In my last column, I received a plea from James “Captain Planet” Fitzpatrick of Florida, a firefighter looking to relocate to a small, friendly, environmentally conscious mountain community with good schools, reasonably clean air and water, and no polluting companies or toxic waste sites. As this was obviously a job for discerning Grist readers, I turned the question over to the multitudes, and letters have been pouring in like Californians fleeing an earthquake.
In today’s column, I am pleased to convey the results of this informal Grist survey. As with most polls, these results represent the views of a small portion of the vast and diverse Grist readership and (with the exception of those fans who favored Portland, Ore.), do not necessarily reflect the views of Grist Magazine, its underwriters, or its subsidiaries.
Although there was no single contest winner, there were some unmistakable trends — so, James, go grab a U.S. map. First, get a pair of scissors and cut out the entire area between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains: Nothing recommended there. Next, look north; virtually every suggestion fell within a few hundred miles of the U.S.-Canada border. (Or you could take this trend to its logical extreme and just move to Canada. “Join the draft dodgers,” as one writer suggested.)
Another notable trend was the tendency of many people to recommend places where they themselves do not live. You might want to take these suggestions with a grain of salt. On the other end of the spectrum were the hometown boosters, the folks who are so desperate to lure more eco-heads to town that they offered to write James personally to discuss the benefits of their communities. (“We can always use more tree-huggers!” begged one resident of Everybody’s Favorite Town.)
Others were a bit more wary of publicizing their beloved towns, and hence opposed to the very idea of this survey. To quote one Carolinian, “If I did live in such a paradise, I would not be so (pardon me) stupid as to advertise it in such a way that thousands of people would read about how wonderful it is there. I wouldn’t want those thousands moving there! Sort of defeats the idea, doesn’t it?”
Personally, my favorite suggestions were the tiny towns I had never heard of, like Nahcotta, Wash., at the mouth of the mighty Columbia River, where a reader offered James all the oysters he could eat. Or Walton, N.Y., on the Delaware River in the Catskills; Owen County, Indiana, which has no mountains but some nice hills; Sechelt, British Columbia, a place I can’t even pronounce; and Horseshoe Bend, Idaho, great for whitewater rafting.
On the West Coast, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, Nevada City, and Arcata, Calif., are apparently divine; Portland, Ashland, Eugene, and Josephine County garnered the most votes in the great state of Oregon; Boulder and the undiscovered town of Salida were popular Colorado spots; Whatcom County, Wash., and Anchorage, Alaska, got votes for being mountainous (the landscape) and sociable (the people).
On the east side of the continent, there are apparently enchanting towns in the Ithaca, N.Y., area in the Adirondacks, and in North Carolina near the Blue Ridge Mountains. New Hampshire and Vermont were big favorites among Grist readers (especially among people living in Los Angeles and New York City). I can particularly vouch for Meredith, N.H., Norwich, Vt., and Portland, Maine, all heartily endorsed via long, charming, and persuasive letters from locals. (“I bet if James took a little Maine vacation he’d find our state to be just what he’s looking for.”)
Still others felt that if James were truly concerned about the environment, he would either stay where he is and work to improve conditions there, or move to a city and sell his car. Finally, a few people wanted James to pick up a copy of Communities magazine and consider living in an intentional community or eco-village.
Maybe that’s the life for James; maybe not. I’ll wager he’s got some other criteria to go by, such as proximity of relatives, height of mountains, availability of jobs, West Coast vs. East Coast inclinations, and so forth. At any rate, I hope he’s eager to begin his search; all these letters got me pretty excited about the beauty of small communities.
If nothing else, we now have a good idea of where a portion of the Grist readership either lives or would like to, and that’s as good a place to begin as any. Maybe James can start a Grist reading group in his new hometown, wherever he may find it.