Friday, August 30, 2013

Another rurality-as-muse story

It is here, in this NPR story about the latest album from Over the Rhine.  The album is called "Meet Me At the End of the World," and Karen Bergquist and Linford Detweiler say it's named after their farm, an hour outside their former home, Cincinnati.  (Over the Rhine is, in fact, named after a Cincinnati neighborhood).  In the interview with David Greene, they say they're making "untamed music ... found in the rough edges of land around their home."  Here are some other rich excerpts from the story:  
The couple says the music they've made of late has grown from their deep roots in their home state — be it a tree on their property that often provides flashes of songwriting inspiration ...
This is a quote from Detweiler:
Yeah, it feels like we have roots here in Ohio. I was born in Ohio. Karin grew up in Barnesville, Ohio, near Wheeling, W.Va. And I guess we maybe thought, you know, as young aspiring songwriters, that we would eventually relocate to Nashville or New York. That would have been great, but we were always kind of haunted by the idea of staying here, staying put where we had some roots. I think some of these other American writers that we immediately associate with place — people like Robert Frost or Flannery O'Connor or Wendell Berry or whoever, there's sort of a particular piece of earth associated with their work. I guess for us, that's Ohio. And we've stayed here. 
* * *  
Both Karin and I grew up around a lot of gospel music and we're grateful for that. I have been known to say there could have been no Johnny Cash or Elvis Presley without the music they were exposed to in their mother's hymnals. Those old hymns are just a part of the American musical tapestry; they get in your bones and they never leave.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

White supremacist puts down roots in North Dakota

John Eligon reports in today's New York Times form Leith, North Dakota, population 16 (or 24, depending on your source), where white supremacist Craig Cobb has been buying up parcels of land since last year.  Eligon reports that Cobb plans to turn the place into a white nationalist center, and that he has transferred some of the lots he has purchased to fellow white nationalists. Eligon writes:
In the past two years, Mr. Cobb, a longtime proselytizer for white supremacy who is wanted in Canada on charges of promoting hatred, has bought a dozen plots of land in Leith (pronounced Leeth) and has sold or transferred ownership of some of them to a couple of like-minded white nationalists. 
He is using Craigslist and white power message boards to entice others in the movement to take refuge in Leith, about two hours southwest of Bismarck. On one board, he detailed his vision for the community — an enclave where residents fly “racialist” banners, where they are able to import enough “responsible hard core” white nationalists to take control of the town government, where “leftist journalists or antis” who “come and try to make trouble” will face arrest. 
* * * 
It is all people are talking about, in bars and in their homes, at funerals and at church. They are poking around on the Web to read Mr. Cobb’s positions for themselves. A stream of cars creep through the streets where horses occasionally trot, their passengers hoping to catch a glimpse of some action or take a peek at Mr. Cobb’s peeling, two-story clapboard home. Sheriff’s cars, too, are making more rounds.
Cobb said he was working in the state's booming oil fields until last week, when he lost his job after the story broke regarding his plans for Leith.  

Amazingly, Leith is large and organized enough to have a mayor, Ryan Shock, who says he and the city council have put in place a "suicide pact."  Well, Eligon calls it a "doomsday plan":  
If enough of Mr. Cobb’s friends move in to gain a majority that could vote out the current government, the Council would immediately dissolve the town.
Leith is in nonmetropolitan Grant County, population 2,394, in southwest North Dakota.  The population is 97.3% white, and the poverty rate is a shockingly low 12.4%.  One of very few African Americans in the county lives in Leith, and he features in Eligon's story, as do religion and community.  It's worth a read in its entirety.  

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Making art from coming of age in small-town America

Robin Hilton reviews Okkervil River's new album, The Silver Gymnasium, on NPR today, and the piece begins like this:
I grew up in a town of about 6,000 people in rural Kansas back in the '70s and '80s. I've never romanticized it much, though it was certainly a simpler time and, for better or worse, it's where I learned to make some sense of my life. The world you inhabit when you come of age in your teen years has a way of digging its claws in you. As the years pass, no matter how far you try to get away from it, it stays with you. The people, the places, the sounds and even the smells become a part of your DNA.
That second sentence--to track Hilton's physiological metaphor--grabbed me by the throat. (A similar sentiment is expressed by an Appalachian writer here).  As I have aged and become a parent, I have seen just how deeply embedded those claws are.  Those claws are manifest in my writing about my hometown, which I do a lot--here.  I rationalize recording even the mundane by saying I am looking for trends relevant to my scholarly work, but I know the exercise is about more than that.  

Today's NPR review is accompanied by this multi-media feature, that includes a map of Meriden, New Hampshire, the home town of Okkervil River's Will Sheff.  It also features photos of Meriden, Sheff, and his family, along with some of Sheff's reflections from his childhood years, when he dreamt of running away from his parents but got only as far as a tree top he climbed.  

A few days ago, NPR did this story on The Silver Gymnasium, including this lede, which echoes some of the same themes as today's story and feature.  
It's human nature to romanticize a specific time and place in the past — a moment when everything felt just right, or opportunities were laid out like a banquet. For Okkervil River's Will Sheff, it's been impossible to let go of Meriden, N.H., circa 1986: That tiny town is where he spent his childhood (he turned 10 that summer) and where his parents taught at an area boarding school. Meriden is where Sheff's visions of youth and innocence reside, even as he's gone on to live in Austin and Brooklyn, and to tour the world. 
Sheff sets Okkervil River's seventh album, The Silver Gymnasium, square in the heart of his own childhood; in the specific spot that produced his most sepia-toned memories. As such, the record captures not only his own autobiographical details, but also musical cues from the era.
P.S.  On August 30, the New York Times ran this feature on the new Okkervil River album.  Jonathan Meiburg, an early member of Okkervil River who participated in making The Silver Gymnasium calls the project “an elaborate and stylized exercise in nostalgia.”

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part CXX): Still trying to open that jail

Various issues of the Newton County Times this summer reported on several "law and order" issues, including ongoing efforts to get funds to open the new jail, which was dedicated about year ago, but which remains closed due to lack of operating funds. (Read related posts here and here). The Newton County Quorum Court (essentially the County Board of Supervisors) is seeking a $400K grant from the Arkansas Rural Development Commission "using $1,050,000 in community cash and in-kind services used to build the facility as the local match."  The $400K would fund operations and purchase equipment and furnishings.

The Mt. Sherman Historical Community Center also applied for an Arkansas Rural Development Commission grant for $14.435.  If granted, the funds would be used to make the front porch handicap accessible, build a back porch, replace doors, construct a handicapped ramp and fad and finish the interior with drywall and paint.  

