Daniel Orazio, Commentary Editory
America is a big place. That’s one of the first things you realize when you see a map of the United States.
It seems to me that, as far as understanding this country goes, it’s a pretty darn important realization, for the nation’s gigantic size has informed the American character as much as have baseball, Mom and apple pie. You remember Robert Fletcher and Cole Porter’s wonderful lyrics, I’m sure: “Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above / Don’t fence me in! / Let me ride through the wide open country that I love / Don’t fence me in!”
As you listen to the Andrews Sisters duet the tune with Bing Crosby, you’re thinking that you wouldn’t mind riding through the wide open country with these girls, but then comes the next verse: “Let me be by myself in the evenin’ breeze / And listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees / Send me off forever, but I ask you please / Don’t fence me in!”
Alas … So the ladies around these parts are as liberated as the menfolk! They won’t be tied down to anybody or any town. No, they crave a few trees, big skies and a space of their own. They crave land. Why? Because they know as if they were Gerald O’Hara’s own daughters that “land is the only thing in the world worth workin’ for, worth fightin’ for, worth dyin’ for, because it’s the only thing that lasts.” Ladies and gentlemen, that is the American character – one large slice of it at any rate – even if Scarlett’s father was an Irish-immigrant-turned-treacherous-Dixie-reb. But let’s leave the Civil War out of this.
We were talking about America and how much of your wall she takes up when you put up a map of her. She’s so big, she stretches from one side of a continent to the other. Such a vast expanse allows for a tremendous amount of beauty – more, I’d wager, than any other nation on earth. At the least, I’d have to believe that she possesses greater variety of beauty than does any place else.
It’s this variety that that pink-right-down-to-his-underwear Woody Guthrie was thinking of when he pictured California and the New York Island, the Redwood Forest and the Gulf Stream waters, and decided that they were all made for you and me.
What an amazing birthright (isn’t it?) to claim as one’s own both the frigid, foggy Oregon coast and the hot and bright Mobile Bay; both the sizzling hot flatlands of Texas and the wickedly cold plains of North Dakota; both the deep deciduous forests and ancient mountains of the East, and the redolent, coniferous woodlands and towering young mountains of the West.
Individual states, too, can contain an agreeable or even astonishing range of landscapes. People who malign Ohio as “flat” and “boring” must never have taken the pretty drive along Interstates 71 and 70 from Cincinnati, in the southwest corner, across the state into mighty, mountainous West Virginia and on into underappreciated Pittsburgh, not far over the Pennsylvania line. The Ohio one sees this way is green and hilly, homey and cozy. One can tell why Teresa Shumay loves it so.
Ever ridden across Tennessee? You should. What a delight it is to start in the flat delta around Memphis in the west and head east, watching forests develop and the land grow tall, land that reaches its peaks in the Blue Ridge Mountains along the state’s eastern borders.
We usually think of Washington and Oregon in terms of one long rainy season, but most of the interior portions of these two great states are in fact parchingly dry; they make West Texas and the Panhandle seem like, well, Seattle and Portland.
Alright, I stretched it a bit with that analogy, but you get the idea. The point, anyhow, is only that you needn’t visit California, that marvel of a state, to see in micro the great diversity that makes the United States so interesting. Numerous states can offer you such geographic and climatic pleasure.
As I come to the end of this piece (which was all along just an excuse to talk about my apartment’s great decor), I’ve turned iTunes to “The Blizzard” – Judy Collins’s epic tale of a snowy night at a diner up in the Colorado mountains – and poured myself a second shot of Bulleit Bourbon, pride of Lawrenceburg, Kentucky.
Ah, bourbon! America’s native spirit and as sure a key to the American spirit as anything else. As Walker Percy once wrote, “The joy of bourbon drinking is not the pharmacological effect of the C2H5OH on the cortex but rather the instant of the whiskey being knocked back and the little explosion of Kentucky U.S.A. sunshine in the cavity of the nasopharynx and the hot bosky bite of Tennessee summertime – aesthetic considerations to which the effect of the alcohol is, if not dispensable, at least secondary.”
Kentucky U.S.A. sunshine? The hot bosky bite of Tennessee summertime?
What a great, what a glorious land, these 50 wacky and United States.