Tales From the Rural North
November 30, 2019 9:13 AM   Subscribe

Rural Michigan is ailing. For years, people have been leaving small towns and moving to urban areas, seeking opportunity in cities with more people, more jobs, more excitement. And the places they leave behind get smaller every year.
The Detroit Free Press presents a five-part series about life in rural northern Michigan. The first three:
Her husband's sudden death left her to run struggling U.P. motel — and she can't walk away
Polka, bingo and fish fries are slowly saving VFW post in Michigan's U.P.
How unique Michigan schoolhouse with 6 students has survived 113 years
posted by Etrigan (74 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
 
Oh hey! The UP! I'm into this.
posted by odinsdream at 9:16 AM on November 30, 2019 [3 favorites]


In comparison: "If you live in rural Finland the nearest shop might be a 60-mile drive away. If you live in the far north it might be even further.

Finland’s 5.5 million people are spread out over a large geographical area. A drive from Helsinki to Lapland takes around 16 hours."
posted by clavdivs at 9:44 AM on November 30, 2019 [7 favorites]


This is wonderful. Also, there's a whole epic to be found just in this sentence: "Founded in 1848 by a runaway slave from Missouri who discovered copper while hiding in the woods here, by 1905 it became a boomtown with nearly 1,000 residents, mostly Finns who immigrated to work in the mines."
posted by Emera Gratia at 10:00 AM on November 30, 2019 [14 favorites]


Wow. 16 hours each way just for a Lap dance.
posted by biffa at 10:06 AM on November 30, 2019 [17 favorites]


Wow. 16 hours each way just for a Lap dance.

Your post is a crime against humanity.
posted by Pembquist at 11:03 AM on November 30, 2019 [22 favorites]


The Detroit Free Press presents a five-part series about life in rural northern Michigan.

Well, actually.........

No, seriously, “northern Michigan” is the upper half of the mitten. The U.P. is the U.P.

Great series though!
posted by chainsofreedom at 11:10 AM on November 30, 2019 [11 favorites]


This been happening since we invented cities 5000 years ago, so how is it different this time?
posted by happyinmotion at 11:16 AM on November 30, 2019 [2 favorites]


No, seriously, “northern Michigan” is the upper half of the mitten. The U.P. is the U.P.

Northern Michigan University is in Marquette. Yoopers insist that the upper half of the mitten is "Northern Lower Michigan".
posted by Etrigan at 11:18 AM on November 30, 2019 [10 favorites]


Something that might come up in the series: several UP municipalities have legalized the growing and selling of cannabis in hopes of economic rejuvenation. I’ve personally just poured $40k into the area to establish a cannabis grow. I’m not the only one. Marquette is attempting to lean hard into the Recreational laws and positioning itself to become a cannabis tourist destination.
posted by odinsdream at 11:32 AM on November 30, 2019 [14 favorites]


Unregulated Potato? Undulating Plasticine? Urgent Patois?
posted by thelonius at 11:36 AM on November 30, 2019 [6 favorites]


Upper peninsula.
posted by odinsdream at 11:40 AM on November 30, 2019


Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Michigan has two big parts separated by water, and the U.P. is the northern and more isolated/rural part.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:43 AM on November 30, 2019


It's literally spelled out in the subhead of the first link, ffs.
posted by Etrigan at 11:49 AM on November 30, 2019 [9 favorites]


Marquette is attempting to lean hard into the Recreational laws and positioning itself to become a cannabis tourist destination.

At first that sounded like a funny idea, then I looked at a map. There are a lot of people, all living in states without recreational legalization, within an easy day's drive of there. I hope it works for them.

Last year, a Gallup poll found that while 80% of Americans now live in urban areas, only 12% of them said they want to live in a big city. Two-thirds said they’d prefer to live in a small town or rural area. But few actually move back there.

