Journeys by Chance

Wikipedia says this about Corb Lund:

Corb Lund is a Canadian Western and Country singer-songwriter from Taber, Alberta, Canada. He has released nine albums, three of which are certified gold. Lund tours regularly in Canada, the United States and Australia, and has received several awards in Canada and abroad.

I have no idea how old or young he is; the paragraph above summarizes almost all I know about him.  One other thing I know about him is that he produced an album entitled Agricultural Tragic that includes a song entitled Old Men.  Even though country and western music is not among my favorites, Corb Lund’s brand of music in that genre appeals to me. At least what I’ve heard appeals to me.

It’s rare for me to pay any attention, beyond their music, to recording artists. Their personal lives simply hold no interest for me; I guess I assume I will never know them personally, so their biographical details are irrelevant. That having been said, I was a little curious about just who this Corb Lund guy is (which I how I found the Wikipedia entry), so I did a bit of digging. I learned that he is from Taber, Alberta, Canada. Taber is a very small town about fifty miles north of the U.S./Canada border, north-northwest of Great Falls, Montana. Its population of roughly 8,100 is employed primarily in agriculture. Again according to Wikipedia:

The Town of Taber gained notoriety when it adopted [in March, 2015] a bylaw on February 23, 2015 that granted the police and bylaw officials the authority to levy fines for controversial actions including swearing, public assembly, spitting and applying graffiti on one’s own private property. The bylaw also implemented a curfew.

As one might expect, the bylaw was challenged as unconstitutional, violating freedoms of expression and association protected under Section Two of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I do not know whether the challenges had enough traction to be upheld. The fact that the governing body of the town saw fit to pass such a law seems utterly bizarre, until one digs a little deeper into the rationale for it.

According to a May 16, 2016 article in the Calgary Herald, “Southern Alberta is home to thousands of Mennonites who’ve emigrated from Mexico in recent decades and settled in Taber and nearby hamlets and villages, including Enchant, Barnwell and Grassy Lake.” The article goes on to say that Mennonite young (mostly male) gather on Sunday, after a week of hard work, following church in the Walmart parking lot on the edge of town to socialize. Some of the Mennonites (and others, apparently) claim the law was aimed at curbing those gatherings that some people in the area found disturbing.

The 2016 census (Canadian) reported that 43 percent of the residents of the town of Taber report that German is their mother tongue and Mennonite was the most frequently reported religion among townspeople.  The Calgary Herald article goes on to say, “The gatherings are simple. Some sit on the backs of their pickup trucks, while others light cigarettes, look at cellphones and talk in English and Low German as families trickle into the shopping centre.”

I make a number of assumptions about the culture of small towns in the U.S. I assume the populations of small towns are, by and large, fundamentally conservative. I assume small towns have deep, if not direct, connections with agriculture. I assume people who live in small towns are more likely to be bigoted than their more worldly big-city counterparts. I wish I could erase these biases from my brain, but I cannot seem to get them to disappear; I encounter too much evidence that supports them. Even when I come across progressive/liberal people in small towns, people who are open-minded and tolerant, I assume those folks are aberrations.  More bigotry. Those biases apply to small towns in the U.S.

I make an entirely different set of assumptions about Canadian small towns. I assume their populations are largely liberal, well-educated, tolerant; but also connected in some way to agriculture. Anecdotal data suggests those biases and assumptions are misplaced, though. While Canadian small towns may (or may not) be more liberal than their U.S. counterparts, they are not necessarily progressive in the sense that my mind has heretofore decided them to be. It’s wishful thinking, I believe. I want to believe all manner of positive things about Canada because I have found so many legitimate reasons to believe so many other positive things about Canada. Biases and bigotry work in odd ways. They may be based in part on facts and experience, but they transform personal interpretations of experience into evidence in support of perspectives that have no real basis in reality.

Let me add that the comments I’ve made thus far about small towns, the populations of small towns, the philosophical leanings of people in small towns (whether Canadian or in the U.S.), etc. are based more on a flash of personal assessments than on facts. I cannot seem to stop myself from making assumptions, even after considering that they may be based on inaccurate interpretations of slanted information. While that flaw is one I wish would dissolve into a mist of regret, at least it might offer a cautionary encouragement to look for evidence of unwarranted assumptions in my thinking.

So, how has it come to pass that a post that began as a contemplation on a Canadian country-western music artist turned into a musing about bias and bigotry with respect to my feelings about a small Albertan town? That’s just the way my mind works. Or doesn’t work; the rust may prohibit linear thoughts from taking hold.

