The great irony of focusing on a fake town built to be a set for Westerns is that the whole point of a town is to provide a living infrastructure for the people in it. But there are no people. If there were people, there would be a checklist of functions.

A real town needs a street pattern and surface maintenance with night lights, electricity, gas, telephone or cell tower, sewer and water, water tower to provide a reservoir and a gravity-drive to run the pipes, wells and pumps to get the water, law enforcement and judge to gather and sort behavior. Import and distribution of goods, esp. food. Library, churches, saloons, provision for animals like fences, drinking troughs and shelter. Schools and post office. Fire control.

It is possible here on the East Slope for people to live on land they “own” that has been surveyed and registered with authorities. The people, of course, will also need authorities to register marriages, partnerships, births and deaths. Authorities will want children to attend school (with proof of vaccination) and will step in if students are neglected or abused. A board will regulate school decisions about classes and sports which seem to have equal status in small towns. They will also maintain a bus system.

But this land, away from the irrigation system that supports crops and provides recreation on the holding reservoir (Lake Francis) might have no access to water, so old trucks with big improvised tanks come to the town to get clean water. The climate is brief and unpredictable so gardens can work or not work. Eating meat is practical because browsing animals might be the crop, but even then the weather can kill them.

The reason humans can live on the high prairie comes from their “extended mind.” Cooperation with others is the basis of towns but also eases living separately in isolation by providing water and books. Windmill for electricity, “sat” phone for communication, big machines and vehicles for maintenance and travel. Some source of income.

Now incomes become separated from location, as in our pandemic work-by-computer or from interest shares in corporations or from social security in old age. It is possible for towns to evade some of the boom/bust patterns that leave ghost towns, then cause frenzies of expansion. The balance of people to houses is most disturbed when the economy is not functioning. Even in “civilized” and cooperating populations, some unfortunates end up cowering on the sidewalk or in “jungles.”

But also the infrastructure itself becomes more technical, more demanding, more standardized by laws coming from far away. The gathering and distribution of shops cannot happen without the creation of goods that must be trucked long distances, whether t-shirts or lettuce.

Ingold, among his other close encounters with the world, asks us to imagine a brick wall with all the bricks removed, the mortar remaining in a systematic lace of joining and separating. The mortar in a small town is the people. If there are only buildings, there are only bricks stacked up, fragile and easily scattered. So what holds the people together?

Similarity is effective: church congregations form among people in about the same socioeconomic bracket, though they pretend it’s some kind of belief system. Clearly it’s not. The Unitarians are a response to the Enlightenment (their principles and sources are obviously Enlightenment ideas), education, the creation of a “middle” class, and a Progressive impulse toward science of a Newtonian kind with a nod to Einstein. Arguing about God is a coverup.

Evangelical mega-churches are now revealed, even by “Christianity Today”, as based on a craving for power and wealth. Those who have it seek to guard it. Those who don’t have it, pander in its pursuit. They also argue about God but even more they seek to impose attitudes that are based on early European history: serfs and kings.

A new thought is going around that the Black Death pandemic so changed the democracy and infrastructure of agriculture and war, that it freed the serfs and challenged the kings with the interstitial advent of the middle class, literally in the middle with small town doings: shops and artisans, special skills and small interest groups. The hint is that Covid-19 might do the same sort of thing.

I’m not a sociologist, just a public thinker who lives in a small town but doesn’t participate in its festivals and auctions. The saying here is that you don’t really belong until your child has graduated from the high school. They don’t really mean high school, they means sports teams, which is why is so important for females to have access. Sports teams are the essence of the schools because they don’t want young people to forget their families and their place. It’s a way of forming attachment. This is true of both the reservation and the Euro towns.

Computer access to the world everywhere is removing the bricks of the towns. As well, people moving in whose incomes are from other places and sources weaken the mortar. Now the backs of the false-front buildings are obvious and can be seen for the shells they are. These new people try to avoid the obligation to the infrastructure that holds it all together, if they even realize it exists. Before buying a house, they look at the amount of taxes are required, the cost of water and power, etc. But they don’t look at the state of the underground sewer and water lines, or the impending costs imposed by exterior authorities.

Until this year Valier had no idea that they would be required to remove the silt at the bottom of the sanitary lagoons or how to do it or what to do with the stuff. Counties who thought they had invested in high tech voting machines that would relieve them of the effort of sitting at tables counting had no idea they were compromising their machines, corrupting them by doing re-counts that allowed tampering. Now they must invest millions in new “clean” machines or go back to hand-counting as before.

As a child I remember my mother taking my space heater and a warm sweater to the cold basement of St. Andrews Catholic Church a few blocks away where she and others, including my teachers, sat at long tables counting votes by hand. Everyone knew everyone. They were attached, the mortar holding the neighborhood together. Now that failed — there are chaos and marches at NE 15th and Alberta. Bricks fell. But I’m far away.

Born in Portland when all was calm just before WWII. Educated formally at NU and U of Chicago Div School. Clergy for ten years. Always happy on high prairie.