This is interesting, and something I can see in people I know here, thousands of miles away from where the article is about.
posted by Dip Flash at 11:59 AM on November 30, 2019 [2 favorites]


I grew up reading these mystery novels by Lilian Jackson Braun about a journalist with a couple Siamese cats. After the first couple books, he picks up and moves off to "400 miles north of everywhere", strongly implied to be northern Michigan although I'm not sure about the UP. It always seemed, when I was younger--not just a kid but as a young adult--to be a great place to live. But now it's like... I do really feel for people who're in places like that, but I also have a lot more skepticism now about the idea that I could have moved off to a small town up north and renovated a barn into a spectacularly cat-friendly house and been accepted into all the local community activities and met a nice librarian.
posted by Sequence at 12:03 PM on November 30, 2019 [17 favorites]


how is it different this time?

It’s been bad enough before, but this time was unique in dependence on fossil fuels.
posted by clew at 12:14 PM on November 30, 2019 [3 favorites]


This been happening since we invented cities 5000 years ago, so how is it different this time?
The majority of humans don't live in rural areas.
posted by doctornemo at 12:30 PM on November 30, 2019 [4 favorites]


Shoot. I really want to read these (lived in Michigan for 25 years; am interested in rural questions) but each article is blocked in Germany. I get redirected to the "USA TODAY NETWORK EU Experience."
posted by doctornemo at 12:32 PM on November 30, 2019 [3 favorites]


Parts of the UP are quite beautiful; you have two Great Lakes to choose from, with a third close by. But that doesn't make up for the mining and logging jobs that left along with the other Rust Belt industries that were fueled by UP iron ore. That's how you get an 83-year-old woman trying to run a motel that she can't sell by herself.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:48 PM on November 30, 2019 [6 favorites]


Check your MeMail, doctornemo.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 1:05 PM on November 30, 2019 [4 favorites]


"This been happening since we invented cities 5000 years ago, so how is it different this time?"

Well, not really. Urban majority civilization is a pretty recent invention. The US has something like 2% of people working in agriculture. Historically, it was difficult to get below 50%; in developed countries, this threshold was hit mainly in the mid 1800s. If you ever travel to east Africa, the percentage in agriculture is still something like 60%. The rural area are quite densely populated, by comparison with the US. Small holder farms pack densely into fertile regions, and people have lots of neighbors...
posted by kaibutsu at 1:33 PM on November 30, 2019 [6 favorites]


Rather than trying to reverse this trend we should encourage it. High density living is far better for the environment than spreading out over the land! Subsidize people moving from rural areas into the cities.
posted by Justinian at 2:01 PM on November 30, 2019 [5 favorites]


It's true that the majority of people living in urban environments is new, but the migration into cities certainly isn't as stated above: How you gonna keep them down on the farm after they've seen Paree?" and so on.

(because rural living is bad)
posted by Justinian at 2:05 PM on November 30, 2019 [8 favorites]


I really enjoyed reading these pieces, thank you! It's certainly a slice of life I have never experienced. I look forward to the remaining two articles being released.
posted by hippybear at 2:07 PM on November 30, 2019 [1 favorite]


My people from both sides of my family are from the UP (Sault ste. Marie and Whitefish Bay). I've been up there more times than I can remember, since I was a kid in the 70's. The geographical isolation (you either come over the bridge, come across from Canada, or drive 6+ hours to Wisconsin or Minnesota) has always made it a precarious place to make a living. I know dozens of people who have moved down to the lower peninsula over the years; those who have moved above the bridge? I can count them on one hand. resource extraction and tourism have always been the two tentpoles of the UP economy. Both of those are now and have been in decline for quite some time. Truthfully, I don't think there is anything which will reverse that trend. There is an ongoing depopulation and immiseration of rural America that is accelerating, and whose endgame will be--if we are lucky--a rewilding of vast swathes of America. How and when we deal with the remnant population in those swathes will be, I think, a topic of increasing urgency in the coming decade.
posted by Chrischris at 2:45 PM on November 30, 2019 [12 favorites]


Last year, a Gallup poll found that while 80% of Americans now live in urban areas, only 12% of them said they want to live in a big city. Two-thirds said they’d prefer to live in a small town or rural area. But few actually move back there.

