Friday, July 16, 2010

rural America

I was built for rural America. Within minutes of getting into the hay-and-tractor-oil scented farmland under the wide open sky and beating sun, my soul sighs with relief. Muscles in my skull and shoulders that I’ve forgotten I have relax for the first time since the last time. It’s so powerful I have to wonder whether this affinity for the earth and space and solitude and serenity of the open farm country is genetically ingrained. I’m only one generation removed, after all: my dad (to my simultaneous relief and dismay) abandoned the Washington dairy farms to become a gol’darn liberal academic.

Driving down the county roads to the one hardware store within 70 miles, a bald eagle, turkey vultures, swallows, and hundreds of species I can’t identify fly within yards of the car. The speed limit is 65, but 50 feels plenty fast when listening to Greg Brown with the windows of my Chevy down. The single sign between Adin and Bieber says “tractors: next 8 miles”. There is one bar in the next town over, and the lack of competition entitles the bartender to glare and snip at every customer at every opportunity. But in the frosty-and-burger joint, the woman ordering at the counter with her visiting mother could tell the lifestories of the two sisters working the grill as well as their own parents.

Everyone knows everyone, but when there are miles of open fields in any direction and horses to ride freely through them, the friendliness can never get oppressive. Take a deep breath and look up at infinity if ever you feel shackled.

There is one school, one grocery store, one library, one National Forest headquarters, and the one church has half the cars in town parked there on Sunday afternoon. Elementary school kids ride their bikes down the highway, and why not? They’re moving as fast as the tractors and faster than the stray goats.

Every house has a lumber and scrap metal pile in the backyard, scattered cars and trailers on blocks and deprecated sheds. Rusty ‘70s Harleys parked by the tomatos. They don't bother wasting crop water on the brown patch of Bermuda grass in front of the porch. The billboard in the supply store is plastered with work wanted advertisements, skills offered, and notices of fresh eggs for sale. The recession hit these parts harder than the mobile city labor forces, but what’s not wasted isn’t wanted, and money can’t buy happiness. The clich├ęs are true and remembered.

I haven't traveled the world much, but here I wonder why I would ever want to in the first place.

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