Independence Day

Sitting on the front porch of this Federal house on the intersection of two quiet country roads in upstate New York, I discover it was once a gentleman’s farm. Apparently he grew apples and tended poultry here in the summer, and in winter he went across country to California to farm there. East coast and west coast: two different worlds on this vast continent called the United States.

On this July 4th Independence day, as my north-eastern friends quietly celebrate this important birth day with food cooked on the barbecue and intellectual conversation, I am only half listening to what is being said. My mind is wandering over the Redwood forests and Pacific coastline, through low desert and high desert and into the great plains that I have just ridden across in my faithful VW camper van. My body arrived on the eastern seaboard a day ago yet my emotions and spirit are trailing behind, holding onto wonderful memories that are worthy of savoring for months to come.

I take a quick look at a journal that I had begun way back at the start of this year in northern California, and recount the strong political voice of environmentalists talking of the Redwood forests, sustainable farming and local communities. There is a flavor of the wild west in California that I had not realized before, distinctly different from the apparently more detached air of the northeast.

As my mind continues to wander through fields of corn and pastures of cattle, I remember the warmth and friendliness of the mid west states of Oklahoma and Missouri and the people I met on old route 66, young and old alike attracted there by the values of a bygone era. This “the mother road” of America, the first interstate that connected the heartland with the wild west, is undergoing a resurgence, it seems. As people search for meaning and interconnectedness in a world that has moved at a pace too fast for the human psyche to follow, is there still a common thread that unites this land and its people, I wonder.

How can I possibly begin to describe this great land and what it is to be American? How do I write about ‘the true spirit of America’ that I have been in search of while driving from west to east all these months?

This vast continent is one of states as large as some European countries, each proud of its way of life and often at odds with a government whose center is a long way away in distance and in its thinking. The wild west of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas is about as different as you can get from the cool intellectualism of  New Jersey, New York, and New England. Yet even in this day and age where the optimism of the American dream is eclipsed by the worst recession that most have experienced and daily news of the Gulf oil disaster brings more doom and gloom, there is still an underlying belief that this nation will prevail. Despite all, there still exists the intensity and desire to be ruggedly independent and to create one’s own order.

Does this fiery spirit come from those immigrants who left the confines of Europe to break free and create a new dream or is it in the earth itself, and what is it that keeps it alive?

Perhaps it is the vast open backdrop of this huge and wide continent that keeps the American spirit boundless, alive and free. When the terrain is so vast and its people so varied, it is not possible for the human psyche to do anything but expand beyond the horizon of what the eye can see or the ear can discern.

And as I listen to the voices I have heard and recall the surprise of Californians who thought they had no accent, Texans who smiled when I joked that I sounded just like them and Oakies with their rich, golden tones, I pause to find one word to sum up the spirit of America.

And then I chuckle, for it’s most apt today of all days. The one word is Rebellious!

Rebellious! So very obvious really and I laugh aloud as if I had never thought of it before.

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9 Responses

  1. Hi Carole
    thank you so much for taking me on this trip with you! i love your reflections and met another Carole than the one i thought i knew. May be you ARE another one; you – as we all – are many. What reflections do you have to the experience of ‘rugged individualism” and need of independence? in these times where Gaia and news all are telling us we need to pull together or we won’t make it.
    ??

  2. Hi Isabel, How lovely to hear from you and to receive this question. All across the USA I have seen signs of people waking up because of the disasters that are affecting them personally, either economically or environmentally.
    Many seem to be realizing that there HAS TO BE A NEW WAY FORWARD and I pray that our sense of connectedness will grow stronger each day so that we all become more united – across states, countries and continents.

    Thank you for your words of appreciation and encouragement. As this roadtrip ends, I hope that I will not be overwhelmed by what awaits me on my return and that I continue to write each day. Look out for more posts coming up, backdated to the time that I wrote them in my head, if you know what I mean!

  3. The people who first came here were looking for religious freedom, but then denied it to others. A lot of Scots came after 1745, because their way of life was taken away. The land was devoted to sheep raising. They came here and went inland to the Appalachian mountains. Here they were out of sight to the authorities.

    I believe people who emigrated were bolder and more rebellious. There is an attitude of I can survive. My dad taught us to fish, because if you can fish, you never go hungry for long. He hunted, 13 miles outside of New York City. Rabbits and squirrels. It wasn’t too far to go hunt deer, possum, woodchuck, once even a rattlesnake.

    People who emigrated here were willing to work and prided themselves on supporting themselves. This is the kind of immigrant we want and need. What we don’t need is a massive influx of “takers” who work, but don’t earn enough to support themselves and their children.

    Australia had a start as a penal colony. I always wanted to go there when I was younger. Then I met a neighbor who was from Australia. She said it was like the US twenty or thirty years back, both in attitude, and products available.

  4. Loved this post! I felt I had travelled across America myself and the word ‘rebellious’ took me by complete and delighted surprise 😀 xxxxxx

  5. Why is it that “living the American dream” has to do with materialistic stuff…big house, expensive car, flat screen TV, ect…screw “living the American dream” because my dream is nothing like that…and I will be living it.

  6. Welcome back (almost) Carole! As the Grateful Dead said so often, “What a long, strange trip it’s been!” Many thanks for the discipline and time it took to capture the moments and the miles and then to post them for all to share.

    • Hi Stephen,
      Long indeed, due to many detours and distractions in CA; strange …. not sure.
      What I would say is it’s been full of:
      1. CHALLENGES – learning to drive without power steering or any mod cons, learning about the van’s engine, testing weather conditions (storm in Monterrey, heat in desert), tricky terrain, and mad drivers in CA, etc.
      2. FUN – VW enthusiasts, VW clubs and camping trips, people on Route 66, people everywhere who asked to have photos with the van, and my friends on the van’s Facebook page who kept me going.
      3. ACTS OF KINDNESS – people who gave me guest beds and showers and laundry facilities, others who taught me how to camp in a VW van, mechanics who tweaked the engine for free or half pay, and strangers who waved at me on the road.
      4. MANY MORE things I’ve yet to write about …
      Cheers,
      Carole (http://www.facebook.com/carole.brown1)

  7. “The wild west of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas is about as different as you can get from the cool intellectualism of New Jersey, New York, and New England.” …Should I be insulted? Naw…we are HOTTTTT here in Az. and we are intelligent in a smart ass kind of way. I loved following you on fb and I’m still hoping that someday to take a cross country trip at a nice, relaxing, pace. thanks. Leslie

    • Absolutely, Leslie, I agree. Intelligence is many things.
      I was attempting to make a comparison between the head and the heart. As a healer, I believe intelligence resides in both.

      Thanks also for all you wonderful comments on our Facebook pages and we hope to join you and your VW camper on the same road one day.

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