I love cities, so I am definitely not the right crowd for this question, but I’m really having a hard time parsing this. I know cities are expensive and that traffic sucks, but I am genuinely interested in what makes people wish they lived in a small town or rural area instead of being in a city. What am I not seeing? I have a lot of snarky answers to why people might want to live in these areas, but what are the real answers?

(I did grow up in a small town — now a small city — and my family is still there, so I can understand some of the advantages. But it’s not that much cheaper (lots of things are actually more expensive, although housing isn’t) and it’s really hard to get a good job there unless you’re in oil.)
posted by heurtebise at 2:59 PM on November 30, 2019 [7 favorites]


I am genuinely interested in what makes people wish they lived in a small town or rural area instead of being in a city. What am I not seeing?

Grassisgreenerism, mostly. Hence the "But few actually move there" part.
posted by Etrigan at 3:01 PM on November 30, 2019 [8 favorites]


Yoopers insist that the upper half of the mitten is "Northern Lower Michigan".

To say nothing of the Southern Thumb.

This was really interesting. Thanks.

My inlaws reside on the north shore of Lake Superior on the Canadian side, and the small community in which they live is experiencing things quite similar to some of the issues discussed in the articles -- with the decline of the resource extraction industries (pulp and paper, mining) that once fuelled the local economy, the population is aging out.

Kind of related, so I'm going to leave this here:

Sodalite-rich syenite rocks, also known as...Yooperlite.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 3:20 PM on November 30, 2019 [2 favorites]


I am genuinely interested in what makes people wish they lived in a small town or rural area instead of being in a city. What am I not seeing?

No one is attempting to rifle through your car every weekend.
Children can wander in the woods and play in the creek rather than being shuttled from activity to activity.
Birds make a much more pleasant soundscape than the constant drone of traffic.
Dogs have a place to be dogs.
A separate shed for hobbies.
No need to drive an hour for nature, it's just outside.
No HOAs.
The clerk at the town hall knows what you need before you do.
There isn't a line at the town hall.
People react poorly to turkey hunting within city limits.
Stars.
posted by madajb at 3:37 PM on November 30, 2019 [44 favorites]


I know cities are expensive and that traffic sucks, but I am genuinely interested in what makes people wish they lived in a small town or rural area instead of being in a city. What am I not seeing?

The way it's presented in the article is kind of misleading. My takeaway from the actual survey is that people want to live in the suburbs.
posted by betweenthebars at 3:37 PM on November 30, 2019 [9 favorites]


Yooperlite -- same great accent, 20% fewer calories!
posted by hippybear at 3:38 PM on November 30, 2019 [3 favorites]


In my rural fantasies, it's a nice little house on a lake in either northern Michigan or the UP. There's a lot of natural beauty, a lot of coastline. But they remain fantasies for a reason. Among other things, even for me the winters are on the *(#*&(# cold side.

The UP's been in economic decline all my life, really--the metals extraction industry was mostly wrapped up, what, half a century ago? I don't want to be callous or pretend that any resolution would be simple or easy, but I'm not sure we're going to be able to support thinly-settled rural areas indefinitely on into the twenty-first century. Prior to modern times, even in western Europe people abandoned areas that were no longer economically viable.

An interesting novel about the UP is Anders Monson's Other Electricities.

No one is attempting to rifle through your car every weekend.

This is...a rather idealizing take. If there's one thing rural America has a plentiful supply of, it's meth and opioid addicts, and that means grand larceny and burglary.
posted by praemunire at 4:13 PM on November 30, 2019 [24 favorites]


I live in a town of 10K people and we leave our house unlocked (one door) much of the time and I don't lock my car when I go to the grocery store. The grocery store where the clerks all know me by sight and we have ongoing low-level "how's life going" conversations on occasion. With the post office 2 blocks away, and a pizza place 4 blocks away and other things very close by. And free range children are common. We're large enough to have everything you need but not always everything you want. Which is a perfectly fine place to live in the age of Amazon.