The Newton County Fair Association requested $15,000 from a General Improvement Fund County Fair Grant.  The funds would be used to build a fence around the grounds with "6-foot-tall 11 gauge chain link fence with two 12-foot rolling gates and a six-foot-tall walk-in gate.  I note that some vandalism of the fair grounds has occurred in recent years.  Earlier this summer, the Fair Association sought a $4k grant to assist in adding air conditioning to the main concession stand.  The Association raised $4,258 through "community case and in-kind donations to be applied to the project as a local match."  

The Quorum Court also noted receipt of the following unanticipated funds:  
  • $9,800 from the state to purchase voting equipment.
  • $37,854.50 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for payments due from previous years' disasters
  • $361.20 in restitution appropriated into the county road and machinery fund. 
In other news, the Newton County Volunteer Fire Association wants access to an old tower, once used by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and located between Bass and Lurton.  They need access in order to attach a radio repeater which would improve communications between the country's rural fire departments.  The Association and the Quorum Court are investigating how to gain access, because it is unclear whether the Corp of Engineers still has an easement since the tower was decommissioned in 2003.    

An auction of four parcels of land on which taxes are overdue has yielded $61,189.95.  The State Land Commissioner's office conducts one tax-delinquent land sale per county per year.  Seventeen bidders attended the sale on July 16.  The owners of the property on which taxes had not been paid were given the opportunity to pay those taxes before the properties were auctioned.  

The county coroner has announced the need for deputies to help carry out duties on a part-time basis.  The deputies would be paid per call, plus mileage.  Anyone interested in helping carry out the duties of corner "in a respectful manner" should contact coroner Cody Middleton, who is in his first term in this elected office.  

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

NPR highlights role of elite Native American firefighters

Kirk Seigler reports today on the Geronimo Hotshots' participation in fighting the Rim Fire, the massive wildfire raging outside Yosemite National Park in central California.   The Geronimo Hotshots are based on the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation in nonmetropolitan Gila County, Arizona.  Seigler notes that fighting fires is one of few ways for young men here and on similar reservations to earn a living.  Members of these elite crews, who are hardly home at all over the summer as they are dispatched from fire to fire around the West, earn up to $40,000 a year.  As Seigler notes, that goes a long way on a high-poverty Indian reservation.  Seigler provides this vignette:
The only restaurant in town is the San Carlos Cafe. It's in a worn stone building built by the U.S. government at the turn of the 20th century. The menu on the wall features the hot shot breakfast burrito. The owner, Jo Lazo, says the firefighters are looked up to here. 
"I like to say our Apache men are the strongest of all firefighters. I think it just goes down through genealogy and the struggle that we had many, many years ago. We never go down without a fight," she says. 
Lazo is proud and pragmatic. The Hotshot crew members are regulars here, and that's good for business. But the tribe and the Bureau of Indian Affairs also employ hundreds more seasonal firefighters. During a big fire year, everyone has more money in his or her pocket, including Lazo. Her cafe caters all the meals for the crews if there's a wildfire near here. 
"And it's sad when there is a fire because we do lose a lot of vegetation, but it's essential and it's been essential for years," Lazo says.
Seigler quotes Jose Alvarez Santi, Jr., 25, who says the work is rewarding, but being away from home can be tough.  Santi has a three-year-old son.  
I don't really see it as a job.  Being out away from my family — that's the part that I'm down about, is just being away.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Rural entrepreneurs strike it rich with duck stuff

See the New York Times story today, on the front page of the Business Section, about the family featured on "Duck Dynasty," one of the most popular shows on TV right now.  Of the Robertson family of West Monroe, Louisiana, journalist Bill Carter writes that their "conscious dive into the entertainment world has lifted a regional business into an international phenomenon":
They certainly are stars now — the subjects of the biggest reality show hit in the history of cable television, “Duck Dynasty,” which has shattered ratings records this summer, reaching a high of 11.8 million viewers for the season premiere this month. 
But in the more contained world of ducks, guns and camouflage gear, the Robertsons were already celebrities thanks to the family’s core business: sales of duck gear, especially duck calls. 
Now the range of merchandise attached to the Robertson name is so vast — shirts, caps, coolers, books, edibles, hunting gear of every kind — that keeping track of it has become almost impossible, said Willie Robertson, scion of the Robertson clan and president of the Duck Commander company.
Carter depicts Willie Robertson as quite the wheeler-dealer, quoting him in relation to his father, Phil, who founded Duck Commander.  Willie returned to the family business after several years running children's camps, at which point he
realized his father had created a strong brand, but 'he had pretty much run out of ideas.  
He didn’t know how to take it to the next level, and it might have started a downward slide, like a lot of family businesses do. 
* * *  
I was able to watch the family business from afar.  I was able to come in with a lot of energy and a vision for growing it even bigger.
"Bigger" includes so much Duck Dynasty paraphernalia that it sells in six different departments at Wal-Mart.  Apparently, women like Duck Dynasty shirts as much as men do.  

One of the most interesting parts of Carter's story is the tale of how a little outdoor show "tailored more specifically to actual duck hunting" on A & E was turned into the "Duck Dynasty" viewers now know and (many) love. Carter reports that "Duck Dynasty" was envisaged as a "cross between ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’ and ‘The Waltons.’" The family dinner at the end of each episode would be like "Goodnight, John-Boy."
West Monroe, Louisiana, population 13,065, is in metropolitan Ouachita Parish, population 155,363, in northern Louisiana. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Rural wildfire creates a state of emergency for San Francisco?

We awoke this morning to the news that Jerry Brown had declared a state of emergency in San Francisco.  (Read NPR coverage here and NYTimes coverage here).  Why, you might ask?  Has there been an earthquake?  No.

The state of emergency is because of a wildfire burning more than a hundred miles away, in a decidedly rural part of California--just outside Yosemite National Park and, more recently, also inside the park.

But rural communities are more directly affected by the fire.  They include Groveland, population 601, which is 25 miles west of the park entrance.  Under even more imminent threat are Tuolumne City, population 1,779,  Ponderosa Hills (which media are reporting has a population of a couple hundred), and Pine Mountain Lake, population 2,796, a private gated community very near to Groveland.  All of this is in nonmetropolitan Tuolumne County, which has a population of 54,008 and a population density of 24.9 persons/square mile.

