At the last minute Friday as we were preparing for printing, we had to decrease our size of the Bluff Country Reader by four pages so the total mailing weight didn't exceed one pound in certain zip codes that had a lot of inserts, which are the advertising fliers inserted into the publication. Although our package won't rival the mammoth ones of the dailies put out just before Black Friday, it was the first time ever that we bumped up against the weight limit of the post office, which won't deliver this type of mail if it exceeds the guidelines.

The dailies don't have to worry about the weight because it just means more heavy lugging for their paper carriers. Because the postal service, in some ways, is the most efficient delivery system for newspapers in more rural areas where residents are spread out, we have to abide by the postal regulations, which have become challenging this year as it has consolidated operations, putting the so-called local sorting facility farther away.

The fact that we are pushing the limit could be seen as a good thing, indicating our rural economy is strong. However, like our relationship with the postal service, the growth is a mixed blessing.

For one thing, some of the inserts were from Rochester businesses, seeking to entice local shoppers out of town during the holiday season. People in our area have a love-hate relationship with Rochester - dismayed when it pulls shoppers away from local merchants, which weakens the vitality of our communities, but also appreciative of the jobs the regional center provides since the local employers don't have enough positions to sustain our population.

The mix also raises the question if we are still rural, or at least to what degree are we still rural? The massive trail of vehicles traveling to Rochester, or in some cases for the eastern Bluff Country cities, La Crosse and Winona, every weekday morning shows that we definitely aren't as rural as we used to be.

Still, the ag sector is a big factor in our economy and there are plenty of people, such as myself and the employees in my organization, that stay put during the working hours of each week.

Perhaps the more important question is how rural will we continue to be as the surrounding environment changes?

The biggest change ever to our future is likely to be the Destination Medical Center project, which is promising to transform Rochester, and in effect, the entire area. The initiative will bring 35,000 to 40,000 jobs to Rochester and have a significant impact on the local economy.

A group of local people met in Lanesboro recently with a DMC representative to try to determine the impact on our area. Like the initiative itself, details were somewhat hazy, although the consensus was that there will be a significant impact on local communities.

The DMC rep said an impact district has been drafted, but the boundaries hadn't been defined and the economic impact couldn't be determined for individual communities or even broader geographic areas. In other words, no one really knows what is going to happen, at least on the area outside of Rochester, as a result of this initiative.

Perhaps one day, community leaders will have to make a sudden adjustment much like our newspaper operation did last week when the cumulative impact of inserts, some of them from far away and some from businesses down the street, forced us to adapt.

Though growth is always welcome, there may be mixed blessings as some people at the meeting in Lanesboro raised questions about the effects on the area's infrastructure and transportation. The goal may be to attract more people to our area, but we have to recognize that growth doesn't just add, it also causes changes.

The meeting in Lanesboro with the DMC official was a good start. Even if it didn't provide the answers the 130 people in attendance were looking for, it should make us think.

The thinking should not be just about getting more people to our area. Although that is a worthy goal for our economic health, there are other important goals that speak more to our identity. We don't want to be just an outer spoke of Destination Medical Center.

As we prepare for a possible future that becomes even less rural, we need to remember, and preserve, that rural heritage that drew us here in the first place. Our rural life may become more blurred as DMC envelopes the area, but it is important to keep a unique identity with rural roots, not only for our sakes, but for others seeking a more authentic life.

How to do that in the face of mounting pressures is probably about as hazy as the true impact DMC's plans will have on our area, but it is something we need to address before we wake up some morning and realize it is gone.