Now I am back in Dawson, where the population size is an overwhelming contrast to that of Chicago. We are 1,500 people. The nearest town of similar size is six miles away. It’s common to drive twenty miles without passing a fellow traveler on the road.
Ironically my days in rural Minnesota have been richer in cultural experiences than they tended to be in Chicago. When I had a wealth of options at my fingertips, I took them for granted. I forgot to attend events or support causes I believed in. In urban settings, you don’t worry that if you don’t attend no one else will, so it was easy to let my good intentions slide, to just stay home. And sometimes it felt like I was just one person among all those millions—what could I do to change the world anyway?
Ironically my days in rural Minnesota have been richer in cultural experiences than they tended to be in Chicago.
But the fact that there are so many fewer people here has created in me a yearning for involvement. When a poetry workshop appears in the community education brochure, I sign up. When the local brewery taps a new, delicious beer, I drink it. When a third of my town’s population joins together for an interfaith dialogue about Islam, I go. I attend art show openings and plays about civil rights and live music events and storytelling evenings. I’m far less likely to miss out on a good sunset or the opportunity to take a walk on the gravel road.
Here, anything seems possible: pursuing grant money for an arts project, brainstorming ways to create a local food co-op, celebrating the cultural diversity of small towns, discussing possible uses for renovated old buildings. People around here make things happen.
Last spring I went back to Chicago to visit and encountered many questions about my new life in Minnesota: What do my days look like? Am I bored? Can I get sushi in Dawson?
I reply by telling them how full my days are, how happy I am. I tell them I don’t miss the cars, the sirens, the horns, the concrete, the busyness, the hamster wheel of keeping up with the forces of city life.