the prairie.  I offer the above illustration as Exhibit A:

Now I haven’t been here since 1889, and I didn’t actually move here permanently until I married a South Dakotan in 1968.   But aside from the green oasis of mountains,  streams and forests in the far western part of the state, this pretty much illustrates what my adopted state offers in the way of isolation.

So social distancing has not been all that much of a change from my normal routine.   My office has been in my home for several decades now.   I venture out maybe twice a week to pick up the mail,  go to the library,  or when the cupboard is bare.   At present the library is closed,  but I can still pick up books I have requested online at the drive thru.   My biggest challenge is grocery shortages  (and/or hoarding),  which have actually increased my trips to the store,  which is  –  unfortunately  – counterproductive.

Some things haven’t changed much,  though.   For example,  I avoid going out at noon which is when the twice daily freight train inevitably arrives to snarl up downtown lunch traffic.   And the end of the day is marked by our daily rush-minute.   There is very limited public transportation,  so each citizen is self-isolated in our individual cars.

My guess is,  however,  that city-dwellers are experiencing isolation in the midst of millions of people in a far different way.   But there is one similarity that has been highlighted in the media as we all deal with a worldwide pandemic in our own American way.   Some city neighborhoods have taken to opening their apartment windows or stepping out on tiny city-sized balconies at the same time every day  (usually around 4:00 pm)  and singing at the top of their lungs.   Some bang on pots and pans in appreciation of those health-care and front-line civil servants who are making it possible for the rest of us to survive.   I’ve seen any number of posts online with anywhere from half a dozen to an entire chorus  –  isolated in their own abodes  –  sing together in rousing choruses of all manner of musical numbers.  They are all smiling.  They are all happy to be doing something fun and even uplifting.  Yet they are at the same time contributing to the public weal by practicing social distancing.

I can’t say I’ve seen any such entertaining posts from rural America but we too are managing to keep our spirits up.   Last week I was invited to join a social distancing group from Spearfish, South Dakota  (about sixty miles north of me)  to howl like wolves at a certain time on Saturday Night.   Notwithstanding certain things of a similar ilk I may have done in my wanton youth,  I declined.

On its surface,  social distancing isn’t much fun.  And none of us ever dreamed we would live under such circumstances  –  and uncertainty.   I am reminded of what my uncle* said about the people of another American crisis,  the Great Depression of the 1930’s:

“As I’ve gone about among her lean,  thread-bare,  hard-bitten,  yet imperturbable courageous and humorous people,  I’ve said to myself a thousand times:  “By God, these are real folks!  I’m glad and proud to belong them’.  Whatever else the people of South Dakota may or may not produce,  it has taken seed from half of Europe and borne a pretty uniformly high grade of human beings,  and that’s the supreme crop.”

*Badger Clark,  South Dakota’s first Poet-Laureate,  1937-1957.

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