Thursday, July 16, 2009

Everyone else's business ...

Today's quote is from Dayton Duncan's 1993 book, Miles from Nowhere: Tales from America's Contemporary Frontier, a volume I can definitely recommend. The volume is a narrative describing visits to the most thinly-populated regions of the lower 48 United States ... and of course the area around Jordan, Montana fits the bill. These paragraphs give a quick snapshot of the feel of the region and its communities.
Strangers to Garfield County and other parts of the contemporary frontier often experience what can best be described as a double case of the bends. The first, a response to a landscape comparatively devoid of inhabitants, is an almost physical decompression: no people, no buildings, no traffic, so much sky. You find yourself taking deep gulps of air, unsure whether you're unwinding from the press of humanity or becoming uneasy from the palpable remoteness. Paradoxically, the second is a sense of social claustrophobia. The communities you encounter may be the most geographically dispersed in the nation, but they're often the most closely knit.

"Everyone knows everyone else's business, but they'll always help you when you're in trouble" -- it was a constant refrain I heard, repeated virtually word for word so many times I came to consider it the opening stanza of the region's national anthem. As the phrase itself implies, there are two sides to this neighborliness. Anonymity is not an option. If the sparsely settled frontier was ever a refuge for Americans seeking permanent escape from society's embrace, it no longer offers such sanctuary. Hermit personalities would do better by taking an apartment in New York City and barring their doors.


  1. This excerpt is DEAD ON!!
    I grew up, and still live, in Garfield County, and find it hard to describe to others from around the country exactly how it is to live here. I laughed out loud at the last paragraph, because that would sum up the place perfectly.

  2. Heh ... I'm glad you appreciate that! And I know that it's true, too, because I spent part of my childhood in a town of about 700 people, and that's exactly how it was there. The joys and problems of living in rural America, encapsulated into one paragraph!

    I'm sure you've seen Duncan's book ... but if not, you should give it a look. There's a fair amount about Garfield County in there.

    Thanks for stopping by!