I like rural places. I know many readers will dismiss this affection as sentimental. Maybe so, but I don’t know if I need to justify the things I love to anyone. I only share the hope that you like the same.
I like the occasional solitude where you can be alone. You are not alone when you are alone in rural areas. You are with livestock you know by name, or wild animals you have seen before, a familiar hawk or pheasant or deer on a frequently traveled route. No language is needed to communicate with these living beings, but the interaction is still meaningful to me. I milked the cows by hand, I had a horse that I rode bareback in the harvested fields in the fall. In the winter, my brothers and I, along with our dogs, hunted rabbits through snowy fields in the moonlight.
I realized how much I love rural areas when I went to a pro football game in St. Paul. I really like football, my son is a football coach, our children played in high school and we have grandsons who play. St. Paul’s stadium is beautiful, football fans are fun to be around because of our shared affinity for the sport. But the traffic, the density of the elbow-to-elbow crowd and the exorbitant price of the concessions left a bitter taste. I was glad to go home to North Dakota, the huge metropolitan area in the rear view mirror.
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I was a director of the Economic Development Commission, I traveled to many rural areas in North Dakota. I was also director of rural development for the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives. This position also took me to many rural locations. I fell in love with places many readers don’t even know exist. Pembina Gorge, Sheyenne River Valley, Turtle Mountains, Bullion Butte and the Badlands, and the stunning productivity and beauty of the Red River Valley.
These beautiful places were discovered centuries ago by indigenous people who traveled or built permanent homes. I live near the Indian village of Double Ditch. I understand why the first Americans chose to live here. I see the beauty of the Missouri River Valley, the woods and fertile floodplains that sheltered and nurtured them.
I understand why European immigrants chose these rural places to live, fleeing the oppression of politics and religion. These people were the huddled masses yearning to breathe freely that Emma Lazarus wrote about. In 1953, North Dakota was populated by 240,000 foreign-born naturalized people. They frequently named their growing communities after places they had left, simply adding the word “new” as a preface.
I want others to know and love rural places like me. I want them to experience the joy of living safely, as close to nature as they want and with neighbors who will come to their aid or leave them alone depending on the situation.
This summer was a wonderful time for my wife and I to see North Dakota that you wouldn’t see from the interstate highways. We saw bustling rural communities with help-seeking signs all over town.
Rural people understand the need to cooperate with their neighbors to obtain essential services. Perhaps it is time for rural people to invite those seeking work and housing to come to their communities. The Burning Hill Singers have declared North Dakota “blessed in heaven.” It’s time to share this blessing.
Bill Patrie has been recognized for his work as a co-operative promoter by the National Farmers Union, the Association of Cooperative Educators and the National Cooperative Business Association.