Simply Rural

Every once in awhile I question my inherent ruralness.  I am MaryJane’s RURAL farmgirl, right?  But, what really makes me, my experiences and my blog rural…?  I live in a yurt, but I also live in a neighborhood that feels like a suburban subdivision.  I enjoy driving trucks and tractors, but own neither.  I have to run to the big city to get exotic foods or to find a mall, but I can get nearly everything else in the nearby towns…so what is it, what makes this whole time in my life rural?

After much thought and re-reading USDA census reports and Webster’s definitions of rurality, I figured it out.  For me, as I’m sure it is and equally is not for others, the rural life rests in its simplicity.

The historic Palmer Train Depot.  No trains come through here anymore, but the depot holds a weekly farmers market as well as seasonal and special events.

The historic Palmer Train Depot. No trains come through here anymore, but the depot holds a weekly farmers market as well as seasonal and special events.

Way back when in December of 2012, I wrote “Rural, Rural, Rural.”  I had been living in a rural area for just under a year, and I had made many observations about rural living.  I noticed that Carhartts are a staple in everyone’s closet, I noted that there is one Dairy Queen (as every rural town should have), and the traffic lights are sparse.  Now, a year and a half later, these observations are still very true.  Each person in my family owns at least one pair of Carhartts and we have gotten Dairy Queen gift certificates as gifts.  But there is so much more (or less…if we are going with the idea of simplicity)!

I love the Palmer visitor center and museum!

I love the Palmer visitor center and museum!

I still struggle with the idea of Palmer being a rural town.  Is it really an ex-urban town? a commuter town?  It is, in fact, part of the Anchorage Metropolitan Statistical Area, but so is Talkeetna, a town of 900 people that is a three our drive from Anchorage.  I think rurality is hard to define in Alaska.  So, since I can’t seem to find if it is objectively rural or not, I will have to subjectively announce once again that yes, Palmer is rural!  My only proof is anecdotal evidence.  I am in no way a socioeconomic genius or a master of population dynamics.  I simply feel rural when I’m here, and that is good enough for me.

Simply hanging out in a rural hammock.  Unfortunately, mosquitos like rural places, too.

Simply hanging out in a rural hammock. Unfortunately, mosquitos like rural places, too.

There is a certain type of simplicity to life here.  This doesn’t mean that everything is slow, easy and hassle free at all times–in fact it is far from it!  However, we aren’t as spoiled for choice as I have been in other cities and suburbs.  If the local grocery store or shop doesn’t have it we have to wait until we head into Anchorage (or order it online…the internet makes modern rural living a bit different than it was twenty years ago, I imagine).  While the cost of living in a rural area is often cheaper than cities or suburbs, it can end up getting pretty expensive to drive everywhere to pick up the finer things in life.  Just with this small difference in accessibility, life is simpler (at least for me!).

There is something in the word “rural” that implies simplicity. The definition of rural is “of the country.” It comes from a long etymology of words that mean “plain field” “open land, country” and “space.”  What is more simple than open space?  Nothing is encumbered, crowded or complicated in open space (unless you happen to be Sandra Bullock in Gravity, but I digress).  “Rural” is related to words like “rustic,” “unsophisticated” and “rough.”  Now, I’m no unsophisticated country bumpkin, and I don’t know anyone who is.  But it’s kind of fun to think that people might think that we are all rough and tumble dummies, isn’t it?

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This recently completed edible park is one block from the main stretch in Downtown Palmer. The foods grown here are free for anyone to harvest and eat if they desire. What a cool idea!

There are various types of rural towns.  There are those that are growing in population and those that are dwindling.  There are the conservative Christian towns and the wholly agricultural towns.  There are those with a population of 10 and those with a population of 7,000.  There are those with their own industry and those that rely on a nearby city.  With all of the variability no wonder it is a challenge to put rural in its own little box.

The Palmer Library

The Palmer Library

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Midnight Sun Yoga Studio

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Klondike Mike’s Saloon–used to be owned by the hay farmer at the farm I lived on last year. Rural towns are great for small world scenarios.

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Fireside books has all of the latest reads as well as local writers.

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Turkey Red is the fancy restaurant in town–Sun Circle Farm (where I work now) supplies delicious produce for this place!

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Who doesn’t appreciate a good sewing pun?

There is still A LOT I don’t know and will never know about my own little part of Alaska, but I do know that Palmer is a remarkable town.  It is progressive while staying proud of its past.  It is home to small, independent businesses and it questions–or even opposes–chain store development.  The post office has the hugest section of P.O boxes I’ve ever seen; and the library, while not huge, is part of a very thorough library system.  There is one nice restaurant in town and a couple of cafes that offer great morning and afternoon fare.  The local independently owned bookstore hosts local authors for signings and readings, and there is a yoga studio sandwiched between a couple of bars.  There are even a couple of shops that go beyond antiques and sell revamped old stuff that would make any Farmgirl jealous!  The best part?  all of these amenities are all located on one four block stretch in downtown.

Very girly revamped buffet for all of the pink loving Farmgirls out there.

Very girly revamped buffet for all of the pink loving Farmgirls out there.

I think these little critters are made from old propane tanks?