I do wonder what the last mile delivery situation is like for places like the U.P. Does UPS come all the way out to your house or do they have central locker situations or what?
posted by hippybear at 4:19 PM on November 30, 2019 [3 favorites]


As I read the thread, I was reminded of Ed Burmilla's VORTEX OF SHIT PART I & VORTEX OF SHIT PART II.
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 4:21 PM on November 30, 2019 [2 favorites]


Like a lot of small U.P. towns, its best days were a century ago. Founded in 1848 by a runaway slave from Missouri who discovered copper while hiding in the woods here, by 1905 it became a boomtown with nearly 1,000 residents, mostly Finns who immigrated to work in the mines. During a miners strike in 1913, when the town’s stores sided with the mining companies and refused to sell food to the workers, the miners set up competing food co-ops — a socialist one called Settler’s Co-Op, the other nonpolitical called Mass Co-Op. They were known as the Red and the White. And customers took sides.

When the Mass Mining Company closed in 1919, most of the miners gradually migrated elsewhere, causing a slow-motion exodus of residents. Those who stayed relied on farming and logging. The population stands at several hundred now.

Life got even tougher in the region after the White Pine copper mine a half-hour away shut down in 1995, letting about 1,000 workers go. Then, about 200 more jobs were lost after the paper mill in Ontonagon — the nearest big town — closed 10 years ago; about the same time Ontonagon’s nursing home closed, leaving 62 people unemployed.


This is why resource-extraction industries need to be bled for royalties when times are good (e.g., Norway's sovereign wealth fund). The problem here isn't rural vs. urban -- it's unfettered capitalism vs. the public good.

My grandfather was very much a White Finn. Which was laughable, because the health care system that kept him alive and breathing after decades of backbreaking manual labour in northern Ontario was a creature of the socialists and trade unions he so despised.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 4:41 PM on November 30, 2019 [19 favorites]


This is...a rather idealizing take. If there's one thing rural America has a plentiful supply of, it's meth and opioid addicts, and that means grand larceny and burglary.

I am certainly not implying that there is no crime in rural America. It's a big country and there is crime everywhere.

Jut in my experience, having spent roughly half of my life in small towns and half of it in small cities, the amount of low-level "background crime" e.g., people constantly checking car door handles, stealing packages from porches or bicycles from yards, filching recyclables, these are urban/suburban concerns.
posted by madajb at 5:22 PM on November 30, 2019 [2 favorites]


In my semi-rural location:

* Mail theft is endemic
* Neighbors have zero thoughtfulness about any "noisy" hobbies--like guns--they have, it can sound like a war zone out here
* HOAs are as much a thing as they are in suburbia
* Free-range dogs suck, much as I love dogs. Coyotes take care of them, I guess
* Traffic noise is just as much of a thing, especially with all sorts of "small penis mobiles" like giant trucks and Harleys without mufflers

I mean, it's not bad, but rural is not a panacea to the ills of living in the city. Plus if you get the Jones for, say, Italian food, get ready for a four-hour trip.
posted by maxwelton at 5:40 PM on November 30, 2019 [23 favorites]


I love cities, so I am definitely not the right crowd for this question, but I’m really having a hard time parsing this. I know cities are expensive and that traffic sucks, but I am genuinely interested in what makes people wish they lived in a small town or rural area instead of being in a city. What am I not seeing? I have a lot of snarky answers to why people might want to live in these areas, but what are the real answers?

By and large, American cities are some of the most unpleasant of the developed world. Shitty public transportation, litter, corrupt governments. Compared to Paris or London or Madrid or hell, Toronto, even New York is fairly unpleasant. It didn’t and doesn’t have to be this way, but white flight led to years of disinvestment led to huge blighted areas.
posted by Automocar at 5:49 PM on November 30, 2019 [4 favorites]


I have an uncle right there in the middle of Elm River Township. That Krupp's Mini Mart there on M-26 actually has a pretty good pasty if you're ever in the area.

My grandma was a lunch lady in a tiny mining town just north of there and she was the most beloved person in that school. She was pretty special. She forgot to teach my mom English, though, so my mom had to repeat kindergarten after she learned the language.

