Although I’ve never felt less love for my government than I do this 4th of July (see my post from last week, “1984”), I love the land and many people who live here. So I’ll keep this post on an up beat, listing a few dear landscapes and some opportunities I’ve been offered, living here.
I’ve been fortunate and traveled across the United States many times, by car, train, bus, and plane. I’ve seen most parts of the country, with the painful exception of the Pacific Northwest, Texas, and Chicago for some reason. I’ve spent time in (or passed through) New York, DC, LA, Boston, New Orleans, Denver, Sioux City, Boulder, Alexandria, Jackson Hole, Saratoga, San Francisco, Raleigh, Las Vegas, Big Sur, Orlando, Providence, Burlington, Pittsburgh, Chattanooga, Fresno, Albuquerque, Asheville, and now Sarasota.
Of all these towns and cities, I think I love Saratoga best. I grew up about forty miles south of this little town, it’s my favorite town in New York state. It was well planned, built with old money (and dirty for sure), and has maintained for a few hundred years, never sprawling out, never sacrificing its character. The land was stolen from Mohawk and Iroquois tribes; somehow, the colonists kept many of the older growth trees around. It became a healing center; you went there to take the waters—and you still can, there are mineral springs with aged hand pumps all around the parks and streets. Ave of the Pines is a long, slow path, from a main road across town to the Performing Arts Center; there are two hundred foot tall pine trees on both sides, a dark and inviting walk. SPAC, the performing arts center, has a separate energy, very feisty during a concert (well it used to be; now they search bags), and on July nights when my mother took us to the ballet, it was the most elegant, refined place I knew. People dressed up in hats and gloves, the orchestra was enormous, and the ballerinas were like perfect aliens, too light and shining to be human. I went to the New York City Ballet performances at SPAC for 15 summers in a row, maybe more.
Now the wild parts of the US that I love most. In no particular order, here are my favorite places, parks, hidden preserves: the Badlands, Rocky Mountain National Park (especially at the very top, where you can walk around tundra grasses and watch the marmots waddling by), Bridal Veil Falls in North Carolina, Rensselearville Falls (not far from where I grew up, it’s a lovely, fat waterfall where bald eagles stop every spring, and a great swimming hole), Mesa Verde, Golden Gate park, Blue Mountain Lake in the Adirondacks, and Racepoint Beach on Cape Cod, the farthest eastern point we’ve got. In spite of how I feel about the rest of Florida (not good), I add Siesta Key to this list; it’s a gorgeous and vital stretch of coast, and crucial for shorebirds. Poudre Canyon, outside of Fort Collins, Colorado, is another glorious (and perpetually threatened) ecosystem; I miss it dearly. There are many more brilliant landscapes I am forgetting; if you’ve got some, please post them here, it’d be great to hear more, especially today.
Even though I’m freelancing today, not taking a holiday from my part-time, no benefits job, I’ve had some serious gifts by way of opportunity, living in the US (not saying America anymore; that’s the whole continent). Even though it screwed me up really bad, public school gave me a few things: namely, self-reliance and the burning need to get away from such a suck on creativity. Do I remember any of the math or history I learned in 12 years of public school? No, but this doesn’t matter. I wasn’t going to get a job doing either of these things, and really, is forgetting all that slanted US and world history a “loss?” I don’t think so. I remember the bad teachers though, and the good ones. The good teachers encouraged me to be a writer, despite how hard it would be, and how little money I would make (they never came out and said this exactly, just that it was …not the conventional choice in the US). My education was mostly traumatic, but it led to other, better things. Not everyone can say that, and there are lots of places where girls don’t get to go to school, or ever leave the spot they entered the world. In the US, mobility is considered to be a divine birthright (but it’s hard to claim it working for minimum wage).
The other greatness I’ve found here, as an adult, is in the hardworking creative people. While the mainstream media is a blight on the meaningful exchange of information, I know real journalists working all over the country, and on a free (no, monitored) internet, their work gets published. Small presses push through year after year, poetry readings happen every night. Artists (and healers, caretakers, social workers, small farmers, teachers) have to work against a government slashing program funding and job opportunities with an appetite surpassing Freddie Kreuger’s. But still they keep on. That’s what I see as brilliant and worth saving: indomitable spirits, big dreamers. The energy of good people coming together to overthrow tyranny brought about our first Fourth of July—we can do it again.