I think these little critters are made from old propane tanks?

Old Chair turned flower box!  faintly patriotic and lovely.

Old Chair turned flower box! faintly patriotic and lovely.

Antique crab cage (I think?).

Antique crab cage (I think?).

Verdant front to the antique shop.

Verdant front to the antique shop.

Outside of downtown there are more staples of rural living: auto body shops, the local animal feed store, the machinery rental place, the random window and flooring stores that make me question how they stay in business, day cares, doctor’s offices and the gas station/convenience stores that are a Godsend to those of us who live more than a couple miles outside of town.

As these long days of summer (today we are at 23 hours and 16 minutes of visible light) go on, I am looking forward to the Colony Days Festival, minor league baseball games and swimming at some local beaches.  The strong agricultural vibe that rules the Valley during the summer is growing stronger by the week and soon side road farm stands will be overflowing with freshly harvested goodies.

Rural towns leave space for beautiful plants.  Ava smells her first lilacs!

Rural towns leave space for beautiful plants. Ava smells her first lilacs!

So there it is: I live ten minutes outside of a rural town.  I AM a rural farmgirl!  Life is simple here if you want it to be, but that does not mean it is unsophisticated!  Us country bumpkins can get our asanas on and follow them up with a fancy latte and discussions of current political turmoil if we want to!  This is modern rural, and I’m happy to be a part of it!

What do you think? Do you live in a rural place?  What makes it rural in your eyes?

Until Next time City, Rural, Ranch, Suburban, exurban, travelling and all other Farmgirls.  I hope this finds you well and secure in whatever labels you have for yourself (or better yet–secure without any labels!)

Sending you peace and love,

Alex, the Rural Farmgirl


  1. Diana Henretty says:

    Loved your blog today, it is simply adorable.
    I was raised in the heart of San Diego, then moved to the desert of Arizona,
    up to the mountains of Montana and now to the Missouri Ozarks.
    I fell in love with small town living and do not want to move away!
    In fact, the older I get, the less the malls and the big cities appeal (our closest is Joplin)and the home life settles deep in to my heart.
    We are blessed here to have lots of flea mrkts and farmer’s mrkts to shop in, and so
    it is our way of life!
    Hooray for the country life….hugs from Noel, Mo, Diana

  2. Joan says:

    I too live ‘ruralish’, closest grocery and Walmart is 3 miles but 14 miles to the nearest mall/shopping center. There are 3 farmer’s stores within 5 min. so I call it rural on the plains, in the middle of a very large and getting larger housing area built on an old ranch. Yeah rural is what one makes it. I don’t, however, have a sweet baby to enjoy in my ruralness, she sure is growing. God Bless.

  3. April says:

    Great post! 🙂

  4. Care Kester says:

    Yes, indeed. You hit the nail square on the head! I live in upper Maine in a tiny community called East Winn (I am now a WINNER!). Everything is done “by hand” at my place simply because I don’t have any machinery to make it easier (I just moved here from Western MT and paid for my house so savings is low) but no matter!!!! I mow, dig, drill, love my DeWalt drill/driver, and get things DONE! I dream of how my yard will look in 5 years (might as well be realistic!) and love life. And, also, SO glad that Bangor is just 40 minutes away and a week-end in NYC every now and then is possible!
    Thanks for the great blog!

  5. Deb Bosworth says:

    Howdy Alex,
    My little Ava is growing so fast. I loved this post and the tour of your town Palmer.
    Rural to me means simplicity too. I grew up in a city that was surrounded by rural life, ranches, dairy farms, so I think for me it’s always been a state of mind even though I never really lived a truly rural life with farm animals, horses etc…My neighborhood is called rural/suburban… Not because it’s farm-like but because we are on our own well and have to have propane trucked in. No natural gas or water lines here. Rural is a state of mind.. and if you’re lucky enough to add some essence of ” real rural ” life to a modern existence then you are blessed! Having backyard chickens, access to local farmers markets, and a big garden helps too! 🙂 Love your blog Alex! Your farmgirl blogging sister from the beach! Deb

  6. Diann says:

    I grew up on the edge of the Kansas prairies in a relatively large town. I have traveled the states and the world and now abide in an area that I have spectacular v iews of the Sierra Nevada Mountains (which includes Yosemite Natl. Park) and is wide open for miles. From living in Kansas and wondering the wide open ranges, I have graved the “awayness” of the country, the rural. Why just a few weeks ago when I received my mail-in vote, the county advised me that since there were less than 250 in my district, I had no other choice but to mail my vote in as there would be no polling place….that made me smile and sigh with relief that I would not have to stand in line or be crowded into some small space. I guess I am of an age that hanging out in this country place just satisfys my spirit. Yep, it is mighty peaceful here in the rural area. Convenience, in my opinion, is relative. Thanks for a lovely post. And bright blessings on you and yours!

  7. Denise Ross says:

    Rural is definitely is a state of mind for me. I live in a beachside town but love the simple life. As I get older I’m definitely happier at home creating and making. I’m most contented in myself providing for my family and looking after my home, even though I work full time. Love this post, thanks for the tour, looks a lovely place. Your daughter is cute and growing up quickly

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