It has a lot of names. Those who appreciate it fancy it as the “Heartland”. Others denigrate as “flyover country.” Depending on your point of view, it is inhabited by “hicks” or the “salt of the earth”. It’s been called “Buffalo Commons”, “The Empty Quarter”, and “hell with the fire out”. Like all broad brush descriptions, there are nuggets of truth and shovelfuls of exaggerations in our conceptions of rural America. There are lots of blogs, both pro and anti, describing and commenting on rural life and foibles. This blog has a little different focus.
I am just a writer. I have been in love with science from at least the third grade when the Apollo 10 astronauts first orbited the Moon. I am also a product of small town life. I haven’t lived anywhere larger than about 150,000 people and really don’t have much desire to live anywhere larger than that. What has intrigued me during my writing career is how serious researchers have chosen to live and work in smaller communities and institutions, often at the cost of heavy teaching loads and reduced opportunities for funding. Despite the challenges they go on to long and distinguished careers.
This blog will try to seek out and honor the work being done in the states between the coasts and the institutions you probably won’t find on the cover of Discover or the New York Times science supplement. You will find that my definitions of “rural” and “small” are going to be very loose and absolutely arbitrary. I probably won’t ever write about the famous observatories in Arizona and Hawaii despite their remote location for the simple fact that they are already famous. Cities such as Boise and Des Moines are by no means rural in any meaningful way, but Idaho and Iowa have a rural “small town” culture that carries over into their largest cities’ civic culture. My goal is to highlight people doing science in places where you might not expect it, not to count noses.
I am going to start working on this blog by pulling some of my old stories from my newspaper days. These will come with a disclaimer noting how old the story is and that the information may not reflect current science knowledge and practice. Then I will start talking to some of the local science types I know and start producing some original profiles. Hopefully this blog will catch on and I will be able to start talking to more scientists in odd and unexpected places. I hope you like it.