Blog Post: October 4, 2020

      Nation's Soul Part 1: Migraton to Rural America by Joseph Rollins

      As I sit here, finally starting to write this sweeping blog series I have been thinking about for so long, I really have no idea where to start. My heart has been wracked by pain and shame and anger and anxiety for a lot of years now; the explanation why is complicated. I suppose the only place to start is at the beginning.
      I moved my family from Phoenix to Northern Arizona in the summer of 2010. Before Phoenix, I lived in California since junior high. I was a proud California Democrat with a shiny new college degree that was useless by the time I graduated in 2008. My wife and I have struggled a lot to get to where we are today - she is a clinical psychologist with a successful practice in Prescott, Arizona. My first novel was just published by an actually legit publishing house. Our family farm is still struggling through financial highs and lows, but has been a gratifying endeavor.
      For those not familiar with the Prescott region, I will recap. Our county is semi-rural, with two hundred thousand residents spread out over an area the size of New Jersey. We sport both mountains and wide valleys on the edge of Colorado Plateau. Our homestead is a mile high in a broad valley with annual rainfall under twenty inches. We irrigate everything we grow with well-water. The average low is twenty-five degrees November through March. We have a puddle-jumper airport and are a two-hour drive, over a hundred miles, from the closest big city. Our region is large enough to have two hospitals within a thirty minute drive, plus a large veteran’s hospital. We have only one grocery store close to out home, but there are both a Sprouts and Trader Joe’s within a thirty minute drive. It typically snows a couple of inches a couple times a year here.
      The population is primarily Caucasian, with significant Latino and Native American populations. Black and Asian American communities are virtually nonexistent. Most people are conservative Christians and republicans who are not shy about knocking on your front door and encouraging you to visit their church.
      People here own many firearms and proudly wear them around town, as Arizona has some of the loosest gun control laws in the nation. There is very little violent crime in our area, a statistic that locals point to as a bi-product of exercising their second amendment rights, rather than the ridiculously low population density. Unplanned ‘crimes of passion’ involving people who, for example, walk in on a lover in bed with a friend do happen here on a regular basis; people do get shot and killed.
      Confederate flags and back-the-blue flags in the backs of pick ups are normal. The Prescott city council recently announced a plan to build a bronze statue in the town square honoring the fallen law enforcement officers of Yavapai County.
      This is Trump Country - over seventy percent of our county voted for him in 2016.
      It being Arizona, there is a disproportionate amount of seniors and retirees in the area, hence the three hospitals, plethora of retirement homes, health care workers, and restaurants. Schools and public services are grossly underfunded. Local governments instead choose to spend an exorbitant amount of money funding construction projects. New roads and round-abouts and gigantic water-treatment facilities. During the Red-For-Ed movement, Arizona teachers walked out by the thousands. While the state is still arguing about replacing old textbooks and raising educators’ salaries to pre-Great Recession levels, the local school district installed security fencing and bullet-proof glass in all the schools to deter mass shootings. Later, they decided it was not feasible to close the security gates on school days, so they are left open, and therefore are useless.
      If you are a city dweller, liberal or progressive person, you are probably scratching your head at this point and asking why would a kid from California willingly move his family to this place. Simple: because there is no traffic. The air is clean and crisp and the well water coming out of the tap tastes delicious. At night, we can see the entire milky way galaxy from our front porch. Outdoor sports, hiking, boating, and camping are top-notch with thousands of acres of national forest at our fingertips. The cost of living is low; we bought our large house on two acres for a fraction of what my brother paid for his D.C. apartment. Currently our property has a vegetable garden the size of a basketball court, 400 grape vines, 25 fruit trees, a dog, 2 cats, 6 chickens, 4 ducks, and a partridge in a pear tree.
      We originally found our way here because my wife’s father lived here. It did take a couple of rough years before we were folded into the community. Since then, our kids have excelled in the schools. I coached my son’s Little League team from t-ball through All Stars. My wife is a regular participant and organizer within the running and mental health communities. People are kind to each other on the roads, in the stores, and in public in general. The person whose parking spot you steal might be your kids friends mom. The guy who cut in line at the grocery store may be your dentist. Most of our friends are Christians and republicans; they are hard working, hard loving, and hard drinking. They are sports and outdoor enthusiasts. We have learned to either not discuss politics and religion, or discuss with strong boundaries.
      We have found compromises that the left and the right should have forged a long time ago. Unemployment and government entitlements should never cross the line where people are motivated not to work and save. This includes corporate welfare and handouts to big businesses. Personal freedoms are as important as the welfare of the community and vice versa. Farmers and ranchers are incredibly concerned with the environment, albeit on a much more pragmatic level than urban environmentalists, especially small business owners responsible for caring for their own land. If they poison the soil or run out of water, they’re screwed. Forests must be managed, including clearing fuel for wildfires and managing animal populations.
      For my part, my wife and I have changed many minds. If personal freedoms are important, then people deserve the right to make mistakes like abuse drugs or have consenting sex with whomever they choose. Everyone has the right to their own spiritual path. Churches and non-profits are not enough to handle the sheer volume of financial help people need sometimes. If I concede responsible gun ownership is our right and necessary for ranchers and farmers, then lets define what it means to be responsible and own a gun. Drug addicts and elderly veterans with motor skill issues should not be carrying weapons. Single mothers are always the heroes of the story and never the villain.

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