The New York Times gets credit for noting (in the last two paragraphs of its story) the impact of the fire on Groveland's economy:
Usually filled with tourists, the streets of Groveland are swarming with firefighters, evacuees, and news crews, said Doug Edwards, owner of Hotel Charlotte on Main Street. 
“We usually book out six months solid with no vacancies and turn away 30-40 people a night. That’s all changed,” Mr. Edwards said. “All we’re getting for the next three weeks is cancellations. It’s a huge impact on the community in terms of revenue dollars.”
But the big story here--what seems to be garnering national headlines and Jerry Brown's attention--is the threat to San Francisco's water and power supply, much of it linked to Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.  The New York Times reported this morning:
The wildfire had already done some damage and threatened more to the lines and stations that pipe power to San Francisco, so Mr. Brown, who had declared an emergency for the fire area earlier in the week, extended it to the city. 
San Francisco also gets 85 percent of its water from the Yosemite-area Hetch Hetchy Reservoir that is about 4 miles from the fire, though that had yet to be affected. But it was forced to shut down two of its three hydroelectric power stations in the area.
At least the rural area was declared a state of emergency earlier in the week ... though that didn't make national news.  

The Los Angeles Times reports this evening:
Firefighters were able to gain containment of an area Saturday near the Hetch Hetchy water and power system, which supplies electricity and water for San Francisco. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has been forced to shut down two of its three hydroelectric power stations because of the fire.
The Times has also labeled the fire "one of the largest wildfires in recent California history." So far, the fire has burned more than 125,000 acres.  It is what is called a "crown fire," which means it is spreading tree-top to tree-top, rather than burning along the ground. 

This story provides yet another illustration of urban dependence on the rural.  But coverage of the story suggests that it is a dependence that urban interests stubbornly continue to acknowledge.  See a related post about other natural disasters in rural places a few years ago here.

P.S.  Nearly a week later, the New York Times is running this, "Wildlife Chokes Off Tourist Towns' Livelihood," on August 30, 2013.  The focus here is much more on the impact of the fires in closer spatial proximity to where they're occurring--in rural California.  

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

ACA will raise cost of farm labor--and food, too

The New York Times reported today about the consequences of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) for the cost of farm labor and, in turn, the cost of food.  Sarah Varney's story is set in California, where farm laborers are typically employed year round rather than seasonally, as the case in many other places.  (Another post about year-round ag workers is here).  Employment of full-time workers means farm labor contractors cannot easily put the "workers on a 28-hour workweek like Starbucks, Denny's and Walmart are considering" doing to avoid the ACA mandate.  It also means that the contractors, who operate on very small margins--around 2%--will have to raise the prices they charge farms, which will in turn push up food prices.

Varney writes:  
Insurance brokers and health providers familiar with California's $43.5 billion agricultural industry estimate that meeting the law's minimum health plan requirement will cost about $1 per hour employee worked in the field.     
The minimum health plan under the new law will is expected cost about $250 a month in California’s growing regions, a premium which includes a high deductible--$5K a year.  With the following vignette, Varney explains why it is not feasible to pass this insurance costs onto the workers:  
On a recent morning, Jose Romero pulled weeds from a row of lush tomato plants. Mr. Romero, 36, arrived at the field around 5 a.m. and worked until sunset. Like many of the other workers in the tomato field, he was surprised to learn that his employer, Mr. Herrin at Sunrise Farm Labor, would have to offer him health coverage, and that he could be asked to contribute up to 9.5 percent of his wages to cover the costs. 
“We eat, we pay rent and no more,” Mr. Romero said in Spanish. “The salary that they give you here, to pay insurance for the family, it wouldn’t be enough.” 
I am relieved that Varney reports a "widespread agreement among agricultural employers, insurance brokers and health plans in California that low-wage farmworkers cannot be asked to pay health insurance premiums."

On this point, Varney quotes a labor contractor, Chuck Herrin, the owner of Sunrise Farm Labor in Huron, California:  
He’s making $8 to $9 an hour, and you’re asking him to pay for something that he’s not going to use? 
The most interesting thing about this quote is the "something that he's not going to use" part.  Are Mr. Herrin's assumptions based on perceptions of Latino culture?  On the age and perceived health of the workers and their families?  

Or maybe the assumption that farm workers won't use health insurance if they have it is based on immigration status.  Varney notes the complication that immigration status poses for many of the workers because they may be in the country without papers. As one farm labor contractor in Napa Valley noted, the workers are "[n]ervous they’ll be tracked and then somehow the possibility of being identified, and the fear of being deported or not being allowed to work."

Cross-posted to Agricultural Law.

Unthinkably tragic consequences flow from teens' boredom in nonmetro Oklahoma

This tragic story out of Duncan, Oklahoma got a lot of media attention yesterday.  Apparently, the shooting death of a 22-year-old Australian by teenagers in the central Oklahoma town has been front-and-center of Australian news since it happened last Friday.  Here's the lede from NPR's report:
The killing of an Australian man who was in the U.S. on a baseball scholarship has brought grief to his hometown and to the small Oklahoma town where he was shot to death. Three teens have been arrested for the crime; one suspect says they simply had nothing better to do, the police report. 
Christopher Lane, 22, was reportedly shot in the back as he jogged down a road in Duncan, Okla., in the middle of the afternoon last Friday. He was a victim of random violence, police say, after three teens — ages 15, 16 and 17 — saw him pass a house they were in. They allegedly got in a car, followed Lane and shot him.  
The Duncan newspaper quotes the city's police chief as saying that the boys were bored and "just wanted to see [someone] die, or kill someone." Wow, that's some response to "boredom." NPR notes that the teenagers have led tragic lives.  

In Australia, former Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer made this statement:
Tourists thinking of going to the USA should think twice. ... This is the bitter harvest and legacy of the policies of the NRA that even blocked background checks for people buying guns at gunshows. 
People should take this into account before going to the United States. 
I am deeply angry about this because of the callous attitude of the three teenagers [but] it's a sign of the proliferation of guns on the ground in the USA. 
There is a gun for almost every American.
Meanwhile, a correspondent for an Australian broadcast station, in Duncan to report the story, stated:
In Australia it's waking up and finding that a nice young man with a lovely American girlfriend is gunned down and his body was found on the side of the street.  In the Bushland that's frightening.
I find interesting his labeling of Australia--apparently in its entirety--"Bushland."

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part CXIX): Environmental coalition sues federal agencies over hog farm

The Newton County Times reported in the August 14, 2013 issue that conservation and citizens groups have filed suit in federal court against the USDA Farm Service Agency and the U.S. Small Business Administration for what the "plaintiffs contend is the agencies' inadequate review and improper authorization of loan guarantee assistance" to an industrial hog farm in the Buffalo National River watershed.  The suit was filed on August 6 in U.S. district court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, Western Division.  I have written herehere, herehere and here of the C & H Hog Farm, which received more than $3.4 million in loan guarantee assistance from the federal government.

