Boomers & Stickers

There are boomers and there are stickers, wrote Wallace Stegner: those who need to go and those who need to stay. The boomers push on, restless and searching, the stickers linger, setting up towns and local governance.

My introduction to Stegner was Beyond the Hundredth Meridian: John Wesley Powell and the Second Opening of the West. I’m not sure if this is where the boomer/sticker notion first surfaced; I suspect you’ll find it — at least thematically — in his fiction, as well. Over the years it’s been picked up by community-builders and church-builders and was the launching point for this lecture from Wendell Berry.

Most of those who reference the boomer/sticker dichotomy are in favor of stickers: people who put down roots and participate in the work of building local communities and local economies. Few seem to take the side of boomers, who are described by turns as opportunists, gold-diggers (literally), fortune-seekers, rootless, greedy.

It seems a little harsh to me, and I doubt that Stegner intended his binaries to be the last word on why humans stay or go. Surely people set out for the territories for reasons other than greed and acquisitiveness, just as those who stay don’t always do so out of any great affection for their hometowns. Sometimes folks just get stuck.

Personally, having lived for lots of years among the stickers, I have a certain soft spot for the ones who just gotta go.

I like this song by James McMurtry. It gets the point across.

“Flatter than a tabletop
makes you wonder why they stopped here
wagon must have lost a wheel
or they lacked ambition one.”