How Small Towns Saved Americans in the Summer of 2020

You won’t find any skyscrapers when you drive through small town America. The largest structure in town is the water tower and that probably still has some spray paint on it from the class of ‘93. The businesses that line the town are little mom and pop shops with gifts unique to the area. One doesn’t have to look too hard to find the shop owner of the place. They can be found behind the counter doing crossword puzzles from the newspaper or tapping into the local rumor mill through a conversation with a customer. There isn’t much night life to be had except for witnessing your occasional dart league, a local band playing cover songs or bellying up to the bar to watch the big game. The pace is slower like a week long Sunday drive, but the locals wouldn’t have it any other way. And it’s where everyone came to escape in the summer of 2020. 

While walking into town to drop off a letter at the post office in early June, I had never seen so many bike and canoe racks attached to vehicles. Scanning the plates as the cars drove by, I noticed many of them were from nearby states (“Minnesota, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota…”) but there were a few from places like New York and Florida. These numbers of out of state plates would increase as I would see them while heading into the grocery store throughout the summer. Small towns in the Midwest are already highly sought after destinations in the summertime regardless of there being a pandemic or not, but rural America offered something to people that larger cities could not; the wilderness. 

Views from an afternoon kayak session on Teal Lake.

Every morning out in nature, there’s a concert that takes place. As the sun slowly begins to rise and in between the train whistle blows, the birds begin to sing their songs. Squirrels bound along the branches of trees and critters scurry along the grass that is still wet with the morning dew. For people that are used to a city never sleeping, the wilderness provides a place to rest. Nature tells us to “come as you are” in a world concerned with social media posts, building your brand, Tik Tok videos, being “woke”, and endless heartbreaking news headlines. While we can’t always escape from all of the world’s troubles, the wilderness provides brief moments of bliss that can be found in riding along a backwoods bike trail or kayaking on a lake with a loon near your paddle. 

A Sunday morning walk through Copper Falls State Park.