Speaking of M-26, if you are ever in the mood to see winter in its highest beauty, take that road from Phoenix to Copper Harbor. It's breathtaking.
posted by NoMich at 6:30 PM on November 30, 2019 [12 favorites]


Not to suggest this is an economically or politically or socially healthy measure, but what is the Amazon Prime shipping delay to UP addresses? Hard to imagine it’s worse than AK or HI. Or likewise the implicit fuel tax on everything. It may be the long way around but it ultimately can’t be that far from Chicago by rail, road or air.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:39 PM on November 30, 2019


Speaking of M-26, if you are ever in the mood to see winter in its highest beauty, take that road from Phoenix to Copper Harbor. It's breathtaking.

Lake Superior in the winter is bananas. In a good way.

Ice caves!
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 6:42 PM on November 30, 2019 [5 favorites]


These endless city vs. country threads are unedifying at best. I appreciate the effort to keep the conversation focused on the UP's specific history and issues.
posted by Not A Thing at 7:06 PM on November 30, 2019 [9 favorites]


Thanks for your post - the articles were fascinating! One side of my family is from rural Wisconsin, and it has been eye-opening to see where my cousins and their kids have scattered. Lack of higher education is definitely the common thread amongst the few younger folks who have stayed, and economically they are struggling.

I found the article about the VFW interesting as well. The VFW in Uptown Minneapolis seems to be the only thriving VFW I’ve ever seen, though I don’t know if that has more to do with adapting to neighborhood gentrification than gaining younger membership. My community orchestra practices in the basement of a Masonic lodge which clearly is losing members due to old age, and the opportunity for women to participate there appear very limited and deeply, deeply odd. I once had a very intense conversation with a man at a real estate open house who was trying to recruit me to join any (!) Rotary Club. There was that fascinating article a couple years back about the Elks Club near Seattle that figured out how to recruit younger members by capitalizing on its waterfront drinking location, but how do these random service organizations anywhere stay solvent and active without real estate luck?

This is probably fodder for a different FPP, but I was a high school Rotary exchange student and am kind of interested in joining a Rotary Club, but there are all sorts of logistical barriers for regular urban working folks. For example, the Rotarians I knew when I was a high schooler were all bosses of wherever they worked, so they could peace out of work for a couple hours mid-day for a lunch meeting no problem. I am definitely not the boss and don’t know if I could get away with that, plus I’d have to take PTO or flex my hours to cover the time. I can’t join clubs with morning meetings because I have to get my kid to school. It makes me wonder if any of these clubs traditionally for working boss men have any working moms in them now. And if they do, what value do they have to the women who are jumping through all of the life hoops to participate? Do they have to deal with more patriarchy once they’re in? I mean, back in 2001 there was literally one Rotary Club in my European host country that allowed women to join. I have so many questions.
posted by Maarika at 7:10 PM on November 30, 2019 [6 favorites]


I know cities are expensive and that traffic sucks, but I am genuinely interested in what makes people wish they lived in a small town or rural area instead of being in a city. What am I not seeing?

In my rural fantasies....


"The country only has charms for those not obliged to stay there."
- Edouard Manet
posted by bryon at 8:11 PM on November 30, 2019 [8 favorites]


Er, hence "But they remain fantasies for a reason." It's almost as if I grasp that pastoralism is just another fictionalization or something!

Also, I live in NYC and I am happy here. Doesn't mean I could never imagine being happy in any other kind of place. I could imagine myself living in Newberry before I could imagine myself living in, say, Warren.
posted by praemunire at 10:18 PM on November 30, 2019 [3 favorites]


It may be the long way around but it ultimately can’t be that far from Chicago by rail, road or air.

~7 hours by car from Chicago to aforementioned Newberry, MI, if the weather permits. It's 2.5 hours to fly from Chicago to Houghton, but then you have to drive wherever.

