By KAREN PARKER | County Line Publisher

I was cruising from Ontario to Kendall last week when it occurred to me that I was mentally checking off what I knew about many of the places I passed by.

I suppose if one lives in the same place for long enough, one builds up a dossier, a mental file cabinet of sorts, filled with knowledge about our fellow travelers in life. Running a newspaper might make that habit even more prevalent.

The homes slipped by in my rearview mirror while I made connections: cheap affair, messy divorce, foreclosure, house fire, tragic accident, early death. Those are all bad things, but it is the perversity of human nature that makes those things stand out in our memories.

Rural dwellers tend to know more about the members of their community than do our city cousins, who often could not tell you who lives two doors down or anything about their lives.

This knowledge represents almost 40 years of living here. Imagine what I might know had my parents and grandparents been natives to the area.

This all crossed my mind after reading an essay in the New York Times entitled, “Giving Up My Small-Town Fantasy.”

This young lady lived in San Francisco, where rent is in the stratosphere and the dream of home ownership is destined to remain just a dream. She and her boyfriend moved across the country to Hudson, N.Y., a town of about 6,600. Right off, I think, “6,600?” Around these parts, that is a metropolis. I bet the town even has a Pizza Hut and a Wal-Mart. As it turned out, it had even more than that. A favored refuge for weekenders from the city, Hudson offers cutesy gift stores, coffee shops, fancy restaurants and art galleries.

But I suppose trading San Francisco for Hudson did seem like coming to a village, perhaps a village rather like Bayfield, Wis., has become.

Our writer became immersed in her new job and bought a home for a fraction of what one would have cost in San Francisco. Her boyfriend pursued his dream of writing a novel.

As I look across the landscape, all of this sounds vaguely familiar. People land in the Kickapoo Valley, believing they have found paradise, and build their dream home, and then, within a few years – gone. The for-sale sign goes up out in front, and neighbors look in at empty rooms.

I call this the “many are called but few are chosen” syndrome.

One part of me is happy that not everyone likes the rural life. If they did, it would be so crowded I could never afford a home here. On the other hand, our need for fresh blood and new energy is great, and it saddens me to see so many flee after a short time.

Though we are a society on the move, relocating to a new home is always stressful. I would contend the move is even more stressful when it’s to a rural or small town, as our writer soon discovered.

Her only social contact was with work colleagues, and a few meager attempts to make friends ended in a dead end. Before long, she found herself depressed, listless, and spending long hours lying in bed. The underpinnings of her previous life – old classmates, friends and coworkers – were gone, and in its place was a big void.

“It was so easy to want to live in Hudson, so hard to actually live in Hudson,” she writes.

Not surprisingly, our writer took a new job and decamped to Manhattan, but not without regrets, however, that her dreams of small town life with outdoor amenities and a better quality of life were not enough to sustain her.

It occurred to me after reading the essay that her dream was exactly her problem. Living the rural life is not one long zip down a ski hill or going to sleep to calling owls any more than city living is an endless tour of cultural events or getting pizzas delivered hot to your door.

For most of us, a life well lived includes connections. It’s why we hang out in the restaurant over endless cups of coffee or why we join a book group, church or motorcycle club.

Alas, small towns are problematic. It’s not that they are particularly clannish, although they can be. But they do have so much shared history that it is hard not to feel like an outsider. All of those relationships have been growing for years, maybe for generations, and penetrating into the web becomes nearly impossible.

When we first moved here, we had an elderly neighbor who passed on useful knowledge about community members, whom to trust, and whom to stay away from. It did not add much to our comfort level, but it likely saved us from a few disasters.

I found it surprising that our writer never once mentioned getting involved in community organizations. Hudson may be too well heeled for a food pantry, but surely there are plenty of other organizations and volunteer groups that would welcome helping hands. In an age of networking and making connections, one would think that would have come to mind.

It’s one way to make friends and, furthermore, it’s something to do while waiting five or six decades to be accepted as part of the community.