State statisticians will tell you that Vernon County (of which Viroqua is the county seat) is "the second poorest county in Wisconsin".
But perhaps measuring richness in only dollars and cents is a misguided attempt at determining the value of people, places, or communities.
Because once your basic needs have been met, there is much more to quality life than the size of your bank account. I think often of Bhutan who, instead of measuring their country's GNP (gross national product), measure their GNH – gross national happiness instead.
Perhaps Viroqua is the Bhutan of Wisconsin.
We might not be rich in dollars, but we're undeniably rich in connection, creativity, and kindness. We have made it a priority.
Many of us moved here because we were longing for community, for kindred souls, for belonging in a small rural town. And we found it. I've written before about our welcome here some 11 years ago: a three week "meal wheel" – home-cooked dinners delivered to our door by strangers night after night when Lupine was born – only weeks after we moved in and didn't know a soul.
This was our perfect place to land.
And because community is maintained by our continued participation in it, later this week I will cook and deliver a meal to a family with a new babe as well. That's how community happens. One meal, one project, one outstretched hand at a time.
Because as backward as it may sound, at the heart community is individuals. Individuals choosing to go out of their way to build it.
A spark of community lights when someone has an idea of how they can bring art to our neighborhoods or kindness to those in need. Community begins to take form as those projects are tentatively brought into the light. And then like a magnet, these small actions draw in others who desire the same, and a community is built.
We've done that in this quirky little town, as have generations before us.
But I digress.
I guess it's hard for me to talk about this parade without first exploring what community really means. Because this is the heart of both our little town and our annual parade. And though my post today isn't as much about the goodness in these hearts so much as the creativity that dwells there, I had to touch on both.
For the eigth year in a row Viroqua has risen above your average town of 4,600 (in my heart, anyway) and pulled off an epic, beautiful Harvest Parade to welcome the autumn season in with open, loving arms. Run by volunteers on donated supplies and cash, the Harvest Parade is the highlight of autumn.
The very first parade, way back in 2010 was an absolute delight. Lupine, Sage, and I all participated, and I remember thinking at line up, "Who will be watching? Aren't we all here?!" Because, well, it's a small town.
And it felt like that again yesterday. So many familiar, friendly, sparkling faces, bedazzled and lined up to parade. So much laughter, joy, and an effervescent energy of community in the most tangible sort of way. Parents, grandparents, and individuals; babies in arms and kids on foot, unicycle, and bike; homeschoolers, public schoolers, and Waldorf; farmers and town folk; born-here and transplants.
This time Lupine marched alongside a few dear friends, and Pete, Sage and I stood aside and soaked it all in, watching our community dance by. And what a sight it was!
So what can I say, Viroqua, except: Thank you.
Thank you to the people who show up and make this kind of magic happen. To the people who pause their work and make time to create community.
Thanks to those who have the vision, the passion, the imaginations, and the dedication to pull this kind of magic off. To those who don't necessarily have the time, but who make the time. We're all so grateful that you do.
And truly, this little town is that much more magical because of it.