Last week I had occasion to visit with my father at my parents’ property in the lovely Berkshire Mountains region of New England. They live elsewhere in western Massachusetts, but have owned this 30 acre parcel in a very rural community since I was very young. It’s not especially well-developed … there is no running water and thus no usable bathroom (unless trees and bushes count), but it is a peaceful and lovely plot of nature I’ve always enjoyed. For Dad, it’s heaven here on Earth; Mom, not so much, but she deals with it.

As I was making the 135-mile pilgrimage from my home outside of Boston and across the state, contemplating once or twice how much gas my SUV was sucking down and wondering more how families will arrange to visit when the price of gasoline—or its unavailability—make these kind of treks prohibitive, I found myself thinking more and more about all the people who live in the small, out-of-the-way towns at the opposite end of Massachusetts.

What are they going to do?

After I exited the highways just north of Springfield (the largest city in western Massachusetts) and began traveling the sparsely populated back roads and on through occasional farmland—dotted only very rarely by anything that resembled a commercial establishment and miles and miles from any malls or shopping centers of note—I kept wondering: how difficult must it be for them now to just get around and run the types of errands that you and I do rather effortlessly?

What are they going to do?

How are these people going to make do tending to their most basic of everyday needs when gas prices are off the charts, when ownership of autos is prohibitively expensive, and when basic transportation becomes an issue of monumental complexity because we no longer have the readily available supplies of gasoline we’ve been accustomed to for decades? How can we expect public transit to help people when they live miles from anything even resembling a sizeable city?

How will they deal with the loss of the modern, daily conveniences those of us in and near big cities routinely take for granted, conveniences which they even now surely labor to enjoy? From my home in a quaint Boston suburb, I can walk to my bank, my dry cleaners, my wife’s office, the grocery store, several convenience stores and restaurants, the pharmacy, the post office, and scores of different retail establishments. At the bottom of the very steep hill we live on I can grab a bus which takes me to the subway which takes me to the Amtrak station or the MBTA commuter rail system or Logan Airport, and from there, the world.

And these rural townspeople far removed from city life: What are they going to do? Most, living in these hilly towns with neighbors often several acres away at the very least, cannot walk to … anywhere. There is no close-by there, there. Getting there requires a car, even for the simplest of errands (biking up and down some of those hilly stretches is a job best left to Lance Armstrong). I can get a gallon of milk 200 yards from my home. People in these rural communities can get that same gallon of milk three or four or eight miles away right now.

I don’t know if bus service of any kind runs out there (doubtful), but if it does, I’m sure it’s a once a day event for most. “Big city” Springfield is 40 + miles away from my parents’ property; not-quite-so-big-Pittsfield is about 15, tucked in the northwest corner of Massachusetts. While Pittsfield will never be mistaken for a big city, it certainly has most of the modern amenities anyone would need: malls, banks, restaurants, retail establishment, car dealerships, and all the rest. Still … can’t get there from rural here without a car.

Median income is about $45,000 in the town where my parents own their land; population is about 1000. Not a big demand in places like that for malls, stand-alone retail stores, convenience stores, grocery stores, or public transit. Hell, it shares its post office with another town! They do have a fire department and police force, but no one will mistake the size of those forces with what we’re accustomed to in cities or towns of 20,000 or 50,000 or 300,000.

I may be mistaken, but I sense that these people are much more what we recognize as salt-of-the-earth folks: hard-working, straightforward citizens content with many of life’s simpler pleasures (obviously, and to their everlasting credit), living most likely from paycheck to paycheck. I doubt many of them are wealthy progeny of big industry titans, or live on these outskirts thanks to endless piles of family money. They are thus likely to feel a fair amount of pain and stress when fuel prices increase and travel becomes more difficult every day. They are going to suffer more than their fair share.

How do they plan and execute their frequent trips to the market, or to stores to purchase family necessities, or get medical care, or entertain and visit with family members and friends, when they live so far from … well, everything? Right now I imagine it’s a bit of a convoluted process to try and get all of those things done. Surely some careful planning is required, whereas for me, I can just hop in the car any old time and complete my local errands in fifteen minutes. “Local” has a different meaning in the rural Berkshire communities.

What are they going to do?

It’s not just the inhabitants of these pleasant and placid towns that will suffer. What happens when we simply do not have enough oil and gas to meet our own demands—however sourced—and we have to endure restrictions of one kind or another that are much too painful to consider right now? How will those residents—so far removed from our easily accessible every day creature comforts and amenities in big cities as it is—manage when they simply can’t get anywhere?

What are they going to do?

Peak Oil is not just about big city residents suddenly being forced to rely on public transportation more than they care to. Peak Oil is about lots of people in lots of places who are not going to have the resources and conveniences and comforts they need as and when they need them.

What are we all going to do?