People don't realize what a big state Michigan is. From Detroit to Houghton is like nine hours' drive, only slightly less than the drive to NYC.
posted by praemunire at 10:30 PM on November 30, 2019 [6 favorites]


Thanks for the post. I have feelings for the upper Midwest. I'm still making my way through the articles. After reading the first, my thought is that I hope the article has spurred someone to buy the hotel so that poor woman can retire!
posted by slidell at 11:37 PM on November 30, 2019 [5 favorites]


The writer, John Carlisle, also known as Detroitblogger John, has been doing wonderful stuff for years. Most of his pieces are about the city of Detroit, but since he got the Free Press gig he has expanded his range. All of it is well worth looking up. He has a book, 313: Life in the Motor City.
posted by texorama at 3:31 AM on December 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


Carlisle's stories, collected.
https://www.freep.com/news/john-carlisle/
posted by texorama at 3:42 AM on December 1, 2019 [2 favorites]




It's 2.5 hours to fly from Chicago to Houghton

1.5 (time change)

Ironically there are no direct flights from Detroit to Houghton/Hancock, you have to go through Chicago (although you can get a direct flight to Marquette).
posted by Preserver at 8:18 AM on December 1, 2019


I am genuinely interested in what makes people wish they lived in a small town or rural area instead of being in a city. What am I not seeing?

Because being near nature makes me happy and peaceful in a way nothing else does.
Because I want to look out my windows at rolling hills and forests and farms.
Because I can't drive in the city due to panic/anxiety issues and I can in smaller places.
Because thanks to the internet, one can now live in the country and have access to good books, interesting online conversation, and delivery of hard to find spices.
Because many of us feel connected to the landscapes we grew up with.
Because I'm an introvert and okay with having few people nearby and little "to do".
Because I prefer the smell of animals to the smell of cars.


So why aren't I there, given that my job can be done anywhere?
Partly because of my city/suburban friends, but mostly because I'm gay and atheist and I don't feel like there is a welcoming community for me in rural America. (I feel like my wife and I would be safe in many places I would want to live, but I don't feel like we could find friends and like-minded community easily.)
posted by mkuhnell at 8:25 AM on December 1, 2019 [16 favorites]


One time when I was up north (that's what we call upper lower Michigan), I got lost in the woods. I was beginning to get worried when I came across a trailer in the woods. I knocked at the door to find out where I was, and the woman let me in to have a drink of water and sit down. It was a tiny trailer with a couch under a large wall hanging of a leaping whitetail deer. She worked at some local tourist trap that was open half the year and the other half of the year she hunkered down under the snow in the trailer. I couldn't imagine living like that. And that wasn't even the U.P.
posted by acrasis at 10:03 AM on December 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


This history from the Sault Ste Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians offers another perspective on the Upper Peninsula.
posted by gimonca at 10:52 AM on December 1, 2019 [5 favorites]


That motel story could be the story of the place one of my kids and I stayed last year., except both partners were still alive, and the husband was still working the breakfast tables. We loved the place itself, but one of the challenges, as mentioned in the article, was that the only place to eat within miles and miles and miles was the bar across the street from the motel.
posted by Orlop at 12:41 PM on December 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


Rural poverty is no joke, and really difficult to escape from, because moving costs a lot. (Obviously.) I know people who heat their camper homes/trailers with jerry-rigged bus engines (made into generators, I guess?) and wood heat from scavenged wood.

N Minnesota and the UP and northern Wisconsin have a shared sort of culture, I think. I wouldn't live out there where the folks in the article do, but I do live as close to it as I can stand, living on the northern edge of Duluth MN. Still on the bus line, but can walk out my backdoor onto the Superior Hiking Trail and be in true wilderness in about three days of walking. I love that I can keep my kayak on the roof of my 4wD and be where I can be truly alone and see a moose in about thirty minutes from my house to put-in. I love that the air is clean and I can forage in most places nearby without worrying about pollution. (We have abandoned industrial sites, but they're pretty obvious and easy to avoid.)

