through western Wisconsin on an errand to and from New Richmond. The city itself is about twenty minutes from home, a quick ride sped along by the interstate. The atmosphere is rural but the Twin Cities is reaching in an embrace, and perhaps to consume. There are park and rides for commuters. Roundabouts have appeared on the formerly country roads to speed on the west bound commuters. Suburban homes are filling in fields. People are here to get away from it all and bringing everything with them. The demographers say this is one of the fastest growing counties in the state.
In a few years there will be a new four lane bridge across the St. Croix river to make it all happen even faster. Already the towns have coffee shops and Wal Marts and new schools are popping up to handle the expected arrivals. Old farmers are dying off and their land either becomes even a larger farm or a subdivision. It will be hard, perhaps, one day to see the sky full of stars as is only possible far from town.
Yet today was the calm before the storm. It was a day when people could still sleep with their doors unlocked and the clerk at the store didn’t sport the bored look of her urban counterpart. Still the wind can blow with the smell of cows. Still the snow stays white even on the side of the road. Still a cup of coffee was to be had at a restaurant that wasn’t anyone’s global franchise. Still it was good to be there.
Will we, my wife and I, join the folks who’ve already made the leap beyond the cities to this place? It wouldn’t be true to say we haven’t thought about it. Our neighbors garages have begun to sport grafitti. The streets in our neighborhood are rutted and worn. Last year someone left their gun in our alley. Sometimes the thought of a smaller place in the country sounds just about right.
Yet if we come will our arrival kill the very thing we hope to find? Will we find an empty spot and then fill it with more cars, more houses, and more people, until it looks like what we left? Will we become cynical and get while the getting is good only to turn around and join the locals to keep everyone after us out? Or is there something about salt and light in it all?
There are no answers yet. But the snow is beautiful, the towns along the road are at rest, and I am happy to be driving in the country. After that only God knows yet I thank Him for every moment that rushes past the car’s windows as we take it all in.