I met Cal DeWitt, the environmentalist, some years ago at a conference on world population. He was expounding eloquently on the need for living in harmony with God's creation when I asked him, in an offhand way, whether he had seen any place that would serve as a model.
My question was not, I admit, entirely innocent. In my experience, environmentalists can be very clear on what aspects of modern life they are against, but when asked what kind of society they admire, they may refer to the way Native Americans once lived on the land, or to some remote tribe in Central Africa. I am looking for an environmental vision that applies to modern America, suburbs and cities and all.
So DeWitt's answer surprised me. "Yes," he said cheerfully, "Dunn, Wisconsin."
"Dunn? Where's that?" I asked, suspecting a commune in the northern woods that raised organic vegetables for the farmer's market.
"Just south of Madison," he told me. "It's my town."
Dunn, the un-town
I visited Dunn in late spring last year. Leaving the freeway behind me, I took a meandering road through Wisconsin farm country, cornfields covering easygoing hills patched with black and brown oak woods. I was looking for a town to appear, but it never did. The first thing I learned about the town of Dunn, Wisconsin, is that it's not a town. In Wisconsin, the place where you find stores and schools and inevitable taverns—what I call a town—is a village. A town in Wisconsin is a subset of the county, a square of open country six miles on a side.
That doesn't imply, however, that there is no "there" to Dunn. At one time few residents thought much about the locale. They lived in the country "just south of Madison." That has changed quite dramatically over the 25 years since ...1
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