A few more things about Taber, Alberta. It claims to be, or is called, the corn capital of Canada. There’s a cenotaph in the center of downtown Taber. And there’s a place called the Aquafun Centre that features a 200-foot water slide, a sauna, a steam room, and more. I would not have thought a small town would have such an entertainment feature. That’s not my bias speaking; it’s my assumption (perhaps faulty) about the size of population necessary to support such a venue. And it’s my assumption, based on virtually no knowledge of the area surrounding Taber, that the area has an extremely low population density. Why do I think that? I don’t know. I just do. Or I did.

It’s my understanding that Corb Lund still spends his time on the family farm outside Taber when he’s not touring Canada, the U.S. southwest, Australia, and Europe. By the way, how do I know of Corb Lund? I heard one of his songs, Old Men, on Sirius XM radio several times as I drove to and from CHI Rehabilitation Hospital to visit my wife. It’s intriguing, to me, how chance experiences can trigger mental journeys like the one I’ve just documented.

I just heard from my wife. She is awake and waiting to have breakfast and take a shower. I should do the same.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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5 Responses to Journeys by Chance

  1. davidlegan says:

    Sabbatical? Well, damn.

  2. Cheryl, that song does make it laugh! I found “Truck Got Stuck” on Spotify after reading your comment. That bylaw is, indeed, bizarre. Judging from the background that I read, it seems to me that it emerged from bigotry that I wish did not exist in my fantasy-land of Canada. I suppose even Canada and some Canadians have their flaws. 😉 But not you! Thanks for reading, Cheryl, and for commenting!

  3. Dave (You do go by Dave, don’t you? If not, my apologies; I blame my aging brain), of course I remember you! I appreciate your following my blog from time to time. And thanks for taking the time to comment.

    You’re right to an extent, in that the post evolved through several thought processes (as my stream-of-consciousness posts always do). While I was not thinking, explicitly, about systemic racism, I was thinking about systemic bias and the assumptions that inform bias. While condemning negative bias and its ugly expressions, I was thinking how my own biases, as pure as I might think they are, can cause similar outcomes.

    But the thread to systemic racism, even if not explicitly intended, is obvious to me on rereading what I wrote and your comments. Confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance work overtime to embed racism in ways that make it hard for “racists” to recognize in themselves. And you are right in saying that is what makes it so dangerous. I really appreciate your comments. They made me think. I think you understood as an observer, what my words meant, better than I did as the guy who wrote them! Does Alexa know Corb Lund? I guess I better find out, too.

  4. Hopester says:

    Listen to his song, “Truck Got Stuck”. It’s pretty accurate. It makes us laugh.
    I didn’t know that many of Taber’s residents speak Low German even though the only time I’ve been there was with a friend who visited her mother in a nursing home and her mom only spoke Low German. Dearest One is from a Mennonite background and his parents first language was Low German as well. I only know a few phrases and Dearest One didn’t learn to speak it really, but could understand some of it. Some of his cousins speak it fluently. That bylaw is bizarre.

    It is really is the corn capital. We have fruit stands that advertise Taber Corn for sale.

  5. davidlegan says:

    The Metaphor of Taber
    Hi John. You may (or may not) remember me as a “performer” at a couple of your open mic nights. I’ve been following some of your blogs, sort of silently sniffing around…as Jimmy buffet wrote: “just trying to get by, being quiet and shy, in a world full of pushing and shoving.”

    Today’s blog about Taber, and your assumptions about rural Canadian towns, was not about Taber, at all, was it? It was about the systemic racism that’s become this summer’s “topic de jour,” By systemic I do not mean evil, or planned, or even recognized. That is what makes it so dangerous; if not recognized it cannot be confronted. We have biases and pre-set opinions built in, like yours that hint at Canadians being a kinder and gentler people, who are progressive enough that at least they allow one to paint graffiti on their own barn. These pre-set opinions and biases exist unrecognized in the hearts and minds of most people. And, if confronted with them, confirmation bias and cognitive dissonance would prevent the confrontee from accepting the idea that subliminally, unconsciously, he held racist feelings that affected the way he reacted to and treated folks with a different color, or language, or background.

    Of course, you could not have written about systemic racism, directly, in this part of the U.S. So, you picked Taber, and Canadians as the metaphor. Well done.

    Now, I’m gonna find out if Alexa knows Corb Lund.

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