Plaintiffs are the Arkansas Canoe Club, Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, National Parks Conservation Association, and the Ozark Society, and they are represented by Earthjustice, Earthrise Law Center, and Hank Bates, a Little Rock attorney.  The plaintiffs' complaints were articulated in a June 6 letter to the defendants.  According to a press release by Earthjustice, a non-profit, public interest law firm, the suit was filed only after the defending agencies made clear they will provide no remedy.  An earlier post about the contemplated lawsuit is here.

The plaintiffs contend that the federal government agencies failed to provide public notice and to undertake the environmental review and consultations that relevant laws require.  The story includes quotes from various plaintiffs.  From Debbie Doss of the Arkansas Canoe Club:
Local residents will suffer the most from this absurdly located factory farm.  Residents of Mt. Judea will be exposed, downwind, to the smell and adverse health effects of methane and hydrogen sulfide.  A swine facility this large will put children at the Mount Judea School at high risk of health impacts including asthma and other respiratory conditions.
Emily Parks of the National Parks Conservation Association is quoted, too:
We're asking the court to set aside the loan guarantees and instruct the agencies to comply. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Rural disadvantage finally considered in lawsuit over Alabama's school choice law

Debbie Elliott reported today for NPR on a lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of rural and poor children who, the suit claims, will be harmed by Alabama's new school choice law, the Alabama Accountability Act.  More precisely, the allegation is that rural and poor students will not be helped by the law, while other groups of students stand to gain from the opportunity it provides for students attending a failing school to choose a different school or to have the state help pay for their attendance at a private school.  The story's lede follows:
Parents in some rural Alabama counties are asking a federal court to block a new state law that gives tax breaks to families who transfer out of failing schools. They argue that their children aren't getting a fair shot at a quality education. 
The law, passed in a controversial last-minute move by the state's Republican-controlled Legislature this year, provides a $3,500 tax credit for private school tuition or to offset the cost of transferring to a nonfailing public school. Tax breaks are also offered to people and businesses that donate to private scholarship funds to help students who can't otherwise afford to transfer.
Problem is that if you are at a "failing school" in a rural area, you probably don't have the means to get to the nearest non-failing school.  It's just not feasible.  As Elliott points out, most failing schools are surrounded by other failing schools, especially in rural areas.

Elliott quotes Mariah Russaw, whose seventh grader grandson, J.R., attends a failing school.  Russaw says she can't avail herself of the opportunity presented by the Alabama law.  
Lord have mercy. I would have to probably borrow money to get gas and I'd probably have to travel over 30 miles or longer, and I don't have the transportation to do that.
J.R. is in school in Clayton, Alabama, population 1,475. Clayton is in Barbour County, population 27,457, in southeast Alabama.  The county's poverty rate is 24.7%.

Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center explains the basis for the suit:
The problem with the act is that it creates two classes of students: one group of students who can escape failing schools and another group of students who cannot by virtue of their poverty or where they happen to live.  
* * *  
They go to schools or they're in grades where there are no nonfailing schools in their counties. They also don't have the means to send their children to private schools. Many of the private schools aren't even participating.
Of the 56 private schools participating in Alabama, most are in urban and suburban areas.  

As Elliott points out, the equal protection argument being made in this case is new among suits that have challenged these sorts of school choice laws.  Most suits challenging school choice laws--which have been pushed by legislatures in many states--have been based on the first amendment establishment clause because the laws the wind up supporting parochial schools.  A total of 21 states and the District of Columbia have enacted private-school-choice policies.   

Nevada's wild horses in the national news

Two recent stories have highlighted the plight of Nevada's huge wild horse population as well as the controversy over how best to respond to that plight.

This one today on NPR is "Wild Horses Run Free as Adoption Centers Fill Up."  Will Stone's story begins with a description of the Palomino Valley National Adoption Center, 20 miles north of Reno, the first stop for many horses the Bureau of Land Management rounds up on the range.  Right now, the BLM spends 60% of its budget on these captured horses, which a BLM official says leaves inadequate resources to "do proper management on the range." Indeed, more horses and burros--50K--are in the federally funded facilities than are left the wild (40K).  Stone reports:
The [wild horse] population has rebounded dramatically since the 1970s. A recent study attributes this to the BLM's rounding up so many horses. The agency has reduced competition for food and water on the range, and now horses are reproducing at unnatural rates. Advocates hope the study may bring about substantive policy changes — namely an end to roundups. The bureau's cut back on roundups, [BLM official] Shepherd says, but can't halt them altogether.
"On State of Wild Horses, Stars and Indians Spar" was published last week in the New York Times.  The lede for the latter follows:
It seemed at first like a logical alliance for boldface names in the interconnected worlds of Hollywood and politics. Bill Richardson, a former governor of New Mexico, and the actor Robert Redford, a staunch conservationist, joined animal rights groups in a federal lawsuit to block the revival of horse slaughter in the United States, proclaiming that they were “standing with Native American leaders,” to whom horse slaughter “constitutes a violation of tribal cultural values." 
Soon, though, the two men, who recently started a foundation to protect New Mexico’s wildlife, found themselves on a collision course with the Navajo Nation, the country’s largest federally recognized tribe, whose president released a letter to Congress on Aug. 2 asserting his support for horse slaughtering. 
Free-roaming horses cost the Navajos $200,000 a year in damage to property and range, said Ben Shelly, the Navajo president. There is a gap between reality and romance when, he said, “outsiders” like Mr. Redford — who counts gunslinger, sheriff’s deputy and horse whisperer among his movie roles — interpret the struggles of American Indians.
This NYT report (including video) earlier this summer provides excellent background on the controversy. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

A Tennessee clothing factory, still doing things the old-fashioned way

Cathy Horyn reports in the New York Times today from Bristol, Tennessee, where the family-owned L.C. King Manufacturing Company has been doing its thing for a century now. The King Company's "thing" is making clothes and doing so the old-fashioned "cut and sew" way.  Horyn describes the company's bread and butter, which are sold under the label Pointer.
Pointer makes work clothes that are part of the rural South: a light canvas jacket worn into the field in the morning and removed as the sun rises, dungarees and overalls of various types depending on well-marked preferences: low-back in Kentucky, high-back in Georgia.
Aha! I knew I knew the Pointer brand from somewhere.  My grandfathers used to wear their products.  They were sold at the feed store, I think.  

