Well, I was born in a small town. And before you rip me for ripping Mellencamp, know that I wasn’t even thinking of him when I had the idea for this post. But digging even deeper, were you yourself born in a small town? Or did you grow up in a small town? Because if you did, you’ll understand at a visceral level what it means to stand in the middle of the street at dusk, with the air so still you can hear wind in the trees a block away. If you close your eyes and pull those memories forward hard enough, you’ll remember the evening scent hanging in the air from the landscape around you. If you are old enough to have forgotten, one deep breath will recall to you the aroma was of the trees on your block, or the milkweed and reeds bordering the bank of the culvert near your friends’ house, or the gravel road leading up to your neighborhood from the blacktop, littered with crushed acorns fallen from the spreading arms of oaks.
And the quiet. Those evenings when everyone was inside starting, eating or finishing dinner, when maybe you were the only one out because you had to take out the trash, or walk your dog, or do something before it got dark. You were there to see the sky filled with light from an unseen source, the mighty Sun having already dipped behind a horizon edged with a haze that made its light diffuse on the atmospheric canvas. There were no street lights or neon signs or tall buildings polka-dotted with office lights to wash out the view. Just the sky, and the quiet so deep that it pulled you into the road where you could see the splendor, knowing no cars were coming or would come for the long minutes that you wanted to spend, the adult looking at the same sky that was there as a child, in your small town.
I know, it looks like suburbia. A march of tract homes in a developer-inspired meander intended to lend the appearance of non-conformity. An illusion, if you will. But the real illusion is that it is all orderly and tame. Wild turkeys cross the roads moving from the riparian stream to the woodlands. Pumas prowl the hills within a half mile of the perimeter. Feral pigs have been known to bolt from the underbrush. But the telling part is that each of these tidy little homes is its own lifeboat, a collection in a community where the rising moon means that whatever shops and businesses that might be a source of provision are miles and miles away. No commerce means no traffic except for the people you know coming home to park their cars and go inside for the night, leaving the night to gather around the familiar scent, and the silence to deepen, on the streets of this small town.