This is a neat story. Last year, Christopher Ingraham, a Washington Post reporter who writes stories based on what he finds mining data sets, did a piece on the best places to live. According to the data he was using, the worst place in America was rural Red Lake County, Minn.
When he called it that in the paper, people in Red Lake County were upset — but very polite about it! Someone invited him out to visit, and Ingraham went. It turns out that Red Lake County is a beautiful place to live. He liked it a lot. And then he got to thinking:
My wife Briana and I have twin sons who are now two years old. Being from small upstate New York towns ourselves, we began talking of raising them — at least for a time, before they start school — out in the country. Somewhere with a little more space than our 900-square-foot Baltimore County rowhouse which, while a lovely place for a couple to live, was starting to chafe against the energy and enthusiasm of a pair of raucous boys.
Life along the I-95 corridor was starting to lose its charm too. I commute in to D.C. most days. A one-way trip, involving car, train, metro and a walk takes about 90 minutes on a good day. I count myself among that woebegone 2.62 percent of workers who spend 15 hours or more each week stuck in traffic, shivering on subway platforms, and otherwise squandering a huge chunk of their waking hours on one of their most-hated activities.
For me, a 15-hour commute meant a lot of things. It meant going on blood pressure medication at the age of 34 because there’s no time to exercise. It meant getting to see the kids for maybe 30 minutes on a good night, at the end of the day when we’re all tired and ornery. It meant missed opportunities to read, write and think, because it’s hard to do justice of any of those things in the calm intervals of a commute involving four modes of transit.
Yep, they’re moving to Red Lake County. I hope he has a chance to read The Little Way of Ruthie Leming — I bet the Ingrahams find in Red Lake County a lot of what we found here in West Feliciana Parish.
Ingraham can do this because, like me, he works online — and because, like me, he has an employer generous enough to let him work far outside the office. He understands how privileged he is in this respect:
When I get to Red Lake County this spring, I’ll still be doing what I do now — writing on data — just remotely. The most important tools of my trade, after all, are a phone line and a good Internet connection. You can download arcane government datasets — like that natural amenities index — just as well from Minnesota as from D.C.
That fact that I’m incredibly fortunate to be in this position isn’t lost on me. Many of my fellow commuters on that train — the doctors and construction workers and the retail managers — don’t have the luxury of doing their work from anywhere. For the time being, at least, they’re forced to make an all-too familiar trade-off.
I know just what he means. I never imagined that there would be a time in my life in which I would enjoy living a quieter life in the country, but every time I go back to a big city on business, I realize how much happier I am living where the air is clean and life is calmer. As I type this, I’m looking out the kitchen window at the chickens in the back yard, and, well, I love that. Funny how things change.
If you have the kind of job that you can do online, I encourage you to think seriously about relocating to a small town. (Hey, if you’re an Orthodox Christian, consider relocating here to West Fel; we need more voices in our choir!) For me, the things that I loved so much about a big city, but didn’t have when I was growing up in a small town — access to bookstores and movies — are now available here thanks to the Internet. There are other great things here that you can’t get in the big city, or over the Internet. It’s not an answer for everybody, but if you are like Christopher Ingraham, and have the liberty to move, and are worn down by the stresses of city life, why not think seriously about it?
I would like to invite readers who have made the small-town move to talk about their experiences, both good and bad. Would you recommend it? What would you do differently? What do you know now that you wish you had known then? And: why should exhausted city or suburban dwellers think about moving to your small town or rural county? Answer seriously — you’d be surprised how many people read this blog. Somebody might just take you up on it.