Horyn had mentioned the Pointer brand in a story a few years back, reporting then that (an apparently famous designer) Junya Watanabe "had modified some Pointer jackets for his men’s line." Horyn observes:
These changes, funnily, were not unlike the careful and ingenious improvements that farmers used to make on their old clothes, except the Watanabe deluxe versions started at $800.
Before NAFTA, the company employed 130 workers. It is down to 28, several of which are pictured in this accompanying slide show.  Several of the workers say the factory is like home, and they are like family to one another.   

Horyn's story features lots of Appalachian atmospherics and is worth a read in its entirety.  

Bristol straddles the Tennessee-Virginia state line, in far eastern Tennessee. The city's population is 26,675, and it is in metropolitan Sullivan County.  

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Oglala Sioux at Pine Ridge vote to overturn century-old alcohol ban

Read NPR's coverage here and the NYT's coverage here.  The Oglala Sioux, also known as the Oglala Lakota, voted on Tuesday to lift a long-time ban on alcohol on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in south central South Dakota.  The vote count was 1,871 for legalization of alcohol, 1,679 against.  Federal law prohibits the sale of alcohol in Indian Country unless the tribe specifically allows it, which most tribes do.  Pine Ridge was established in 1889, and it has prohibited sale or consumption of alcohol ever since, excepting a few months in the early 1970s when it experimented with lifting the ban.

Timothy Williams and John Eligon report on this week's vote for the New York Times:
Over the years, [alcohol] has been illegally smuggled onto the reservation and blamed for crime, poverty, family estrangements, fatal car accidents, suicides and unemployment. 
Now, alcohol is sowing resentment and division within the tribe as the people of Pine Ridge have voted to legalize its sale.
Critics of this week's vote, NPR reports, argue it will "spur an increase in already high rates of domestic abuse, suicide and infant mortality."  Bryan Brewer, the tribal president, is staunchly against legalizing alcohol.  The NYT quotes him:
How far are we going to let it go?   How many more children are going to be murdered because of this?
Brewer told the AP, as reported elsewhere:
We know the use will go up. ... We know there'll be more violence. There'll be more women and children who will be abused. It will taper off. But it's something we're just going to have to deal with. ... I hope they talk about that. I hope it's not just about the money but how we can work with our people. 
Supporters, on the other hand, the NYT reports, say "legalization will allow them to regulate alcohol and earn money from sales." They argue that selling alcohol on the reservation will "allow the tribe to keep a share of Pine Ridge’s money on the reservation," money that "is now being spent in liquor stores in towns bordering it--specifically those in Whiteclay, Nebraska.  About 18 months ago, the Oglala Sioux sued the stores in Whiteclay and the suppliers and manufacturers who supply them, arguing that the defendants are, essentially, knowingly over-serving Indians and that the defendants should pay the tribe for the health care, crime-fighting and other consequences.  Supporters of legalization argue that tax revenues from selling alcohol at Pine Ridge can be used to the benefit of the Oglala Sioux’s alcohol treatment programs.

Brewer is unconvinced, stating:
We’re going to use alcohol money to spend on alcohol issues. That doesn’t make sense to me. I consider this blood money that the tribe will be getting. I hate to accept it.
 No one knows yet how much revenue alcohol sales will produce for the Oglala Sioux.  

Those against ending the alcohol ban have staged protest marches.  Local authorities have reported death threats, which led to the transfer of ballots "to a secure location" for counting after poll closure on Tuesday.

The Pine Ridge Indian reservation is "one of the poorest places in the country," with an unemployment rate of about 80%.  Read more demographic information here.  Read more about the Oglala Sioux suit against the Whiteclay liquor stores and their suppliers, which was dismissed last year, here and here.  Read more about the Oglala Sioux here and here.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

NYC Chefs head up the Hudson to colonize "rural reaches"

The headline in today's NYT is "Upriver Current: City Chefs Head to the Hudson Valley, Lured by Fresh Ingredients." The dateline is Hudson, New York, population 6,713, and Julia Moskin writes of urban chefs relocation to these "rural reaches":
There has been good cuisine here for a long time: Great Barrington was a summer hub for New Yorkers as far back as the 19th century, and Hudson already has estimable restaurants, bakeries and even food trucks. But places like Fish and Game are the first to bring urban chefs’ ideas of farm-to-table back to the land. Tasting menus with pig cheeks, green strawberries and goat yogurt are surely farm-based, but in farm country they are also revolutionary.
At several points, including that last clause about these menus being "revolutionary" in "farm country," Moskin emphasizes rural-urban difference--in particular the different tastes of farmers and other local rustics.

I found her description of the decor at Fish and Game, the restaurant owned by Zak Pelaccio and his wife, Jori Jayne Emde, well, intriguing
a fever dream of luxury and rural kitsch, blending elements of Chez Panisse, Trader Vic’s, Dwell magazine and a yard sale at an Italian hunting lodge.
It reminded me of earlier posts here and here.

Moskin's quote from Pelaccio, who founded the gastro pub Chickenbone Cafe in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in 2003, also accentuates the rural-urban divide: 
We are feeling our way and taking our time.  This is new for us, new for them, and we can’t do it overnight. 
Note the "us and them" language.  Moskin notes that Pelaccio's multi course set menu at Fish and Game is $68, which includes dishes like corn with tumeric and marigold, as well as whole ducks roasted in an open fireplace.  Maybe the "them" is as much about (some?) locals' inability to afford what the new dining establishments have on offer.  (I'm thinking of how the material/economic and the cultural are inextricably linked in conceptions of class.) 

Moskin also quotes Mark Firth, whose restaurant career began as a bartender at the Odeon in TriBeCa. Firth, who grew up in Zambia and also has a farm 30 miles east of Hudson where he raises pigs and sheep, describes the decision to be two hours north of "the city" as a lifestyle one:  
In the city I was tied not just to the restaurant but to the computer screen.  Here, I am always moving: I work in the dining room. I pull weeds on the farm. I fix the loos. I see my friends.
I wonder what all of this says about rural-urban difference--and urban use of the rural. This restaurant scene may be somewhat new for those in the area--the "farmers," but the area is hardly hick-type rustic.

And what does it say that, as I post this, Moskin's story is the seventh most emailed on  I guess, among other things, it says something about who is reading the NYT:  posh urbanites with a rural fetish.

P.S.  One commenter on the story writes:  "there hasn't been anything meaningfully 'rural' about Great Barrington since 1970."  These leads me to wonder if there are, in fact, any "local rustics" in the Hudson/Great Barrington area.  

Small towns and counties on NPR

Yesterday, NPR ran two stories back to back on Morning Edition about small towns and rural places.

