Reflections of a rural refugee

By Brian Ochsner I just got back into town Tuesday night, after spending an additional two days in the western Kansas community where I grew up, due to the blizzard. It was pretty good – two more days of home-cooked food, catching up on rest, and additional exercise on spur-of-the-moment cattle drives. It was also a good opportunity to clear my head and reflect on the differences between rural and big city living.

The biggest differences I notice are the slower pace of life, and more down-to-earth, people with common sense. That’s the biggest reason I was so ready for Thanksgiving this year. I had talked with too many people in Denver with little to no common sense and an equally low work ethic or willingness to help. That’s one advantage of dealing with cattle instead of people, as in the following scene from last weekend:

During one of the cattle drives, I got a little frustrated with one of the cows that didn’t want to go with the rest of the herd. As a result, I used my dad’s V-10 Dodge pickup to give her some "encouragement" to join her friends. Didn’t hurt the cow at all, though it did break the grill on the front of the Dodge.

Before you animal-rights people fire off nasty emails to me, let’s see you try and run cattle for several hours over several miles and not have the same reaction. I’m usually a patient person, and I don’t hit other people – I’d only do this to cattle. It was frustrating at times, but being outdoors in the fresh air with less-than-cooperative cattle was a nice change of pace.

However, small town life isn’t totally idyllic. Retail businesses such as the dress shop, menswear store, and the local lumberyard have closed up. A few farmers in my hometown have sold out because of the recent drought, plus massive increases in the cost of fuel and fertilizer. Buying newer, more expensive equipment didn’t help either.

It’s a melancholy reminder that changing business trends affect everyone in urban and rural areas. You have to be an excellent business manager and pay attention to these unyielding trends – or ignore them at your own peril. I’ve thought about moving back to Kansas for a slower, saner pace of life. However, the dwindling and aging rural population makes me wonder what life will be like – and how many folks will be around in these towns – in the next 10-20 years.

Even with these downsides, I highly recommend vacationing or spending time in a rural area. There aren’t a lot of things to do, which isn’t bad. It gives you time to relax, reflect on things, and get some perspective on life that you won’t get running helter-skelter from one appointment to another.

In my humble opinion, that’s what more Americans need more than ever. Give it a try.