Out in the country you can see oak trees turning brown, ready to drop their leaves.
At a meeting held by the Monett Chamber of Commerce last week, one of those attending described a nearby community's downtown district and said it was a reflection of a dying town.
Stressed appearance isn't always what it seems to be. Just like trees that shut down in the heat, a town can react much like a hibernating bear with a reduced heart rate. Neither is a reflection of dying, just waiting for better times.
We forget that Monett wasn't much to look at in the 1920s, when the warm glow of a new town had worn off and the first generation of businesses had come and gone.
It's not true that a town that fails to grow is dying. There is a leveling off point where a community settles down, something a town can sustain for years. Unless there is a serious population drop, or a dramatic shift in jobs, towns have a way of carrying on.
Some school districts still have legitimate concerns about declining enrollment. Less children mean less state funds to operate. But since the threat of non-accreditation was raised, only one bi-county school has gone away. Considering the tax base needed today to support technology in education, the disappearance of that school now seems inevitable.
Dying? Not hardly.
Sales tax offers another barometer of local prosperity. In Monett, the city's original seven-eighths of a cent sales tax grew 116 percent between 1991 and 2001 and grew another 11 percent between 2001 and 2011.
In Purdy, the city's one-cent sales tax for general bills grew 61 percent between 1991 and 2001, and another 21 percent between 2001 and 2011.
In Pierce City, the seven-eighths of a cent tax for the city's general fund generated 39 percent more in 2001 than in 1991 and grew another 21 percent by 2011.
In Verona, the city's one-cent sales tax for general bills grew by 111 percent between 1991 and 2001 and increased another 18 percent by the end of 2011.
When the same tax brings in more revenue over decades, despite the ups and downs of the economy, our towns are doing all right. It may take another season for new leaves to replace the old brown ones, but they're coming. Appearances are not always what they seem.