Column: What does it mean to be local?

I have only lived in Sublette County for 43 years; as for some, I’m still not a local. I was told once I won’t be a local until the last person that met me when I moved here is gone. From a social point of view, you are a local when you are part of the local community with a deep connection centered on memory. Local means existing and belonging to the area where you live.

What I am not is a native. I will never be a native anywhere in Wyoming because I was not born here. A person who is native to a place has to be born in that place. It is where you’re from. You’re native to the country, state and town of your birth. 

This all came flooding back to mind the other day when I had to get some groceries and ran into a “local.” This heartwarming encounter ignited nostalgic moments of thought in my mind. 

It was just a couple decades ago if you were in a hurry and had to stop by the grocery store, formally known as Falers, you did so with your head down trying to avoid eye contact and the lengthy conversation that would take place next to the canned vegetables. This tactic seldom worked and it’s why the “locals” have lost the meaning of hurry.

Now, in today’s fast-paced, unsocialized world, when you stop by the grocery store, currently known as Ridley’s, you do so with your head up, scanning the faces not known, looking for one that is. I sure miss those aisle-way informal interchange of thought and information. 

Living here, being a local or a native is “living rural.” Rural areas have a low population density, though this is seemingly changing, with large amounts of undeveloped land and an environment where one can still touch the Earth.

In contrast to a rural area, there are the urban areas. An urban area is the region surrounding a city, has a large population density, a high degree of development and a lot of concrete. A place where there is little ease and availability to touch the earth. 

For rural folk, living in this assemblage of population was far from copasetic. I have traveled the world and been in cities that were so populated that you could feel the confinement of a sardine in a can. This exposure to the overpopulation of a crowded metropolitan area was confirmation that I was always to remain a small-town country kid. 

I became a native to Colorado when I was born in the small town of Bayfield. I was and am part of which has grown to be, as of 2020, 46 million people. Roughly 14 percent of America’s population resides in rural areas. 

I’ve always “lived rural” and not liking to ride the school bus, I often walked home. There was never any fear or worry from my parents or myself. The community looked out for each other and if anyone got into a bind there was someone close by to help, or someone informing on what a mischief-maker you were. Being rural did not mean there was no mischief to be found. 

I was part of the “be back for dinner and be home by dark” generation. I’ll never forget the freedom I had to grab a fishing pole and head out the door. Behind me my mother firmly saying, “You be sure and be home for dinner.” 

My family sat at the dinner table and was a family. My father never allowed television to be blaring from another room and I cannot imagine what he would say about the attendance of a cell phone at the dinner table. He believed it was disrespectful to not be completely present and take part of the meal my mother took the time to create. 

We talked about whatever each of us had going on in our lives. It was not a time to just sit and listen to my parents talk about what was happening with the family. It was also a time my parents would listen to what we had to contribute as well.  

I truly believe it is the loss of this foundation that has allowed our country to disintegrate, degrade and endure the mayhem that it is. The majority of the population has lost the grounding energy of Earth and no longer has a stable foundation. The younger the person, the more accurate this concept is. 

Not everyone can live rural, but we can look at the ways of rural living and include them in our blueprints for living. We can show understanding, compassion and gratitude. We can help someone with a random act of kindness for no other reason other than to help. We can honor someone else’s opinion even when it doesn’t radiate with yours. In short, we can be nice.

When you escape the bondage of urban dwelling, remember to leave the urban ways, rules and traits on the concrete you’re escaping from. Don’t bring with you what you are fleeing from. You will be walking the Earth now, so kick your shoes off and get reconnected. We already are and we do not need any urban policies that would traumatize Norman Rockwell and ourselves. 

Again, I will share the advice of the late Snook Moore, an outfitter that lived up Tosi Creek,  “Never live on a place ya’ can’t pee off the porch.” - dbA

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