Until I was 18, I’d only known one place intimately. I first arrived to this blue house, with its red door and corner lot, when I was four, but it’s the longest tenured house in my life thus far. It’s the place I call “home-home,” as opposed to the more ephemerally classified “home” of my current apartment.
I’m sure multiple factors contribute to the deep connection I feel to this place, but one of them has to be the land itself. Viroqua, Wisconsin sits in the heart of the Midwest’s “Driftless Area.” The Driftless, as we call it, comprises parts of southwestern Wisconsin, southeastern Minnesota, northeastern Iowa, and a sliver of the northwest corner of Illinois. It’s unique in that it was never covered by ice during the last ice age. Glaciers didn’t flatten the region’s steep hills, wooded ridges, deep river valleys, and most notably, its karst geology—characterized by spring-fed waterfalls and cold-water trout streams. Ecologically, the flora and fauna of the Driftless are more closely related to that of the Great Lakes and New England than the broader Midwest and central Plains.
For a long time, I didn’t realize that the whole world isn’t as lush, beautiful, and interesting as my home. I’d never known anything else, how could I appreciate it fully without contrast? When I went to college, almost exactly 100 miles away (and not nearly far enough for me at the time), I got that contrast. Madison, Wisconsin is not a part of the Driftless and, moreover, being surrounded by concrete for the first time in my life wore on me in ways I never thought to anticipate.
In my junior year, when I finally had a car, I drove home alone for what must have been one of the first times. As flatness gave way to dramatically rolling hills and valleys, I remember feeling my heart swell. It still does this when I drive back. There’s something about the unique and specific topography that gives me the sensation of being cradled—between the ridges and their accompanying valleys.
I am sure my love for the Driftless would not be so strong if I had been raised in any of the midsize or large cities in the area. The fact that Viroqua is a town of 4,500, where I can walk out the red door of my home, up a block, turn left and be in a gently sloping cornfield within minutes is all part of it.
Growing up in a rural place has given me invaluable experiences and unique perspectives. My home is stunningly beautiful and yet, Vernon county is among 30 rural counties (out of 45 rural counties in the state) that has been losing jobs since 2019. The data-driven research and analysis that illustrates this phenomenon—the stuff we undertake at the Daily Yonder—is absolutely critical in demystifying and dismantling harmful tropes about rural America.
The work we do, to celebrate the vibrance and culture of rural places like Viroqua, as well as illuminate the disparities and challenges, is important. No one else is doing work like this. We’re the only national publication focused on rural issues and stories.
I’m here at the Daily Yonder because I care about rural America. I am from rural America. There are other Viroquas across the country, and still more rural towns completely different from it. But all of their stories deserve to be told.
If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you agree. And so, as our yearly donor campaign picks up speed, I’m asking for your contributions. We are a small, nonprofit newsroom working on ambitious projects, and your gifts go directly to producing this high-quality rural journalism. Plus, thanks to support from NewsMatch, every dollar you give from now until the end of the year is matched, effectively doubling the impact of your donation.
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