On Elephants and Agrarian Populism

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A mighty fine day at the end of the Age of Abundance


circus elephants boys.jpg

The Circus came to town on Tuesday-an honest to goodness professional circus. It was the first time, to the best of the town people's considerable knowledge, that a circus had set up the Big Top in Clinton, Minnesota. As far as I know, it is the first time that elephants and a zebu spent the night in Big Stone County. Maybe an elephant or two had passed through the county in the past, but it was remarkable to be standing in the rural prairie with elephants. Don't get me started on their cousins the mammoths (which I miss).

It started as a day like any other. I woke up early on my farm-- a place on the edge of wild. A rough place of fields, flies, weeds, and animals. I took the kids to town to see the Big Top go up- rumor had it that the elephants would be part of the work crew. There was a crowd of people, not all of them with kids in tow.

The two performances that day, as I heard it, were the best of local entertainment. They were brought to this corner of the earth by expensive gas and a poor economy that makes a hamlet like ours (and the next down the road) both viable and appealing to this family owned Circus and their business model.

From the circus I went to the local branch of our State's land-grant University where I was able to stand shoulder to shoulder with boiler engineers, farmers, students, professors and other people who hold their heads up high without a single doubt that they belong exactly where they are. The inscription on Northrup Hall reads:

The University of Minnesota
Founded in the Faith that Men are Enobled by Understanding
Dedicated to the Advancement of Learning and the Search for Truth
Devoted to the Instruction of Youth and the Welfare of the State

And for that one night it was true. We were enobled... to the person. We were there for a common purpose (clean energy, sustainable food systems, clean water) though approached from many perspectives. We were treated to some of the finest foods I've ever tasted (all locally raised meat and produce), good homespun local music, and the best of people. In the glow of it all, I earnestly loved each and every one of them.

In some ways, Tuesday August 2nd, 2011 was the remaining shadow of the pinnacle of the Age of Abundance-- a time when public universities educated everyone, when we could afford to take risks with resources to see what innovations would emerge, a time, frankly, when the seeds of a Minnesota miracle could take root and grow.


One should savor every moment of the waning Age of Abundance. As I drove home from UM Morris the orange sliver of a new moon pierced the red and purple horizon and around me were pelicans, geese, fox, a turtle, and frogs to dodge on the road.

But do not despair at the end of this Age-- because it brings things to us that we might not otherwise have, like elephants in Big Stone County. Proof in point: On one single day in very rural America, a woman can go from her rustic farm to seeing elephants to being enobled and inspired at a public university.

And I'll leave you with these words from a Wall Street Journal article titled "The End of the Age of Abundance"

"Dynamism has been leached from our system for now, but not from the human brain or heart. Just as our political regeneration will happen locally, in counties and states that learn how to control themselves and demonstrate how to govern effectively in a time of limits, so will our economic regeneration. That will begin in someone's garage, somebody's kitchen, [somebody's farm- kjd notes]... The comeback will be from the ground up and will start with innovation. No one trusts big anymore. In the future everything will be local. That's where the magic will be. And no amount of pessimism will stop it once it starts."

2 Comments

Hey Kathy--We are not going to be out at the farm until next weekend, so if you would like to raid our garden, go ahead. I know there will be swiss chard and zucchini--not sure about how anything else is growing. Oh yes, have some beets too if you want. Don't mind the weeds, and you can unplug the electric fence in the barn before you go in.

Yee haa!!! Will gladly go and raid your garden in the coming days... Thank you very much Diane.

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This page contains a single entry by Kathryn Draeger published on August 4, 2011 5:32 AM.

Kicking the Can -- 2030 A Book Review was the previous entry in this blog.

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