“Why should we care if rural communities live or die?” Kate Oland asked recently.
I do care about what happens to rural communities, but I find that when I think about the life and death cycles of these human settlements nestled between mountains or in valleys, or speckled on the side of the ocean, out in the rural landscape, I think of those time-lapse videos of clouds you see sometimes, where the clouds gather, recede, tumble and spin in sped-up motion. Come, and go.
In my imagination, it’s like I can see us from above – groups of humans gathering, perhaps like ants, in one place, building houses and creating a town or a farm and going about our business, then quickly, one by one, leaving, and gathering elsewhere. This pattern repeats itself over and over, across continents. There is a rhythm to it.
From this view, a small town or a rural community’s changes over time feel natural to me, they feel OK. They feel part of a greater whole, an organic whole. This or that small town might be shrinking, but all things come to an end. This is normal. This is natural. Just like a garden in the fall succumbs to frost.
BUT. I slow the video down, back to normal. I bring the perspective in close, no longer looking down from above. I remember that I am here. I live here, spend my breaths here, wake up in the morning here, go to sleep with my lover here, listen to the wind here. I know this landscape and I love it. I want to continue to live here.
And I am a citizen of a country, of a province, and of a county, and my life and my voice are just as valuable as those who live in the cities within these same jurisdictions. Right? I mean, why would one human being’s needs be more important than another’s?
But, not really, because although there are many rural dwellers still, the rural communities are hurting. Resources are cut. Policies are made to reflect other realities, not this one. People leave. They feel alone, they feel the pinch of gas prices, the loss of their friends to other places, and they leave.
Part of the beauty of rural is the quiet, the lack of humans. This is a big part of why I love it, certainly. But humans need each other, and if too many leave, the rest will too.
Today’s blog post is part of a project called the “Atlantic Regional Panel,” which is part of the national Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council’s project Imagining Canada’s Future.
What is it? It’s a national effort by academics and the rest of us, which is “focused on identifying the social science and humanities knowledge and capacity needs for addressing emerging and complex challenges facing Canada in the coming 20 years.”
In other words, the social science academic community wants to know what the issues are going to be in the next twenty years, and what they can to do help, what research they can do. So they approached me as part of eight bloggers across the Maritimes to contribute posts, to help reach people beyond the academic community. That means you – as a reader of this blog – are now part of this project, and you can contribute ideas by filling out a questionnaire. The topic they assigned me to write about was “rurality”.
When I stop and think about “rurality”, and start to prepare thoughts, my instinct is to start by identifying the issues. You know, draw up a list of the usual suspects, like long distances between services, and depopulation.
But, I would humbly suggest that we move beyond identifying the issues – having group talks, workshops, think tanks. We KNOW the issues. We could sit, and talk about them, from now to eternity.
It is time to do something about them. And the doing has to come from all levels. From me personally, and you personally, to families, then to businesses, to community groups, to governments (if they can).
The problem facing us is twofold:
1. those in power don’t (seem to) care all that much about the rural areas, not the way we who live here do. They simply don’t know. It’s not on their priority list, they have other priorities. This may always be the case.
2. those in power only have a certain, relatively small, amount of power, and no-one actually has power over things like oil, history, and the movement of people to where the resources are. These things are beyond human control. (but, we individually have some control over how we react to them.)
I think people in our rural communities can easily get overwhelmed by the question “So what do we DO about this?” We want a solution. We want to know what the plan of action is. But there isn’t a simple plan of action to be had.
Back to Kate: “We need the wisdom of those who live cheek by jowl with the land and who have learned humility in the process. We need the monk agriculturalists and other small farmers whose daily toil is a testament to innovation and creative thinking. We need a backup plan in case the technocrats fail us, and in case alternatives to cheap energy are slow in coming. The surest route to survival in an ecosystem is via biodiversity.”
In other words, don’t just try one solution. Try all the ones you can.
And if you were keeping your voice quiet, maybe now is the time to raise it.
I for one am waiting to hear from you. And so is the Atlantic Regional Panel.
Offer your thoughts on rurality and other important challenges and opportunities facing Atlantic Canada at : http://atlanticregionalpanel.wordpress.com/questionnaire/