Love Where You Live

Yesterday morning we attended a breakfast in Danville, featuring an inspiring talk by Peter Kageyama.

Relatively few people would call Danville a great place to live. The unemployment and crime rates are high, while median income and education levels are low. The industries that once sustained the city–textiles and tobacco–are gone. Thanks in part to “brain drain,” the city’s population has been declining for half a century.

But over the past few years especially, we’ve seen a bit of a rebound. There are young people choosing to stay here (they’ve even formed a group they call “Danville by Choice”). Some of the long-abandoned warehouses are being turned into apartments. People are discovering the beauty of the Dan River, long treated as nothing more than an industrial resource. Danville has certainly not turned into Asheville, but there are signs of life now and good reason for hope.

Into this atmosphere Mr. Kageyama spoke, sharing stories of how other cities have revitalized and improved themselves, often through inexpensive citizen-led initiatives. His message is that while it’s OK to dislike things about where we live, we ought also to embrace and enjoy the many reasons to love where we live. (You can view his TED Talk HERE).

I enjoyed the talk and I hope Danvillians take it to heart. I’d love to see Danville reverse its decline and become a better place to live and visit.

For me Danville is “town.” It is vaguely associated with “home,” but it is still city, and I’m country. I don’t feel drawn and attached to it, as I am to this farm and our rural community. Honestly, I think too many people live in cities, unsustainably. The best thing a lot of people in Danville (and most other cities) could do to make it a better place is leave it–not for another city, but for a more rural, sustainable and ecologically-sensible lifestyle. But for all of human history it seems that many of us have been attracted to urban living, in close quarters with lots of other people and more separated from the rest of the natural world. I don’t get that, but I’m in the minority and I suppose it’s a good thing that we don’t all think exactly alike.

As for me, I’m deeply rooted to this place. I have a profound love for the land–and this place especially–that is very difficult to describe and would likely seem weird to people who don’t know that feeling. This is, to borrow Wendell Berry’s words, “the place that is my place.”

So some of us probably have a love for place embedded in us like DNA. We don’t need to hear TED Talks to inspire us to love where we live. But there are many of us who grumble and complain about where we live, perhaps looking happily toward the day we can go live somewhere else (I’ve been in that boat too). In those circumstances it is good to remember that for everything we don’t like about where we live, there are probably dozens of things to love about it.

Just some rambling thoughts this morning. Now off to spend some time with the place I love…

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Final Score

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Mantis 1 Grasshopper 0

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Braconid Wasp 1 Hornworm 0

It can be a dangerous world out there.

Bees in the Garden

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Our purple hull pea garden hums with bees.

It’s a large garden and there seem to be bees on every plant.

We may not get many peas from it this year (the deer seem determined to prevent that), but no matter what, we have helped create a happy place for bees.

Postcript: Chris has pointed out that wasps aren’t technically bees (an interesting fact of which I had been unaware). So more accurately I should have said that the garden is buzzing with bees, wasps, hornets and the like. An amazing and beautiful diversity of creatures.

On Not Being a Birder

I heard recently that the average American can identify over 100 corporate logos, but only about ten plants. That’s a shame.

I suppose I have a pretty good working knowledge of the natural world. I can certainly identify a good deal more than ten plants. But by no means is my knowledge encyclopedic. I still have plenty to learn and I’m regularly reminded of my ignorance.

Take birds, for example. Despite being a nature lover, and despite being outside and in contact with birds every day, my ability to identify them is limited. I suppose that when it comes to birds, I’m probably smarter than the average bear. But at the same time, I’m deeply ignorant. To me, all little brown birds have always been chickadees, for example. While I admire birders, I’m not one of them.

But at least I’m not content to remain in my ignorance. I hope to never stop learning new things. And improving my knowledge of birds is one of the many things on my list.

Back to School

Even here in rural Virginia, school has been in session over a month. The kids return now in early August.

When I was growing up here we started school the day after Labor Day. And because children were needed to help on the farms, if the tobacco crop was delayed, the start of school would be delayed.

But those days are over. These days it’s rare to see families working their farms together. In fact, it’s been over 30 years since I’ve seen any field laborers who weren’t seasonal workers from Mexico. Children just don’t work on farms the way they used to. That traditional summertime job is almost entirely a thing of the past.

Few probably remember that the school year was designed around the agricultural season. Children weren’t excused from school in the summer so they could have a “summer vacation.” They were excused because they were needed to do farm work in the summer.

Of course I’d prefer that our agriculture here focus on something other than tobacco, which, although it is our heritage, fortunately has no future. But I’ll always treasure my memories of summers working in tobacco on my grandparents’ farm, with the rest of my large extended family.

These days the tobacco farmers grow a variety of tobacco that doesn’t have to be harvested by September. Most of my neighbors’ crops are still in the fields.

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And kids grow up never doing farm labor and never learning about farm life. We’ve outsourced those jobs.

Demographics

One of my nephews is getting married later this month, bringing to mind a couple of things. First, the preparations remind me of why Cherie and I chose to elope. It was over 27 years ago, and some folks are probably still a little mad about it. But it made a lot of sense to us, neither of us caring for all the fuss that goes into wedding planning.

The other thing the impending nuptials bring to mind is the demographic shift that is occurring these days, portending some very significant changes to our society I think.

My nephew and his bride-to-be are in their 30’s and haven’t been married before. They’ve been in a relationship for many years already and they don’t intend to have any children. There’s nothing unusual about that these days.

I was 27 when I got married, and that felt like getting married late in life. The norm in the community I grew up in was still to get married and start having children right out of high school.

The average age of first marriage in 1960 was 22. Today it is 29. And in nearly half (49.5%) of American households the head of household is unmarried (by comparison, in 1960 72% of American households were headed by married people). The times, they are a changing.

According to this article, the fact that fewer people are choosing to marry and that, if they do, they are choosing to marry at a later age is attributable to “simple math” (at least among college-educated women). There just aren’t enough men to go around.

In 2012, 34 percent more women than men graduated from American colleges, and the U.S. Department of Education expects this gap to reach 47 percent by 2023. The imbalance has spilled over into the post-college dating scene. According to data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, there are now 5.5 million college-educated women in the United States between the ages of 22 and 29 vs. 4.1 million such men. In other words, the dating pool for straight, millennial, college graduates has four women for every three men. No wonder some men are in no rush to settle down and more women are giving up on what used to be called “playing hard to get.”

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There are plenty of eligible men available across America. It’s just that there are more women among professional, college-educated adults. And that means professional women can either date plumbers and mechanics or they can compete with other professional women to seek the attention of guys with 100 other women available on phone apps, guys who might be willing to settle down only when they’re in their late 30s.

Don’t blame the technology; it’s widespread higher education that’s caused this to happen.

I didn’t realize the disparity between college-educated men and college-educated women had grown so large, but it doesn’t surprise me. I recall 15-20 years ago when I was involved in recruiting law school grads for my firm, that not only were there more women than men in the law school classes, but among the most desirable candidates (those with the best grades and the most accomplished) the disparity was even greater–considerably more women than men. According to a physician I spoke to, the same was true at medical schools.

Higher education empowers women, and the continued empowerment of women is the cure the world needs for much of what currently ails it. And as the percentage of our population that is highly-educated increasingly becomes dominated by women, we may be in store for a cultural paradigm shift that is probably way overdue.