I think that the culture that this particular brand of poverty produces is too Trumpian for my tastes in most places, usually. But loads of places like Houghton-Hancock and anyplace with a college attract a more eco-oriented, outdoors friendly (but not into destroying whole meadows for kicks with your ATV) bunch. There is a conflict brewing between folks who treat your home like a tourist playground and those of us who actually carve real lives out here. And then there is the conflict between us transplants and those who grew up here and think that mining is again a way to go, despite the reality that their unchecked capitalism boom-bust thinking is what got them in this shit in the first place.
posted by RedEmma at 12:41 PM on December 1, 2019 [9 favorites]


And mkuhnell, you should consider Duluth for all the reasons I alluded to above, and especially because I know a ton of gay atheists and there's plenty of community on the edge of the wilderness.
posted by RedEmma at 12:43 PM on December 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


People don't realize what a big state Michigan is. From Detroit to Houghton is like nine hours' drive, only slightly less than the drive to NYC.

My brother went to Michigan Tech, while I went to college two states away, in western PA. It was a longer drive from our home in southern Michigan (small town a bit south of Flint) to Tech than it was to my school.
posted by Orlop at 1:12 PM on December 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


There are definite advantages to rural life, but there are also many downsides. It's a long way to medical help, even if you are lucky enough to be able to afford a helicopter ride. Going to town is a big production. A good snow means leaving your car a couple miles up the road, digging yourself out, or being OK with not going anywhere for a week. Despite needing to take care of oneself for the most part, there will be loads of gossip. A short walk to the nearest gas station is probably at least a couple of miles, so you'd better hope nothing keeps you from driving for a while.

On the flip side, it's pretty quiet, even if you do have uncharacteristically noisy neighbors. There's nobody to ask (or care) if you decide you want to put up a barn or keep some chickens or probably even add a couple of rooms to your house. And when you really need it, chances are at least a couple of those gossips will help out if you're temporarily injured or fall ill. Probably. And these days, your neighbors will probably understand the whole "works online" thing. There's a good chance they voted for the electric coop to run fiber in part to bring in some new people and outside money.
posted by wierdo at 4:44 PM on December 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


People don't realize what a big state Michigan is. From Detroit to Houghton is like nine hours' drive, only slightly less than the drive to NYC.

And that's assuming the weather cooperates. And that's only late fall.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 6:04 PM on December 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


What am I not seeing? I have a lot of snarky answers to why people might want to live in these areas, but what are the real answers?

It's because people who didn't grow up in small towns don't know what a "small town" is. Their idea of a small town is: you have all the same amenities as a big city (social services, entertainment, restaurants, Whole Foods, etc.), but your yard is bigger, everything costs less, you still have your job and it pays the same, your neighbours are your buddies and you have a Pumpkin Festival every year where people from "all over" get together and swap home-made switchel.
posted by turbid dahlia at 6:17 PM on December 1, 2019 [9 favorites]


And that's assuming the weather cooperates.

Great video. The kind of thing that really speaks to the soul--from the shore!!!
posted by praemunire at 9:25 PM on December 1, 2019


It's because people who didn't grow up in small towns don't know what a "small town" is.

Because "small town" can mean a lot of things. I live "Up North" by most Michigan standards. I'm north of US-10 and most people would consider my town a small town. My job pays comparable to those closer to Detroit, my cost of living is ridiculously low (my car insurance plummeted when we moved from a city to my current town) and I am friends with my neighbors. When we built our fire pit the inspector knew us and gave us our permit based on photos on our phone. I vote across the street and know all my poll workers. I'm not close to a Whole Foods but I don't really care. I have access to vegetables and fruits through my farm coop in the summer and, believe it or not, food is sold in other stores. As opposed to the food deserts present in Detroit. I get to shop at a lot of small businesses downtown owned by people I live near. We have a center for the arts with a science museum that gets national exhibits, a world class garden and restaurants all nearby. We don't have a pumpkin festival but we do have a little neighborhood party and my neighbor makes pumpkin rolls for all of us near the holidays so maybe that counts.

I like my small town, thanks.
posted by MaritaCov at 10:02 PM on December 1, 2019 [10 favorites]




(Thank you for the help, MeFi friends)
posted by doctornemo at 6:47 AM on December 2, 2019


These articles spoke to me.
I lived in Michigan from 1980-1995. SE Michigan, but traveled all over the state.
From 2002-2019 we lived in another state (Vermont), in a very rural spot therein.

