Angelia McLean: Country Mouse City Mouse 1-17-11
All six of us recently returned from a good old-fashioned road trip. You know the kind; good-intention-healthy food and drinks run out after the first 100 miles, multitude of potty breaks at waysides and convenience stores, nauseating junk-food and the general chaos and disorganization that comes from being in a car for 17 hours. We drove from Denver to Miami, and Miami to Wisconsin then back to Colorado with a whopping 4,300 miles and 11 states. Needless to say, we saw a lot of countryside we’d never experienced before.
And what a beautiful country it is. Every state has its own “country fingerprint.” Signs in Georgia promoted their peaches and pecans of which the latter were found stocked in warehouses like pecan-scented toilet paper or a pecan-shell Jesus. We drove a state highway for a few hundred miles and went through small towns that never seemed to have left the 1950s. Illinois was one big flat field covered in snow and cold but the pro ethanol signs were a clear indication of what they grew in season. Missouri has a number of grape orchards surprisingly. One can purchase pies and wine along the route. Kansas, Tennessee, Kentucky all had some sort of agriculture or rolling wooded countryside. Florida was a pleasant surprise. Often it is the hurricanes or voter screw ups that put that state to the forefront of the news but I really liked the non-urban areas especially the Everglades where every half mile or so I’d spot an alligator sunning itself and would yell, “there’s one!” Our beloved home state of Wisconsin continues to amaze me as we drive in search of our farm. The Amish children will be outside their schools playing tag in zero degree temperatures. No inside day for them! And a majestic bald eagle swooped in front of our car and landed the closest I’ve ever seen.
Years ago having lived in France, I enjoyed going “a la campagne” first-hand. My friend and I traveled by rail and then hitchhiked to a small cottage complete with outhouse and candles for light. Locals held a religious procession through their tiny town carrying whatever saint was tagged “it” for that day. Hitchhiking back to the train station got us into a sticky situation with two old country Frenchmen who’d already imbibed their Sunday’s quota (plus) of spirits and offered us not only a ride but good ‘ol Cuban cigars along the way. Weaving all over the road we did arrive in tact but had to turn down their offer to take us all the way back to the city. Darn.
I had the privilege to take a bike tour of the countryside of Greece. How does one small area contain so many wonderful products? The scenery made up for the fact that the bike seat did not come padded. Seeing the rolling countryside that one normally sees in those fancy coffee table books relieved the worry that a cardiac arrest was pending due to the 45 degree inclines in 90-degree heat. Rosemary, lemons, oranges, grapes, olives and flowering pomegranates rescued one from their pedaling misery. A tour of Italy unveiled fields of sunflowers and many overloaded vineyards. Individual Italian houses had gardens with heavy-laden tomato vines, and other fresh produce. People stuck a garden wherever they could no matter their space on this earth creating picturesque window boxes and stone planters.
Other countries, other countrysides each with their own take on what it means to be in the country, agriculture or a farmer. Defining “country” or “countryside” gets harder as fewer farms and rural areas in this nation stay that way. Where once 70-80 percent were employed in agriculture, 2-3 percent are these days. Do we need to redefine agriculture? Does a self-sustaining city dweller get to be included in that percentage? Is a defining line needed? Who cares? Watch for my ‘Wish You Were Here” postcards from somewhere in the countryside.