Darkness on the Edge of Town

Letter From the Upper Midwest

I became aware of it as I was walking our dog in the neighborhood around our new home in Arkansaw, Wisconsin: the utter silence around me under the shroud of a clear winter’s nighttime sky.  The darkness on the edge of town where my home is located underscored the reasons we had chosen to live there.

Being on the edge afforded plenty of space to walk the wirehair terrier and ponder what all of this meant.  I can pull out of the driveway of my little 1960’s rambler home right into the parking lot of Arkansaw Middle School, just across the street.  A football practice field, a softball diamond, and a playground are also nearby.  The town cemetery is just behind the town garage at the end of the school driveway; beyond that, there is nothing but fields, farms, and hills.

If you drive around rural Wisconsin on a snowy winter’s night, as I often do as a newspaper reporter, you always look off into the distance for the glow in the sky that announces the presence of an upcoming town.  It relieves the mind to know that there is a port in the storm, even if you don’t have to stop (or want to)—like a ship’s captain on the Great Lakes relieved to see the lighthouse.

You wouldn’t get that kind of glow from Arkansaw, however, with its population of 300.  If you looked at an aerial nighttime map of western Wisconsin, you could draw a line between the light...

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