After doing some of my errands, I drove to the area of downtown Hillsboro to look at a potential place to rent in the near future, given that the place was in a fairly busy area, even if there was some quiet space around and street parking that did not look too ridiculous, even if no one else seems to have been using it when I was around. As is my custom when I am driving in an unfamiliar area, I took a look around to spot the nearest Safeway, what library was nearby, the general feel of the place, the various restaurants and diners around, and so on. Being a person whose tastes are rather simple and consistent–good food and a good book, both of which I consume perhaps to a slight bit of gluttony–what I look for in an area is fairly straightforward. I chatted with the people who lived in the house I visited, took note of their habits, their beefs with other people, their generally gossipy ways and their desire to make the best of life, and I had much to ponder. It was the sort of experience that put me in a fairly reflective mood.
As I was driving home from downtown Hillsboro, I decided to take a route that was unfamiliar to me, one that I had seen on a map but never driven, and as I am someone who likes to have a lot of routes to get from one point to another, I took River Road off of TV Highway in the knowledge that it would eventually find its way to Scholl’s Ferry, and there to the library, the gas station, and home, at least for another month or so. Driving down that road was like taking a trip back in time, because it showed the stark divide between the two sides of Oregon in sharp relief. Close to Hillsboro, you have the areas that are being built up, with public amenities, water treatment plants, schools, business, and the like. And then you see a sign that says that you are entering agricultural land, and you see a sign protesting the United Nations, some quirky alpaca farms and small family vineyards, and a private airstrip, and a crossroads dinner that offers food with organic ingredients. Some of those elements are quirky and appealing, reminding one that this is Oregon. Other aspects, though, reminded one of the rural Central Florida that I grew up in, or the rural Pennsylvania where I spent my early childhood, neither of which are times of my life I appreciate being reminded of.
There is something deeply ominous about the sharp divide that exists between the city and its surrounding countryside. This divide is not unique to Oregon, nor to the United States as a whole. To be sure, the divide that exists in Oregon is certainly dark , and filled with violence and threat. Yet this is a threat that can be found all over the world. For example, at one estate sale I managed to pick up an interesting book  that showed how the liberalizing of Afghan society only took place in the cities, leaving a sullen and traditionalist countryside to take its eventual revenge upon urban liberals, socialists, and communists. It is the sort of nightmarish scene that could take place in many countries. When I traveled to Turkey, for example, I saw the same deep divisions between a thin coastal strip of people who were living like my dear friend Irem, focused on Europe , with a deeper hinterland towards the East that was clearly part of the greater Middle East and all of its conflicts and divisions. It is a general rule that change begins in the cities and only slowly, if at all, travels through the country, but when there is palpable hostility between the cities and their surrounding country, that is a deeply ominous situation.
I saw this in part because even though I grew up in the country, I was not someone who truly belonged there. My bookish ways, my love of high culture, and my ambitions for education marked me very early on as an odd bird, and not the sort of person who is accepted in the places where I grew up. Yet I have always been too traditional to truly fit in in our contemporary urban society as well. It would be one thing if there was a gradation between city and country, but these days the line is very sharp. It is very obvious which side of the line one is on, and there is a very real hostility on both sides to each other, and it is hard to feel anything other than uneasy about being part of a small band of urban and suburban land that is surrounded by hostile and uncomprehending rural areas. It would be better if there was mutually respectful communication, for both areas have a great deal to offer the other, and it would be far better to respect those aliens in our midst, and not merely to shut ourselves from them entirely. Yet communication is difficult, and we are far more comfortable around others like ourselves, and do not wish to take the time to cross over the boundaries among us to make friends on the other side and to reduce the tension and hostility that exists. Yet if we cannot be friendly in relatively good times, how are we to stand together in darker and more evil days?