What a remarkable and extraordinary country we live in. I just came back from a six-day road trip, something I don’t do often. I went to see my daughter at her new home in North Carolina, and decided to stop at my alma mater in Athens, Ohio. I graduated from Ohio University’s dance department in the early 80s and had never been back.
One of the most stunning blessings I received was the beauty of our country. The farms unfurl extensively in Illinois and Indiana, rolling plains that go on for miles. While the single crop farm is not healthy for soil or ecology, there is a sense of calm that these corn and soybean fields offer to the passerby.
Flatlands give way to the hills and wooded areas of Southern Ohio. I was so touched to see areas on the sides of the road where the wild plants are not being sprayed with herbicides. The lavender-blue flowers of chicory, little fleabane daisies, tiny yellow blossoms I could not identify without pulling off the road for a closer look greeted me in hello. They serve as a low border for the trees growing out of low hills cascading up and down the highway. A creek here, a meadow there, the communication was the rich verdure of our earth.
This landscape continued into West Virginia – a beautiful state I don’t have a desire to drive through again any time soon. While its lush mountains inspired me to sing John Denver’s “Take Me Home Country Road,” its two-lane roads snake up, down and around through the Blue Ridge Mountains, with truckers vying for position. It’s a tense drive, although when one can focus on the land for a minute instead of the road, it is simply gorgeous.
West Virginia gave way to its neighbor, Virginia, a state I truly enjoyed. Still some mountains here, but generally a much more open space, and the green was yet again everywhere. Hardy deep green pines began to become prevalent, and continued all the rest of the way into North Carolina.
Once in North Carolina, my family and I took a trip to Lake Waccamaw en route to Wilmington Beach. Who knew that at the corner of the lane to our Airbnb, a canal that boasted alligators can easily be seen on a morning walk? Well, we didn’t see any on our walk, but we saw some amazing scenery: hibiscus, bay trees, sphagnum moss and algae, all reminiscent of the bayou.
We were also visited by the inhabitants of a red anthill, a potential disappointment on a nature walk. Later, one of us caught a glimpse of an alligator as we were driving to the visitor center at Lake Waccamaw State Park, where we were headed to see a million-year-old whale skeleton. Our schedule mandated that we turn back before finding the center, but at least one of us sighted an alligator!
The drive from the lake to Wilmington Beach took about an hour. We went through miles of plains, and while much of the landscape was of various sized homes ensconced in green, some of these lands were with tobacco, cotton and peanuts. Although I’d seen these crops growing before, it always fascinates me to see plants sown that don’t grow here in Illinois. Little tips of white coming out of the cotton plants, the huge pale tobacco leaves, and the deep green of the peanut with its traditional legume leaves. And then the beach. How glorious to be on the beach! The water was wild with a warning of its rip current on a sign. The air was windy. But oh, the smell of the sea, and the feel of salt water on our bodies, the sand under our toes filled with tiny shells of sea creatures – the sea was a magnificent, ferocious gift. We swam and walked and delighted in it.
And the People…
I met many different people – on my travels alone and those with family – from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences, faiths and lifestyles. We might not normally appreciate or understand the life of a trucker, or the worries of the farmer. While we may typically find the ultra religious individual an uncomfortable conversation partner, especially if his or her faith is not the same as ours, we may see ourselves transcending our differences. We may find the rural breakfast stop and its owners to be very kind. We may find warmth in the large men of color we encounter. All of these individuals contribute to make up the fabric that is our country. Just as the land is filled with a variety of geologies and ecosystems from one locale to the next, so is its population. I am grateful to have experienced both in this trip, feeling the richer for the diversity I experienced.
May we find joy and appreciation in our natural world and in the wide variety of people we meet.
Rabbi Robin Damsky