Sweet Afton

Exurb: A region or settlement that lies outside a city and usually beyond its suburbs and that often is inhabited chiefly by well-to-do families. (Merriam Webster Dictionary)

I live in an exurb: Afton, Minnesota. It is a region that lies outside the sprawl of suburban Woodbury on the West, and the St. Croix River on the East. Established in 1855, it was named after a Robert Burns poem, Sweet Afton. The first verse:

Flow gently, sweet Afton, amang thy green braes,

Flow gently, I’ll sing thee a song in thy praise;

My Mary’s asleep by thy murmuring stream,

Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream.

It is inhabited by well to do families. The median household income is $96,000. It is 96% white. No one lives below the poverty level. Of the 2886 people that live there, only 863 households live in the town itself. This means the majority of households are scattered around the district, mainly on five acre or larger plots in up-scale houses. Afton prides itself on being a bastion of bucolic living holding back urban sprawl. While clinging to the perception that it is primarily rural, and while there is agriculture, the main crops are exurban homesteads for the well to do.

The well to do are protective of Afton’s ambiance. There is currently a controversy before the city council about a plan to develop a parcel that would require a variance from the established ordinances and long range plan. A developer, being a developer, wants to chop up many parcels on a plot of sensitive land, which will maximize his profits. He also needs a variance to build an access road which he plans to run through an existing home he proposes to tear down. People are up in arms. Despite the Planning Commission’s recommendation to deny the permit, there is fear that the city council will ignore that recommendation and approve the development anyway. It is unclear why. But it wouldn’t be the first time the council has ignored the input from the Planning Commission.

Seems like the only time everyone rallies is around perceived threats to the bucolic nature of the place. Well, there is the annual 4th of July parade, and rumor has it that Afton will host a parade for Jessie Diggins, gold medal cross country ski winner in the recent Olympics. The attitude is: we like this place the way it is, and we don’t want to be Woodbury.

We moved here ten years ago and built our home on a five-acre plot in a development that the developer called the “un-development”. Seven home sites, five currently with homes. We know our neighbors, but seldom see them. We like it that way. We like our isolation and privacy. However, there will be a couple more houses built next to us, and we anticipate feeling hemmed in.

With a couple of exceptions, we know little about the people that live in Afton. While some may have lived here their whole lives, and come from ancestors who settled the area, our guess is that most have moved here from somewhere else, like we did. All wanting a little piece of country with the convenience of a commuting distance to the Twin Cities.

Our exurban life is isolating, but again, we like it that way. No nosey neighbors. Mostly quiet except for the neighbor’s dogs barking. Wildlife—deer, turkey, and an occasional coyote, in the woods. Aspen, pine and oak, and the invasive buckthorn, the battle against which is constant. Some poison ivy as well, but not too much. In warm weather, deer ticks. Put on the repellent and tuck your pants into your socks.

Currently the snow is covering the back yard. We’ve had a few storms this winter that required a snow blower and shoveling to dig out. When the snow melts there will be grass to cut. Fortunately I have a riding mower. Most of my neighbors do as well.   Some even hire a lawn service.

We’ve had to pay tree removal services a couple of times to take out dead trees or ones leaning too close to the house. I’ve cut down a few myself, and stacked the wood by the edge of the lawn. Each spring we burn brush in our fire pit. Every year I weed whack in the woods to keep the buckthorn and other weeds down. My wife cuts down buckthorn and paints each stump with herbicide. Yard work on top of routine house maintenance. Always something to do.

So what is the point? I’m not sure. Maybe it is the observation that people will pay a lot of money to live here. Or, at least they have in the past. I hear that more and more boomers as they age want to live in a condo or apartment in the city for the convenience. Maybe. But some, like us, would feel hemmed in. We would chafe at the noise and the crowds of the city. Besides, we might encounter nosey neighbors. In the meantime we’ll continue to enjoy our elbow room and fight any developer who wants to turn sweet Afton into Woodbury.










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