from Rural Renaissance: Renewing the Quest for the Good Life
by Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature
Rural America, though in some broad sense in decline for a century, has seen several waves of back-to-the-landers people who have given up mainstream contemporary American culture for a return to a way of life variously imagined as simpler, more natural, more rooted in community. One bible for an earlier wave was Scott and Helen Nearing's The Good Life but there was something deeply Calvinist about their approach that probably discouraged as many prospects as it attracted. The hippies came next no Calvinism there at all, but in many cases not much know-how either. Some stuck, but the cultural focus swung back to the fast-lane life of city and suburb.
Now, a generation later, the new returnees to rural America are exemplified and will be inspired by Lisa Kivirist and John Ivanko. They caught the gold ring on the merry-go-round of 1990s prosperity ad execs in the big city, plenty of cash, small oceans of latte. But eventually they found it to be mere brass, deficient both in terms of their own satisfaction and in light of their dawning knowledge of the earths environmental plight. They began asking the questions that are in the back of many millions of minds: If we live in the middle of the greatest economy ever known, how come I'm not happier and the planet is going straight to hell, or at least a place of a similar temperature?
And so they began their return to a world that seemed more real and complete, in their case a farmstead in southern Wisconsin. But because they were neither angry at the world nor stoned, they were able to travel in some kind of real balance. They didn't feel the need to become completely self-sufficient in fact, they quickly figured out that one of the joys of rural life was finding all the other people who knew more than you did about something and would help you with it. (And who, in return, were interested in learning city lessons about coffee.) They invested serious time and money in alternative energy sources, but they tied their solar panels into the grid, instead of going it absolutely alone. They turned off the TV, but they kept their Internet connection. They encouraged their bed and breakfast guests to enjoy their organic vegetables, but they also realized American tourists were not going to share a bathroom down the hall.
They were, in a word, precisely the kind of "Cultural Creatives" that they hold out as the best hope for an American renaissance. Now, Cultural Creative is the kind of phrase that only an adman could love but there really does seem to be something happening with 40 or 50 million Americans who are educated and successful, but also out of tune with George Bush's America. They tend to be artistic, spiritual (but nondenominational), socially tolerant, interested in community, and concerned about the environment. They suspect, in other words, that the world they inhabit has more bottom lines than conventional wisdom would suggest. It's not that they want to be poor (or share a bathroom), but they don't put riches ahead of other items on their agendas. They suspect that some compromise is in order between money and time, between individualism and community, between personal convenience and protecting the planet. Most of all, they suspect that compromise is not the same as sacrifice; that in fact something like happiness lies down that middle path.
The real contribution of this book, and of Inn Serendipity, is to prove that, at least in the case of one family, those suspicions are correct. The descriptions of life at this bed and breakfast of the vegetable gardens and the community celebrations and the hens laying eggs are enough to make anyone wish to live such a life. And the frank acknowledgement of how little they knew going in is enough to convince anyone that, with a reasonable bank balance to get them started, such a life might truly be possible.
Those of us who have lived for a long time in the sticks value such newcomers, impressed by their energy and idealism. Especially when, like John and Lisa, they're wise enough to value their predecessors. A rural renaissance really might be in its early moments, as people start to rebuild the local institutions that would make beginning to disconnect from the global system a little easier.
An even more important test, however and one I suspect that the Cultural Creatives will find themselves in the middle of is whether this renaissance can spread to the suburbs and cities as well. It is only by changing the values and behaviors of people in those places that we will start to see real shifts in the ways our society uses resources and produces pollution. So Inn Serendipity need not be seen solely as a way station on the way to country living, a stop on the Underground Railroad smuggling old ad execs out of the rat race. It and this book should also be a refuge where people can spend a few hours or a few days, refreshing themselves for the job of subtly remaking their lives, no matter where they are going to live.
By definition, that is, serendipity can happen anywhere and anytime. Surely it has struck in these pages.
Order your copy of RURAL RENAISSANCE from Inn Serendipity (a PDF file order form) or purchase online via SquareUp.
Foreword | Introduction | Table of Contents | Reviews | About the Authors | Travel & Speaking |
Media Room | RRN Homepage