A few years ago my husband and I got hooked on this reality television series that revolved around people surviving in the wilderness. In the show, each contestant was dropped off in an isolated, remote area and tasked with surviving in nature for as long as they could. The contestant who lived off the land for the longest would win.
Some thrived in the wilderness, and some, like this one guy in particular (I’ll call him Joe, because I don’t remember his name), really struggled. In one scene, Joe’s sitting on a rotting stump and looking around at these towering, moss-covered trees. There’s no sky visible because of all the foliage, but everythings dripping as though it’s raining somewhere above. Joe laments: “Everything here is rotting! It’s driving me mad. This whole place is rotting from the inside out.”
Other contestants on the show saw opportunity in that same drippy, misty forest, but Joe saw a mass of rotting plant matter. This made me think about how we can each experience the same setting in drastically different ways.
I think this is very true for small towns. It’s possible to experience a small town as sleepy, claustrophobic, and dull; a person intent on seeing the negative might focus on the lack of jobs, opportunities, peers, or entertainment. This is like Joe, sitting on that stump and saying that the forest around him is rotting.
In my writing, I try to take the opposite perspective. I write about the good things that come with living in a small town. And there are plenty! I’ve lived in small towns for most of my life. I grew up in a village in southern Vermont. After spending a couple years immersed in the hustle and bustle of Boston and then Burlington, I moved back to a small town when I relocated to Colorado. I appreciate so much about country living, which makes it easy and enjoyable to cast rural settings in a positive light. Here are three aspects of small-town life that I love.
Part of the charm of small town settings, in my experience, has to do with the way the environment can encourage “unplugging” from technology and appreciating nature. Some of the cabins and cottages in a small-town, country setting may be rough around the edges and only cover the basic necessities. The town infrastructure might not support the latest tech, either.
In my Midlife Medicine series the main character, Grace Littleton, has a history working as a traveling nurse. She’s used to relocating for work, so when she moves into a little rental cabin on a lake in her new home of Covenstead, Vermont, she goes through the usual routine of unpacking her television and plugging it in. This immediately blows the circuit and she realizes pretty quickly that the cabin doesn’t have enough electrical juice to power her basic appliances and her television. So, she repacks her tv for the sake of her morning toast and coffee. She then discovers that there’s no internet or cell service at the cabin, or even in the village center, for that matter. And, finally, she learns that she enjoys life without a tv, computer, or cellphone. Imagine that!
I’ve loved writing about her evenings out on the front porch of her cabin, just watching the ripples on the surface of the lake. She likes to listen to the birds as she’s eating breakfast, and go to bed early with a good book. Instead of watching tv, she goes out to the yard and throws sticks for her dog for entertainment, or paddles around the lake in her canoe. Instead of texting her friends, she’ll stop by for a visit. Of course, the chat usually involves coffee, maybe some blueberry pie, and a hug as they part ways. You can’t get that in a text!
One of my favorite memories from my childhood is of a Christmas party that took place at the local volunteer fire department. The whole town was invited. The upstairs of the fire station was done up with lights and plenty of evergreen. A Santa-suit wearing firefighter entertained the kiddos, and I can still picture the tray of Jello squares that looked, to me, like stacks of emeralds and rubies.
Another favorite memory is of the town’s autumn festival, where you could walk from one booth to another and sample everything from caramel covered apples to apple pie to hot apple cider. The leaves on the trees were yellow, orange, and gold, and a band played in a gazebo.
In a small town, it’s not possible to pick and choose when it comes to events and entertainment. The options are very limited, and that can actually be a good thing. Instead of a movie theater, the town might have a local drama group that puts on plays once or twice a year. Or, some towns have talent shows. A local string quartet might play live music in the park on a summer evening. In my years of living in country settings, I’ve seen all this! I enjoy writing about the events that bring communities together and offer entertainment at the same time.
In a small town most folks know one another. This can make it difficult to make an efficient run to the grocery store. It’s nearly impossible to gather all the needed items without running into a neighbor and therefore talking for a good twenty minutes.
In one small town I lived in, it was a known fact that you could get to your destination twice as fast if you took a back alley rather than the main roads. In the back alley, you might get away with only running into one or two acquaintances, while on a more traveled street you’d get caught up in discussions with half a dozen friends, coworkers, or neighbors.
When you know all your neighbors, your business is everyone’s business, and the gossip network is most likely alive and well! I like to write about the bright side of this. In my Midlife Medicine series, Grace is a very quiet person who enjoys her alone time. However, she also learns to love the sense of belonging that comes with living and working in close partnership with her fellow villagers. She has a specific role in the community, and that gives her purpose.
In my books, have I romanticized small-town life? Yes! Definitely. I am absolutely aware of the draw-backs of living in a tiny, close-knit community. It can be tough. There are things to complain about. There may be reasons to want to leave. At the same time, there’s so much to love. I’ve enjoyed bringing out those positives in the stories that I write.
I’d love to hear from you. Do you enjoy reading stories set in small towns? What’s the one thing you like most about country settings? Drop a comment below to share your thoughts. Can’t wait to hear from you!
Amorette Anderson writes warm-hearted cozy mysteries that star witchy characters. She lives in Colorado with her husband and furbabies, pups Marley and Teddy. When she’s not writing or reading she’s dreaming up ways to make life a little more magical.