17 Mar

I find local small-town newspapers to be far more interesting and insightful than national rags. This may stem from the fact that the nature and values of the people in these places are distinctly different. 

Small-town America will often put up a strong resistance to the influence of outsiders such as large corporate business moguls and big-spend advertisers. Large cities openly invite these things. 

National political figures are often viewed as out of touch with small-town interests. That's not to say that there are no politics in these places. It would be naïve of me to believe small-town politics are not in play, as indeed the opposite is true. But what is happening on the national scene is filtered and feels quite different in small towns than it does in larger cities. 

There seems to be a mitigating force in rural America that is less potent in large cities. I would define it as a greater underlying sense and need for community and civility. I spent some time in New York City. While walking down Madison Avenue I noticed that not a single person acknowledged my presence. No one wished me a good morning or greeted me in any polite way. But while driving on rural roads it's quite common for a farmer in his truck to wave at me, and it's common for strangers to greet me in a friendly way while walking down main street. 

I recently read a few articles from the Wet Mountain Tribune out of Westcliffe, CO. 

There was an article about how the Spanish Flu reached and affected these remote villages over 100 years ago, relating it to our current situation with COVID, and reflecting on and contrasting these two times in history. The objective of the piece was not to further advance a political position, finger point, or engage in ugly name calling. It was simply a ground level view of how the event affected the community and how it brought everyone together - not tore them apart. 

Another article was about the impact of the spring snow runoff coming early this year and another about mistakes new ranchers make. These are just relevant, small town articles about things that matter to the people big-city news agencies know and care nothing about. 

One might ask why a hiker would blog about this. Fair question. 

I like to research the areas in which I am hiking. It offers perspective and reminds me that the trails I hike are surrounded by people who live here and care about this place on a much deeper level, sometimes through the eyes of many generations. Who understands these places more than the people who have made them their entire world? It’s humbling and it instills a sense of responsibility in me for how I should treat these places and respect these people. The wilderness is their neighbor, and the trail is a pathway into their universe, maybe one that sustains itself through community and acts of civility. 

Maybe we have uncovered the secret about how we have come to call ourselves a "hiking community". We speak of trail angels and hiker towns as if they are somehow in a different communal category than hikers. Maybe they are not physically hiking with us, but do they not exude the generosity and unity of the trail? And do they not evidence through their selfless character the very reason we call ourselves a community? Indeed, I would suggest they complete the definition. 

So, the next time you take to the trail, spend a few minutes discovering the place and the people that surround it and have made it their home. 

See my recent YouTube posts on Tanner Peak and Curley Peak in the Wet Mountains, a subrange of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Southern Colorado.

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