September 26th, 2008 | Travels and Appearances, Uncategorized
I’m home in Vermont after a three-day jaunt to the midwest, and look what happened while I was gone! The woods are aflame.
I carted State By State on my trip with me, which added a strange new dimension to the always strange experience of being hyperlinked across the country from airport to airport. I read Dave Eggers’ essay on Illinois en route to Chicago. And Susan Choi’s on Indiana as I flew over the soybean grid to Indianapolis. Tony Horwitz’s grisly Virginia as I hopped back north to Cleveland, and then Andrea Lee’s haunting Pennsylvania as I flew into the dusk on a gentle parabola back to Vermont over Lakes Erie, Ontario, and Champlain.
All of the essays I’ve read so far are wildly different–some intimate and personal (Indiana, Pennsylvania), some sprawling and historical (Alabama, California, Virginia), some microsopically particular (Arkansas), some grandiloquently general (Illinois), but similar themes are touched on in almost all the pieces: the loss of the natural landscape to sprawl, the decimation of the native people who lived here, the forces of conservatism and provincialism, and the author’s own unsentimental yet slightly mystical love for each particular place.
It’s a good book to be reading right now when I’m in such a pitch of despair over the future of the republic—an excellent antidote to Palin-dronian cynicism.
Look, here are a couple oddities from my trip. This is the front porch of the Women’s Center at De Pauw University. Jeanette Johnson-Licon, the director, hand-lettered the whole deck in silver Sharpie in an allusion to a scene in my memoir Fun Home.
Being a paper fetishist, I’ve often admired these giant paper airplanes in the escalator-well of the Cleveland airport, but I never have my camera handy. They’re made from sheet metal painted to look like newspaper, lined notebook paper, and a page from a yellow legal pad.
I have to say, appalling and terrifying as this country can be, and suspicious as I am of that slippery slope between patriotism and nationalism, at the moment I’m feeling a strange tenderness for these united states.