Grow up, dig in, and take root


Outside magazine recently picked six or seven towns - mostly in the West - as great places to live. But those seduced into pulling up stakes by the glossy photos and idyllic promises in July's cover story should first consider a few facts.

Here are three days' worth of headlines from the Spokesman-Review, the newspaper of record in Spokane, Wash., one of Outside's dream towns: June 25: "Meth use sparks crime wave." June 26: "House near Manito sprayed with bullets." June 27: "Police call targeted teen Crips member."

Outside never mentions the Crips and the Bloods creeping into Spokane from California with their gifts of crack, pit bulls and guns. Guaranteed these boys aren't up here for the "76 lakes within a 50-mile radius' or the nearby "Class III-IV whitewater."

Nor does it mention the murder of 7-year-old Rachel Carver by her uncle, who was awaiting arraignment on sex assault charges; the porno bars, rent-by-the-hour motels and prostitutes that line the storefronts of East Sprague Street; or the time a 16-year-old boy emptied a sawed-off shotgun into a car with two occupants outside a Taco Bell while his friend shouted, "Shoot someone!'

As for Idaho Falls, Idaho - another Outside pick - we never hear about the 260 tons of highly radioactive waste stored nearby. But the magazine does mention that you can get a latté and hear live music.

In short, Outside's dream towns aren't the Edens the magazine would have us believe. For those who quote Outside like a new-age bible, they would be well advised that if they pull up roots in San San, Costa Vallejo Mesa Cul-de-Sac, or whatever community they flee, they better be prepared to roll up their sleeves and make their new dream town a better place to live - not just a place to dump their gear between river trips and power biking.

The entire premise of choosing one town over another is silly, and when it is done in hurried, sound-bite journalism, it becomes irresponsible.

Outside tells us how to get there, but not how to stay.

Never is there a mention of local politics or community issues. Not one line of type urging us to volunteer at a nursing home or to talk to the oldest resident in town. The magazine neglects to tell us there is history and value within the stories told at kitchen tables, bars and cafes, and a past etched in the bleached gravestones that look down on the houses from the nearby hillsides in Montana and Idaho towns like Bonner, Grangeville, Salmon and St. Ignatius.

Outside never says, "Approach slowly with humility and respect. Treat older residents with the dignity they deserve. Learn some history. Don't tell anybody what to do for at least five years. Leave your jet skis at home. Turn your stereos off. Volunteer for everything."

Instead of quoting the average price of a home in these "dream towns," shouldn't magazine writers beg us to stay put, extend our roots deeper, learn the native birds and plants and customs of our own communities, mark our territory, make our own coffee, plant lilacs, build porches, and step lightly? No longer is there any greener grass. There is only less of it. The problems of Moab, Utah, are now the same problems of Moscow, Idaho; Pasco, Wash.; and every other town of the West.

No matter what Outside promotes, the "cut and run" lifestyle of the modern 20th century is no longer an option. We need people to make a long-term commitment to stay through the best and the worst the West has to offer as we confront the challenges ahead. It may mean fewer trips to the mountains and more nights after work attending meetings. It will mean more volunteerism and expending more emotional energy. It will not be easy.

But as the years pass we may also find we already live in a dream town, and it is called home.

Stephen Lyons lives and writes in Moscow, Idaho.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

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