This is a deep problem.
As you can see from some (but definitely not all) posters here, there's a deep human love for the countryside. Yet most rural areas are steadily declining: losing money; losing population. And for some that decline is actually appealing, if you want to step away from the rat race/full bore capitalism and don't want to be surrounded by so many people. Rural populations are aging up, which can be a boon for some, and a problem for others. They tend to be more involved with the military (per capita), as that VFW piece illustrates, which, again, is a good thing for some, and not for others. And it's cheaper to live there.

The stories in these articles point to decline and opportunity in the margins. I fear that's where rural locales are headed.
posted by doctornemo at 6:57 AM on December 2, 2019


A dollar store targeted a small town in northern Michigan. They didn't know that the town would fight back. (fifth in the series)

I was curious about the six states where Dollar General has no stores, as mentioned in the article. According to this 2018 article, "the only states Dollar General is not in are Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Washington and Wyoming." I can see how supply-chain issues might disrupt their business model in Alaska and Hawaii but I'm surprised they've skipped so much of the northwest. (Here's a previously from 2018 on Dollar General's rural presence: Dollar General: not so much as an opportunity as a diagnosis for towns)
posted by Not A Thing at 9:37 AM on December 2, 2019


I'm impressed by how well Carlisle manages to capture the diversity* of rural experience, even as he develops his unifying narrative. The tiny dying mining towns with only a few dying embers of economic activity, the bigger centers (still tiny by most Mefite standards) that have enough going on to support a VFW post (or even a homeless shelter), the tourist towns that survive by trading on their own "quaintness" -- lives lived in these places are all at least as different from each other as they are from city/suburban/exurban lives.

*for certain values of diversity. Most notably, as mentioned above, the rural Native experience that plays out across this same landscape differs in many respects from the particular set of rural white experiences Carlisle is focusing on in this series.
posted by Not A Thing at 9:39 AM on December 2, 2019 [1 favorite]


because rural living is bad

And if you move to the city, you get to interact with these wonderful people.
posted by banshee at 9:46 AM on December 2, 2019


Can we please knock it off with the “rural life is awful and only people with unrealistic fantasie would ever leave the city for the countryside”?

Thanks
posted by mkuhnell at 3:22 PM on December 2, 2019 [4 favorites]


what makes people wish they lived in a small town or rural area instead of being in a city. What am I not seeing?

i lived in philadelphia for 12 years. moved back to MI 5 years ago. the city was: too loud, too bright, too polluted, too angry, too expensive, too crowded. my mental health improved significantly when i moved back here. i'm not "rural" by any real definition, as i live near kzoo, but still. my life is soooo much better now.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 7:53 AM on December 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


i lived in benzie county michigan (northern lower michigan) for about a year. i spent a lot more in gas, that's for sure, and grocery store prices were on par with city prices just because of the distance i think, and there were some "rednecks," but most people were very kind and welcoming. i just love michigan.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 8:03 AM on December 3, 2019


The other thing people don't talk about is how you come to feel deeply at home in a landscape. When I'm in the Midwest, hearing the buzz of the insects, feeling the humidity, smelling the lake air, and seeing the fields roll over the flat hills, I almost want to move back from California.

I want to learn where all the progressive centers are. Even in the corner that I know best, there's a small town with a local foods movement and brewery. That's only 45 minutes away (very short by that region's standards!) from where my parents have relocated. Did I get lucky or are there a bunch?
posted by slidell at 12:42 AM on December 4, 2019


Did I get lucky or are there a bunch?

Such places are not all that uncommon, at least in the parts of the Northeast and Midwest I'm familiar with. It depends to some extent on one's definition of "progressive," but there are more genuinely radical folks in rural areas than one might initially suppose. At any rate, places with local foods movements and breweries shouldn't be too hard to find these days. (Indeed, to bring this back around to northern Michigan, someone looking for this sort of thing will likely be well-served by at least the Keweenaw and Marquette areas of the Upper Peninsula; no visit to Hancock MI is complete without a stop by the Keweenaw Co-Op.) Any given place can go either way, but college towns and county seats would be plausible places to start looking.
posted by Not A Thing at 9:37 AM on December 4, 2019


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