Small Town, Saturday Night

The joys of unexpected community and simple small-town living

What a cool time to be alive... After over a year of being isolated to our very small social bubble, it seems that humans are gathering again.

We got both doses of the vaccine a couple of months ago. And the other night, we had our first dose of live music in quite some time.

For our family, live music serves as bookends to the pandemic. Last year, we had a bundle of tickets for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (student discounts are awesome — one benefit to seminary). One of my wife’s bucket list items is to see Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which was one of our scheduled events in the summer of 2020.

And then, well, you know…

I swore this thing was going to be over by then. “Two weeks to slow the curve,” they said. By summer, we’d be good to go. Right?


A lot has happened in a year on this side of the screen. We unexpectedly moved from Chicago (a town of 8 million people) to Loyalton, CA (a town of 800 people). We had no plans to move when we came out to visit my in-laws for 2 weeks. We had laundry in the basket in our apartment in Chicago, Rory was enrolled in a great school, Alex and I were living in our favorite big city in the US, and then…

When we got out here to rural Northern California, it was like…

This is it. This is home.

Big skies. Mountain lakes. Nature. Family in close proximity. Small town. World-class skiing.

We had no idea how we were going to make this work. One of our various concerns was community. We love the people in Chicago. Midwesterners are just pretty much the best.

In a small town, options for likeable people are… slim. There are a lot of people on the opposite end of the political spectrum here in cattle country.
But after being here for a year, I can honestly say that I’ve felt more community here than I have anywhere else.

I think a lot of it has to do with this conundrum of limited options. We have to deal with each other. We have to (literally) bump into each other at the post office, grocery store, hardware store, and restaurant since there’s only one of each here.

The other night, we got tickets to this little live music shindig hosted at the local ‘Lost Marbles Ranch’ (that’s the barn up there in the image for this post). The musicians have yet to name their new band, but, wow… They were classically trained musicians — one was playing the violin, the other was playing the bassoon, and the third was leading vocals singing through an electronic synth mic, and playing various instruments through her tiny keyboard and looping it all with foot pedals.


This was no mere barnyard hoedown (as much as I love barnyard hoedowns). They started with an eclectic mix of poetic songs where they spoke for different elements of nature in the first person (“I am the snow…”). Enviro justice was clearly their MO.

In the second half of the show, they launched into a mind-blowing version of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

Now… Yes, some of the ranchers and more conservative folks wandered outside to just chat and hang out. The music wasn’t really their jam. But they were all respectful and pleasant.

I just think that all of us — ideologically left and right — were just happy to be gathered again without masks on (’twas not a mask in the house). At one point, as I sat there, I looked around… Over there was Charlie, the retired New York Times editor who had retired here. And there across from us was Katie, our landlord last year turned friend (and her kids, friends of our kid). Seated down from us was our dear friend, Charlotte, who owns the historic inn across the street (the one where we stayed when we came to ‘visit’) — who kid-sat our daughter when my wife and I were out of town last week. Next to her was her sister who also had just moved to town to work remotely and enjoy the simple life with her husband. Over there was Caleb and Marion, a couple from Oakland who had come out to stay for a week at Charlotte’s inn during COVID and ended up, like us, buying a home and staying (yes — they too work remotely).

In spite of our doubts and in spite of the pandemic... Community is here. More community, in fact, than I’ve experienced anywhere else.

Here, in this small town with fellow drifters and old-timers who want to live simply and enjoy the number of people who (I think) humans are designed to authentically enjoy… Just a handful or two.

We had no idea. But isn’t this how God works?

I used to think that God waited for us to tell Him what to do. But now I see that God picks us up by the scruff of our neck, kicking and screaming, and puts us where He wills. Like a mother hen repositioning her chicks.

Here we are.