The first was about the pros and cons of city and county governments consolidating services, and among the cons was the loss of identity for local government units that consolidate.  Amy Kiley reports from Waukesha County, Wisconsin under the headline, "Communities Debate Whether Sharing Services Saves Money." But near the end of her story, where she is focused on what is lost in consolidation--acknowledging it can be something quite "nebulous:  civic identity," Kiley references a rural place and provides a poignant quote from Mike Nolles, who formed Class Ones United eight years ago to resist a wave of school consolidation in Nebraska that ultimately closed more than 200 small school districts.  Nolles says:
When you lose a school like this, it's the exact same feeling you have when your home burns down with all of your family photographs. It's the exact same feeling, because I've experienced both.
The second story--really a little radio vignette--is also about education.  It is out of Dickenson County, Virginia, population 15,690, and billed by NPR as "one of the poorest in Virginia."  The poverty rate there is 21.3%, and its population is 98.8% white. Dickenson County is in Appalachia, and its coal-dependent economy was in decline even before the Great Recession.  The story focuses on Tammy Smith, retiring after 32 years as speech therapist in the Dickenson County Schools.  The story quotes her regarding how she held onto hope even as she watched her community decline:
Well, they're basically everything that the county's got to look forward to, because it is a struggling town population-wise, economically, and their children really need all the encouragement and education we can give them to promote the future.
She cites Seth Baker as a Dickenson County native who has come home--after getting a law degree.  Smith says:
And he didn't have to come there. He could have gone, you know, to a larger city, but he's come back home.
As for Baker, he explains his motivation:
I guess you can be a small fish in a big pond, or you can be a big fish in a small pond. But I just like the people around here. The roots are strong. 
I know my education that I received here, and when I got to college and elsewhere, I was able to keep up with everybody else. I did talk a little bit funny. I guess you can tell. But I felt like I had the tools to compete and survive anywhere, with what I got here.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Bike ambulances help connect Ugandan villages to city clinics

NPR reports today on a nonprofit, CA Bikes, that teaches Ugandan villagers how to build bike ambulances and wheelchairs from scrap metal.  Founder Chris Ategeka explains:
I teach you how to make it, and I teach you how to fix it. If it breaks, you know what to do, and if you want to build something you think outside the box and you do it.
Ategeka's story is inspiring.  He is an AIDS orphan, and when he was 10, he tried to save his younger brother's life by carrying him 10 miles from the village where they lived to the nearest hospital.  The brother died, but a U.S. AID organization, Y.E.S. Uganda, sponsored Ategeka, who went on to earn engineering degrees at U.C. Berkeley.   

Ategeka estimates his group has helped support the fabrication and distribution of more than 1,000 bikes and bike ambulances throughout Uganda.  Each ambulance costs about $600 to make and can transport about 100 people a month.

The goal of CA Bikes is to connect rural Ugandan communities with city clinics, and it has attracted support from funders such as the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the U.S. Embassy in Uganda.  Ategeka explains:
I wanted to do something about the effects of lack of health care in rural villages, so I combined my life experience and engineering.    
Ategeka also hopes to make the endeavor self-supporting and an engine for job creation.  Right now, the demand for the bicycles is outpacing the supply.   

Monday, August 12, 2013

Former Idaho sheriff helped to foil kidnapper

The Associated Press is reporting today more details of how law enforcement found and killed James Lee DiMaggio, who had kidnapped 16-year-old Hannah Anderson nearly a week earlier in San Diego.  An FBI officer shot and killed DiMaggio on Saturday afternoon while rescuing Anderson.  This occurred a few days after four horseback riders encountered DiMaggio and Anderson in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area, near Cascade, Idaho.  One of those riders was former Gem County, Idaho Sheriff Mark John.  He told reporters that when they encountered the man and the teenager, "it just didn't fit." John continued: 
He might have been an outdoorsman in California.  But he was not an outdoorsman in Idaho. He didn't fit. 
The riders indicated that DiMaggio was also suspicious because he said he was headed to the Slamon River, but he was traveling in the wrong direction.  In addition, Ms. Anderson appeared to be wearing pajama bottoms.  When the riders returned home and saw photos of the kidnapped teen, they reported what they had seen to the Idaho State Police, leading to DiMaggio's death at the hands of law enforcement a few days later.

Sheriff John retired in 1996, but his crime-fighting instincts seem well in tact.

I have written here about how rural spatiality conceals, a fact DiMaggio seemed to be trying to take advantage of.  (It is also a phenomenon hinted at in a headline from the travel section of this week-end's NYT:  "Your Own Private Idaho." That, in turn, is a play on the 1991 film, "My Own Private Idaho.") When law enforcement spotted DiMaggio, he seemed to be "fortifying a patch of wilderness."  The Los Angeles Times quotes an unidentified law enforcement official:
... sources said that before the confrontation, authorities had observed DiMaggio moving some wood and other materials around, possibly to fortify his position or make the hideout harder to see from the air. 
DiMaggio and Anderson were found with some camp gear, including a blue tent, said the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment.
I guess it's hard to conceal a blue tent from aerial surveillance, even in a place called River of No Return Wilderness.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Recent demographic headlines from nonmetro America

These were presented by Kenneth Johnson of the University of New Hampshire and Carsey Institute at Rural Sociological Society's Annual Meeting in New York last week.  This reflects work he did with Dan Lichter of Cornell, and it is meant to highlight changes between 2010 Census data and 2012 ACS data.  Three types of counties are referred to:  metro counties, nonmetro counties adjacent to metro counties, and non metro counties.    
  • Rural America's population grew marginally after 2010, as measured by population growth in nonmetro counties 
  • Metro adjacent counties grew the least among the three types of counties
  • Net migration into nonmetro counties slowed, as did natural increase 
  • Growth slowed most in traditionally fast growing areas, such as non metro counties that are adjacent to metro counties
  • Racial and ethnic diversity continues to grow—especially among rural children 
  • Rural America is growing older 
  • New "metropolitan" definition diminished rural growth because it caused many previously non metro counties to be reclassified as metropolitan.  

