People, people everywhere

I’m a Western kid.

No, I don’t mean that I listen to country. I dislike rodeos and I don’t own a cowboy hat. But I grew up in the West and I’m out-of-place in this East Coast world.

There are many things about the East Coast that are foreign to me (another blog post for another day), but one of the most obvious is population density.

Just to demonstrate, I’ve lived in four counties in three states in the last decade. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, this is the most densely populated county of the four.

Population density of counties I've lived in (Source: U.S. Census, 2000)

Now I recognize that I grew up in a county with more than 1,000 people per square mile, but I moved away from there when I graduated high school. I attended college and started my career in Carbon County, Utah, population density 13.8 people per square mile. I lived for a year in Uintah County, Utah, population density 5.6. Chelan County, Wash., was only slightly more dense at 22.8 per square mile. But here I am in Livingston County, N.Y., where there are 101.8 people per square mile.

It doesn’t seem like a lot, but I don’t think I’ve driven five miles in New York without seeing a building. UI used to do that all the time out West.

I talk to people here in New York who refer to the western end of the state as rural. And I know that when you compare it to New York City, they are right. But it’s all perception.

Here, it seems there is always a porch light in the distance, a pair of headlights slowly passing and the constant glow of busy city life on the horizon. People here don’t know what a starry night is because there is so much light pollution that you’ll never see most of those faintly twinkling stars. Out West, there were times Heather and I were the only people within miles of where we stood. The sky was dark at night. The stars were vivid and we used to drive out to the hills away from the homes and sit in the car, staring up at the sky to watch meteors streak across the darkness. And during the day, a view across a hundred miles can be nothing but sagebrush and rock. I miss that.

View from The Wedge in the San Rafael Swell.

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