America the Beautiful

I started racking up my miles when I was just a little girl. I rode in the back of the family camper with my younger sisters and tried not to get carsick. I usually failed, until my father realized that I needed to see the beauty of the world outside the pickup-mounted-camper; I could not just feel it passing by beneath me.  Those trips each summer, from the coast of Maine, through the White Mountains, and into upstate New York, fostered in me a desire to travel that, to this day, drives me (literally) to plan some very elaborate adventures.

O beautiful for spacious skies,

Blues and I moved the family from Maine to Kentucky, many years ago.  The relocation involved a Mazda station wagon, a twenty-four-foot U-Haul van, two small children (under the age of eight), my baby sister (along for the ride), a cat (in a guinea pig cage), and a guinea pig (in a cat carrier).  The distance, door-to-door, from Portland to Lexington is 1050 miles, and can be done in sixteen hours at a nice, legal speed.  We took four days to move.

In our defense, it was the first time any of us had driven in that part of the country. We didn’t really know the roads well.

One of our overnight rest stops was in Hagerstown, PA.  Our little motel sat up on a hill.  The weather had been gray and gloomy, absolutely the worst kind of weather to drive in if you are not comfortable with what you are driving or where you are going.  We were anticipating the worst part of the whole trip for the next day: the mountains. It rained that night.  The next morning, the sunrise was a riot of pinks and golds, colors created by the concentrated toxins of the Eastern air.  The air at the foot of the mountains was clear, clean; as the sun rose higher and higher into the sky, I drank bad motel coffee and took in the view of the open sky over the mountains ahead of us.  It was just a taste of what was to come, a new world, a new life opening up.

For amber waves of grain,

Blues loves to travel too, yet another reason why we are such good partners for each other.  One summer, after we had been living in Kentucky a while, we decided to throw the kids in the van and drive to St. Louis on a whim.  The trip was only 350 miles, or roughly five and a half hours.  We were bad parents; we let the kids skip school so we could have the whole weekend actually at our destination.

We had a wonderful time once we got there.  We went to the amusement park.  We went up inside the arch.  We were tourists.  In fact, that is one of my favorite things to do – visit people and let them be tourists in their own home towns.  However, the drive to and from St. Louis had some great and not-so-great moments.  Mostly, the kids were bored.  They could only look at so much farmland.  I thought, and I still think, it was amazing.

For purple mountain majesties

I have joked that I can do the drive through the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia and Maryland in my sleep. While that is an exaggeration, I have driven that route too many times to count, repeatedly crossing the Eastern Continental Divide.  I have greeted the names of the peaks there like old friends: Laurel Mountain, Negro Mountain, Savage Mountain, Backbone Mountain, to name a few.

These high points are like children, sitting at the feet of their parents in the Appalachian range.  I have been in the  White Mountains, and climbed nearly to the summit of Mount Washington in New Hampshire.  I have gazed at Maine’s Mount Katahdin, looming in the distance, and dreamed of hiking it.

Still, as the Alleghenies are kneeling at the Whites; the Appalachians are supplicants to Rocky Mountain range in the west.  I have been awed and humbled by these majestic mountains, real and true mountains, rising up and out of the ground to dominate the landscape.  I felt very small, and I was ok with that.

Above the fruited plain!

Apple orchards in Maine, orange groves in Florida, peach trees in Georgia, corn fields in Pennsylvania, wheat in Indiana… every state that I have ever visited has offered a fruit of the earth to feed the hungry of the world.  This country has some of the most productive, arable land in the world, partly because it is still relatively new to the densely-populated club, partly because of advances in technology that will deplete this resource too fast. Acres and acres of gorgeous blooms which make way for fields of green that will yield the foodstuffs we humans need to survive.

What can be more beautiful than that?

America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
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I have been incredibly blessed. I have friends, acquaintances, and associates, all over this country; indeed all over the world.  I have seen some amazingly beautiful sights. I have even seen some things that are beautiful in their ugliness. I have dipped my toes in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, as well as the Gulf of Mexico.  I have a few states left to visit, and so many people left to meet, but I am not finished yet.

Beauty is not just in the eye of the beholder; it is everywhere I go.

America the Beautiful (first verse) Words by Katharine Lee Bates, Melody by Samuel Ward

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