I was on vacation and didn’t want to read about Joe Manchin assisting our mass suicide by killing climate change legislation. I didn’t want to read about Russian brutality in Ukraine, nor the systemic failure of the Uvalde Police Department. The world doesn’t stand still just because you are on vacation but doggone it, I should be able to turn away from it.
So, my eyes didn’t stop on any of those awful headlines, not until landing on Ross Douthat’s, “What It Means to See America in Person” (NYT 7/16/22). I laughed immediately because he described writing his column in a hotel room while his four kids and wife were sleeping on two queen beds, a blow up mattress, and pack-n-play. He was in a motel somewhere in the expanse of empty and open spaces of Montana where I have also slept. In fact, I vacationed with my wife and four children on a trip across the far west similar to what he described, and so it brought me both joy and laughter — the real “LOL” kind.
I pictured him crumpled into an uncomfortable chair in a cheap motel plucking away on his laptop. As I said, I was on vacation as I read his essay and recalled writing last week’s FLT column while crumpled in the front passenger seat as my wife drove us to Maine. It is also what I did again this week, but this time pecking away in a New Hampshire hotel (not that cheap) returning from the end of vacation.
Among other things, Douthat wrote about the vast expanse of the USA and how life is so much different in the roomy middle spaces compared to the crowded and smooshed up coasts. But having spent a week in lightly populated coastal Maine — the Schoodic Peninsula to be exact — and then moseying slowly back through Southern New Hampshire and Vermont, I would counter that spaciousness and natural magnificence abounds here too.
More than once, in the course of casual banter, we mentioned, when asked, that we are from the Finger Lakes. Always it evoked “oohs” and “ahhs.” Yet oohs and ahhs is what we were doing upon our return to that rocky, island dotted, and highly contoured coast. On only one day did we venture by ferry into crowded Bar Harbor where most of the tourist go. It was so crowded it was a shock to our systems. Where we were, and I dare say in most other places up there not named Bar Harbor, the tourists are more sparse. Surely not as spread out as the tourists in Montana, but comfortably quiet.
In USA forty percent of the population lives on less than ten percent of the land — and along a coastline. The rest of us, including in the Finger Lakes, live a more spread out existence. Eighty-one percent of Americans live in an urban area, which all together comprises only three percent of the land mass. That leaves just nineteen percent of the population to spread out over ninety-seven percent of the land — from rural coastal Maine to rural coastal Oregon. All over this country — from prairie to vast expanses of farmland, to mountains, deserts, marshes and swamps, and places that defy description — awesome, magnificent, and even subtly delicate beauty awaits. It is so worth the journey.