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Months (and years) later, towns still cleaning up from pipeline accidents

Dan Frosch reports today for the NYT, from Marshall, Michigan (population 7,088) and Mayflower, Arkansas (population 1,631).  Both of those communities are still immersed in cleaning up pipeline spills, Marshall from a rupture three years ago and Mayflower from a spill this past March.  Enbridge Energy, based in Houston but owned by an Alberta company, owns the Michigan pipeline, while Exxon Mobil owns the one that ruptured in Arkansas.  Frosch reports:
Both pipeline companies have spent tens of millions of dollars trying to recover the heavy crude, similar to the product Keystone XL would carry. River and floodplain ecosystems have had to be restored, and neighborhoods are still being refurbished. Legal battles are being waged, and residents’ lives have been forever changed.
In May, the E.P.A. found that Enbridge had drastically underestimated the amount of oil under the surface of the river.  Enbridge has since brought in new dredge pads in an effort to get at as much as 180,000 gallons of oil still in the river.  Frosch quotes Stephen K. Hamilton, a professor of aquatic ecology at Michigan State University who is advising the Environmental Protection Agency and the state of Michigan on the Marshall cleanup.
All oil spills are pretty ugly and not easy to clean up.  But this kind of an oil is even harder to clean up because of its tendency to stick to surfaces and its tendency to become submerged.
He also quotes Marshall real estate agent Matt Davis:  
Enbridge hopes people forget. But this is my town. This is where I grew up. Enbridge isn’t from around here. 
We didn’t ask for them to have their pipeline burst in our backyard. Make it right. Take care of the mess you made.
The story quotes other angry business owners, including one in close proximity to the dredge pad, who is suing Enbridge for disruption of his business. 

In Arkansas, 22 homes were evacuated following the spill of 210,000 gallons of heavy Canadian crude on March 29, an event which "coat[ed] a residential street with oil" and displaced many residents.   Frosch describes the current scene:  
Now, four months later, the neighborhood of low-slung brick homes is largely deserted, a ghostly column of empty driveways and darkened windows, the silence broken only by the groan of heavy machinery pawing at the ground as remediation continues.
Exxon Mobil says it has spent $44 million on cleanup and $2 million on temporary housing for residents, but the state of Arkansas has sued the company, alleging that it did not immediately repair the spill and that the oil contaminated waterways.  

The story closes with this statement from a victim of the Marshall spill, 59-year-old Deb Miller who, with her husband, owned a carpet mill along the river before the spill:
They can try and beautify along the river, but they can never give us back all of our neighbors who have moved out.  There are not enough zeros to pay us for what we’ve been through.
P.S.  This report, on a spill--which the industry calls "seepage" and environmentalists call a "blow out"--at the tar sands project in Alberta appeared a few days after I wrote this post.  Ian Austen reports:
Until they find the source of the problem, oil continues to leak at four locations. The spill, modest by historical standards, is manageable for the company, which says it expects to spend $60 million on cleanup and investigation. But already the leak is spoiling the landscape and hurting wildlife. It has killed 71 frogs, 27 birds and 23 mammals, including two beavers, according to the company.
The process being used there is similar to hydraulic fracturing.

Other recent oil sands news is here (about a planned new pipeline to Canada's east coast, in light of uncertainty about Keystone XL).  And, while we're talking about disasters associated with oil sands exploration, we should not omit the train explosion that destroyed central Lac Megantic, Quebec in early July.  That train was carrying what the tar sands dredges up.  Read stories here, here and here.  

Friday, August 9, 2013

University of South Dakota Symposium 2014: Project Rural Practice

Join the University of South Dakota School of Law in a discussion about the rapidly declining number of attorneys in rural areas across the nation.

This decline is not only contributing to lackluster small towns, but it is also seriously restricting access to justice for many U.S. citizens. In the upcoming academic year, the South Dakota Law Review will explore the problems facing rural practitioners and legal consultants across the country and examine new solutions for revitalizing rural America. This analysis will include a dialogue about South Dakota’s innovative rural lawyer recruitment legislation as well as different programs being implemented in other states.

By gathering advocates of Project Rural Practice and experts on rural economics, the Symposium will offer the most compelling conversation about rural practice and South Dakota’s novel approach to the problem of disappearing legal services. This discussion is designed to continue the promotion of rural practice both locally and nationally, and we hope it will inspire students and practitioners to break the stereotype that urban living is inherently superior to rural living.

Save the Date: March 20-21, 2014, in Vermillion, South Dakota

For more information about participation, manuscript submission for publication, or attendance, contact

Kelsea Sutton at or (605) 830-5039.

Read more about Project Rural Practice here.  A blog post about it is here.  

Thursday, August 8, 2013

EPA permits wastewater from fracking to be dumped in Indian Country

Elizabeth Shogren reports today for NPR from the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming.  An excerpt follows:
An NPR investigation last year discovered that the EPA was allowing oil companies to send so much of this contaminated water onto dry land that it was creating raging streams. At the time, there was a controversy within the agency over whether to keep allowing this practice, according to documents NPR obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. 
On Friday, the EPA will close the public comment period onproposed permits for several oil fields on the reservations. The proposed permits include some additional restrictions, but would allow companies to continue releasing the water.
Shogren quotes Duke University Professor of environmental science, Robert Jackson:
I am surprised that it's still allowed. It looks like the protections for tribal citizens here are weaker than those for citizens in Wyoming that surround them. If so, that's wrong. 
This story features shocking descriptions of what is happening, and this quote from Wes Martel, a tribal leader, commenting on whether the wastewater is safe, especially since signs near it warn of danger and it smells of rotten eggs, a sign of hydrogen sulfide, which can be deadly in sufficient quantities:
Well, especially this volume of water.  And this is constant. So it really makes you wonder what kinds of impacts is this having, on not only aquatic life but our wildlife.
Darrell Lohoefer, president of Dallas-based Eagle Oil & Gas, which has the permit it is seeking to renew, says the water from his company's operation "looks like a flowing small creek." He says the water has created artificial wetlands in which wildlife "are thriving."  While admitting the rarity of dumping wastewater on the surface, he says an exception was made in the West decades ago for ranchers who wanted water.  Shogren writes, "And in this arid land, any water is appreciated."

This supports my thesis of the under-regulation--and therefore relative lawlessness--of rural areas, and the particular lack of concern about Indian Country.  Read more here.   

Earlier stories about Wind River are here and here.     

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Courthouse closures in nonmetro America

That's the topic of this story on NPR today, with Emily Green reporting from Coalinga, California and Meridian, Mississippi.  Those are two places where courthouses are closing or have closed.  In Coalinga, which is in Fresno County but an hour from Fresno (city) and the main superior court, the closure is of a state courthouse.  In Meridian, the closure is of a federal courthouse--indeed, the very courthouse where members of the Ku Klux Klan were tried 46 years ago for the murder of three civil rights workers.

