Wednesday, November 12, 2014

rural adventures

The title to this post from earlier this week caught my eye immediately. "My job wants me to deal with shotguns, guard dogs, mud holes, and dark woods"... it's another day in the life of Short Geologist! In the case of the Ask a Manager post, it's someone who's sent out to canvass for something or other, and their management is shrugging off their safety concerns.

The comments (as usual) go off in a million directions, but I wanted to address a side discussion about rural poverty, and stereotypes about where you can encounter it and how dangerous those areas actually are.

I'm an overeducated East Coast Big City person, and especially when I was younger, I'm sure it was pretty obvious that I was out of my element when I did fieldwork out in rural, poor areas. And I sometimes got a hostile reception. Sometimes we were chasing down contamination from a neighboring industrial area that had employed a bunch of locals before getting shut down. Or I was acting (in some small way) as the agent for the government, and a resident had a certain... strongly held objection to his tax situation.

Lots of other East Coast Big City types think of "Deliverance" type poverty (shanties, barefoot kids and scrawny dogs underfoot, no running water) as only happening in the deep south and far, far from populated areas. Not true. As some commenters pointed out, you can travel less than 2 hours from any major city in the northeast and find those areas. I've done residential sampling in some of those areas, some of which were 10 minutes and one road off the nearest interstate exit and less than a half hour from a major population center. "Country mansion" (old trailer with several plywood/tarpaper extensions)? Check. Half naked kids running around during school hours? Check. Collection of rotting trucks out front with no plates? Check. Survivalist-style gun racks/canned food collections? Check.

Here's the thing. I've been harassed just as much standing on the sidewalk in a fancy suburban development as I have in some of those rural, poor areas. Poorly-behaved, territorial dogs are everywhere. And I've been in a lot of basements. Let me tell you, it is a rare house indeed that has a basement that isn't scary and infested with creepy crawlies. If you need to poke around houses out in the country, you should have a buddy... same as anywhere else.

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