It's very much a love/hate relationship I have with my country. On the one hand, there is the country as land, as landscape, as air and vegetation and ecosystem. On the other hand, there is the lost community, the asphalt, the traffic, money, politics, aggression, and hostility.
It is difficult for me to live here.
But I love driving across the country, in the country. Even though I know I know that the car is a bad thing. Even though I agree that cars are bad, that pollution and pavement are clearly bad, that roads break up possibilities of community by allowing people to live far distances from each other, by limiting actual human interaction by virtue of the metal box surrounding you at all times.
But this is largely how I get to see the land. This is how I can find it. This is how I am in it.
This is a horrible thing.
I usually want to document the things I see while driving. Photographs. Movies. I want to capture the country, the brush swaying at the side of the road, the sky opening to extend into sudden downpour. Yesterday, coming back from Lansing, we saw a black and white umbrella, open, caught in a tiny tree. It stood out, ballooned and artificial, straight against the scrub, the new green buds on the grey and straw and maroon branches around it.
But you cannot just pull off the highway. There is nowhere to go; you cannot abandon the car. It is terrifying to stop on the shoulder. Everyone rushes past so fast; it is as much as I can do to open the door, the driver's side door, facing the road. I have done this. I have gotten out and around the car to stumble into the edge of the ditch in Maine, looking at the flowers, trying to figure what they were.
I go past the trees and fences and farmland, and I want to stop and be in it. I want to bring people out to the country with me, stop and have a long happy picnic in the barrens, in the wild nothing along the road. And then I will take pictures. Here are the colors on the horizon; here are the colors in the field, the quality of light on their heads, beaming down.
Right now I live in a city, if it's big enough to be called a city. There is not too much land in the city. I live in a house with a tiny patch of lawn; the plants I have planted are having trouble growing so close to the street, the emissions, the construction, the parking lot next door.
There are some good things about living here. I am in the city, with the people; lots of people walk here, at the University. People are out in the outside for a good part of each day; there is some sense of community here, however transient. Ann Arbor was not designed for cars, although the cars are trying their damnedest to bulldoze their way in.
City Hall is purportedly thinking about making State Street -- smack in the middle of the walking part of town, replete with people -- two-way instead of one. This would be terrible. Two new parking garages have gone up in the three years since I moved here; another one has been started a block from the house. The construction pushes us into the street. They are building a fence around the sidewalk, nine feet tall and chainlinked, to discourage walkers from using the only crosswalk in six or eight blocks. We walk around it, in the street, cutting through moving traffic, crossing with no light. There is nowhere else to go, multiple sidewalks blocked off, no practical route left. No one has died yet, but it's a major street.
I suppose we will see. We will see.