Of and from Coalinga, population 13,380, Green reports:
[N]ow, in the wood-paneled courtroom, a large flat-screen television hangs where the podium used to be. Due to budget cuts, Fresno County closed the courthouse last year. Now, it uses video streaming, via the television, to hold traffic court. 
For small claims cases and criminal arraignments, everyone — including police officers — has to travel more than an hour to Fresno. Last year, those travel expenses cost the Coalinga Police Department around $25,000.
The state of California, she says, is in the process of closing 77 courthouses. For others, hours are being reduced.  Green quotes Gary Hoff, presiding judge of the Fresno County Superior Court:
We knew that closing the courts would deny people in outlying jurisdictions the availability of going to a local courthouse to take care of their business.  I know others have disagreed with our choice, but financially we could not do anything else but close those courts. We have to live within our budget.
I have written about the challenges of rural spatiality to the administration of justice here and here.  

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Ode to a cafe pharmacy (or, love letter to central Appalachia)

That is, in a sense, what Amy D. Clark has written, published in the form of an op-ed in the NYT:  "Appalachian Hope and Heartbreak."  Clark writes of CVS's purchase of her hometown pharmacy--which is also a cafeteria--in Big Stone Gap, Virginia.   It's a powerful essay that starts this way:
A person just passing through Big Stone Gap may not notice the corner drugstore on Wood Avenue with the fading sign, its windows dark and hollow like so many others in these rural coal towns. But for people who live here in the heart of central Appalachia, the Mutual Drug Cafeteria was a community hub, an extension of the family kitchen. It’s where residents could fill a prescription, pick up an oil lamp or a strawberry huller, find a plastic pirate sword for the school play and get a good cup of coffee with a plate of pork chops, soup beans, pickled beets and blackberry cobbler.
* * * 
I found comfort in the store’s dark paneling, the creak in the floor, the aroma of kraut and franks, the first names of everybody from the pharmacist to the cooks. 
Clark's essay goes on to talk about the role of the pharmacy/cafeteria in the community, but also as part of revitalization efforts, as community development, as a tourist attraction.  Here's more:
There is potential in our rural community and those nearby for landmarks to be renovated and reopened, and crumbling buildings replaced with gardens, spaces for farmers’ markets and theaters. If towns want to thrive again, they have to focus on preserving and promoting their signature attractions. Small businesses like the Mutual must be part of that plan to draw people back.
Poignant and lovely as Clark's depiction of the Mutual is--and so worth a read in its entirety--the part of the essay that resonated most with me was this quote from Big Stone Gap native and author, Adriana Trigiani:  
It seems like such a small thing, a corner pharmacy with a cafe in a small town. But the Mutual was everything to me when I was a girl. The greater world lived in our corner pharmacy.
The greater world indeed, and a very special world for kids lucky enough to grow up in places like Big Stone Gap.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

My hometown in the NYT(!!!)

That's right, folks.  Newton County, Arkansas and the Ozarks have hit the big time.

Forget this blog's "My Rural Travelogue" series.  Credit NYT's Frugal Traveler with Newton County's five minutes of fame.

Today, frugal traveler Seth Kugel -- en route from New Orleans to North Dakota this summer--posted this piece titled "Music and Moonshine in the Mellow Ozarks." A short video accompanies it.  In these, Kugel shares vignettes of his trip to the Arkansas and Missouri Ozarks, including his stay in a Harrison, Arkansas B & B for the "motel-like price" of $55, his stop at a fiddle jam in McClurg, Missouri, and his tour of a licensed moonshine facility in Walnut Shade, Missouri (for which I can justify use of the blog label "agritourism").  I especially appreciated Kugel's detailed description of what sets the fiddle apart from the violin, and what sets the fiddle playing of this region apart from the fiddle playing traditions of other regions.  The fiddling (is that a noun?) on the accompanying video is fantastic, but not nearly as priceless as the old-timers Kugel interviews at the McClurg fiddle jam.  

Interestingly, both the fiddle jam and the moonshine distillery Kugel visited are in the sprawling Branson Micropolitan area, but Kugel (thankfully) manages to omit that detail--perhaps because of his explicit focus on frugality and his unstated focus on "off-the-beaten path." I should note that this is also the territory of Winter's Bone, which similarly featured a house-party fiddle jam (one of few bright spots in that fabulous but visually very dreary movie).

Kugel is, however, somewhat miserly with his praise of the Ozarks' beauty, stating that the mountainous region "finally" lives up to its potential during that "golden hour" before sunset, when everything gets a "temporary visual upgrade."  Of course, he is considering the Ozarks in the wider U.S. context:
[T]he region, which straddles the Missouri-Arkansas border, is at best competing for Miss Congeniality in the pageant of American mountain ranges. They are more like hill ranges — and some point out they are really not even that, but valleys carved into a plateau, as if the reflection of hills in a vast lake became the hills themselves. 
But what the Ozarks lack in soaring grandiosity, they make up for in subdued beauty and cultural quirkiness.
Quirky, indeed.

Nearest and dearest to my heart, of course, were Kugel's reflections on a few places in Newton County, Arkansas, where I grew up (fifth generation on both sides of the family!) and where, well, it's easy to be frugal.  On his visit to Jasper, the county seat, Kugel reports that he had a chicken-fried steak sandwich (just $4.95) at the century-old Ozark Cafe (featured in my post here).  He also visited Whitaker Point in the Upper Buffalo Wilderness, a local beauty spot which, as Kugel notes, is often touted as "the most photographed rock in Arkansas." Of the latter, Kugel writes that the 3-mile access trail follows
the brim of a dramatic bluff, high above the tree-blanketed valley below. At the bluff’s edge were curious squared-off rock formations that seemed not so much products of nature but what was left when a giant’s limestone house had collapsed over the side of the cliff, leaving just a few chunks on the edge. The point itself comes shortly thereafter: a bare rock outcropping thrusting out into the void.
See my own photo and description of Whitaker Point, also known as Hawk's Bill Crag, here.

Finally, Kugel notes a third Newton County spot:  the Parker-Hickman homestead, maintained by the National Park Service as part of the Buffalo National River.  (It was vandalized by artifact seekers a few years back; read more here).

Kugel notes several links between the Ozarks and Appalachia, including shared folk traditions of music and moonshine.  One common trait he does not mention--and you wouldn't in a travel feature--is the extremely high poverty rates in the two regions and, in fact, a high number of persistent poverty counties with mostly white populations. I wrote about some of that here and here, in relation to the film "Winter's Bone." Read more about Newton County's demographics here and here.

On a somewhat related matter (that is, the ways in which the region is not optimally salubrious), I especially got a kick out of Kugel's description of the opportunity to "rubberneck as you drive by old-fashioned pickups residents have left to rust on their properties."  One of my photos of this phenomenon is featured above.  Indeed, that photo was taken just a few miles from the lovely Whitaker Point. And that is part of the quirkiness of the Ozarks:  junk, juxtaposed against stunning (in my opinion, if not Kugel's) natural beauty.