The following op-ed piece was published in the Daily Eagle & Advertiser on March 14, late in the year before Ralph met Rosemary and Adam. It was entitled “The Traditionalism of Rural Life” and carried the by-line of Ralph Deigh.
One of the truly remarkable aspects of contemporary rural life and something that may not be evident to those not familiar with it is its remarkable ‘conservatism’; which is to say its unthinking traditionalism. To be rural in the modern world is too often to be a traditionalist far more oriented to the past than to future or present; to wish to turn back the clock to right after World War II, 1948 or 1950, perhaps, or earlier to the 1920s or the nineteenth century. In its most extreme forms, such traditionalism seeks to unspool history back to the middle ages when everyone other than powerful, old white men ‘knew their place’ and those men were willing to enforce their domination by all means necessary.
The late W.F. Buckley might as well have been speaking for rural traditionalists everywhere when he coined that remarkable image of a titan standing astride history yelling “Halt!” (Note: Buckley actually said “A conservative is a fellow who is standing athwart history yelling ‘Stop!’) Even so, the remarkable idiocy of the comment and the ‘conservative’ obsession with slowing, stopping or even ending history, is evident. The signature quality of contemporary rural life is the threadbare fancy that social change in all its manifest dimensions could possibly be turned on and off like a spigot, and that, all things considered, the preference would be to turn the spigot of time off. Rural traditionalists generally wish to turn back the clock to some past golden age when, it is believed, life was somehow less complex, multifaceted, and more fulfilling. Such an image is ridiculous to anyone who examines it closely. Life in the past may have been simpler, but it was also riddled with inconvenience, disease, personal threats of violence, shorter life spans and premature death and none of the signature advantages of affluence, education and a knowledge economy. Refrigeration, indoor plumbing and central heating deserve to be noted among the greatest achievements of the human species.
To the typical urbanite, rural traditionalism may appear to be all pervasive. In the U.S. alone it is tempting to see 3,000 counties of rural openness, ignorance, vacuousness. These are the images conjured up by things like the bumper sticker proclaiming “If you hear banjo music, don’t stop paddling.” Yet, everywhere one looks throughout the remaining rural precincts in this vast land, one is likely also to encounter another, possibly a minority and definitely quieter, rural voices which say just as forcefully as any traditionalist:
Yes, we wish to live rural. We understand the virtues of small scale, enduring close relations with people beyond family, and we love the broad intimacy of our small communities, and the closeness to nature and to our neighbors, but we are also modern, educated intelligent people, tolerant of differences, invigorated by complexity and diversity, and most of all, open the the opportunities, challenges, and even the threats of change. We do not want to move to the city to find our preferred way of life. We wish to find such things living in our farms, villages, small towns and in the countryside.
I speak not here of the development grifters, the real estate con men, the chamber of commerce carnival barkers, who equate progress and change with increasing their own wealth. I speak instead of those voices who spoke up — and continue to speak — for the end of segregation in the rural south, for those progressive locavores defending ‘the family farm’ and sustainable agriculture, for all those who contested strip mining, mountaintop removal, pipelines through sacred lands and all of the assorted desecrations of nature committed in the name of a false and empty ‘progress’.
It is to their memory, but more importantly to their futures, that the community of Eden is dedicated and it is because of them that the future of Eden looks so bright. It truly is a beacon shining on a hill.
As Adam Sennett read this he couldn’t quite believe what he was reading. The piece had been commissioned (encouraged, really) by Daniel Messinger, who had first heard about Ralph Deigh and his housing models on display out at a new business named The Doll House shortly after he came back to work at the D. E. & A. Although they did not yet know Rosemary, Adam, Ralph, Lil. . . or Amy, the article also piqued the interest of Daniel’s friends, Art and Gloria Payne, and Gloria’ sister, Joy Reasoner Hart.