Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Heartland

I was dreaming up the first line for today's entry as I was enjoying the ride back from a fishing expedition through the beautiful Ozark landscape--more of which later. The first line was to have been: a day without Bush, Bush.

Alas, it was not to be. Close, though. The day started with a visit to the BassPro stores--a journey into the heart of the heart of the Heartland of America. An incredible emporium of sports clothes and equipment, hiking boots and fishing gear, tents, camouflage caps and rainwear, camping equipment of all kinds, all-terrain vehicles, motor boats... and of course guns. Everything a man could need to destroy the abundance of the natural world around him. Then there were the stuffed animals--giant polar bears and grizzles, deer and armadillo, raccoons, possums--an entire zoological garden of prime taxological specimens. And the artificial streams running through, with artificial bridges and artifical ponds well stocked with oversized trout and bass--the latter real, so far as I could tell. And aquaria and terraria with fish and snakes and spiders, including one with a giant 75-year old turtle (tortoise? I never could tell the difference) weighing in at a respectable 170 pounds.

It was, in a word, a paradise in which artifice could interplay seamlessly with nature, and man could satisfy his every outdoor need. My personal favorite was the men's restroom. I was fortunate enough to need a pit stop before leaving--I might otherwise have missed it--and ventured into this sanctuary all unprepared for the delights within: walls painted richly with trees and foliage, a blue sky above, and soft music everywhere, interrupted only by the song of birds and the chirruping of crickets. Missing only, sadly, was a central tree trunk to accomodate the urinals. a circular affair along the lines of a Parisian pissoir. Only "natural." Something to think about...

Ah, yes. America! You would have loved it, Bush! I did.

This brief incursion into the world of nature prefaced a stimulating brush with art, in the studio of Rebecca Miller, my hostess here in Springfield, a teacher in the Drury University art department and director of the gallery--it was she who invited me to curate the show that brought me here. It's always a privilege and a pleasure to be with an artist in the studio and hear them talk about their work--the expression, always, of a deep, inner, private life that sees the light of day only in the form of a drawing, a painting... in this case, a remarkable series of photography-based works with a very different sensibility about the world of nature than the one at the BassPro stores: here, the focus was on compassion for its vulnerability against the onslaught of our human species.

Lunch, then, with a lively group of students. I don't often get the chance, these days, to spend this time with young people--now a couple of generations behind me. This particular bunch was smart, alert, and politically informed. I have to report, Bush, that they were more than a little critical--and that's the polite word, here--of your performance in office. We could have talked a whole lot longer, had we had the time.

And then the fishing expedition... With a couple of unscheduled hours in the afternoon, I had asked if a brief excursion into the surrounding countryside might not be possible. I got more than I bargained for. My friend Tom Russo--he of The Fens fame (see earlier entry, Bush, if you've forgotten)--drove me out of town for maybe forty-five minutes, no more, and we found ourselves in a true natural paradise in the middle of the Ozarks. We stood at the edge of a small river and listened to the only sounds that interrupted the otherwise vast silence: the subtle ripple of the water, and the song of birds (real ones this time, Bush!) While Tom was retrieving the fishing rods from the car, I disturbed a pale coyote, lazing just a few yards from me as I walked, and watched him lope off into the woods. Then we cast a few lines--something I haven't done for forty years or more!--smoked a good cigar, and enjoyed the surrounding landscape with its towering limestone cliffs and its lovely hillsdes, green with trees.

So I thought to myself: how glorious. A day without Bush. But then reality hit as we drove back into town and we found ourselves talking about the war, and terrorism, and the lack of affordable health care, and the decling state of education in this country...

Not much time for more at the moment. Must pack and get ready for my ride back to the airport. Enough to add, quickly, that the opening of the exhibition I'd curated was a great success. Well-attended, with generally good response. And we sold some books, Bush, you'll be happy to hear, and handed out fistfuls of cards and bookmarks. I trust we'll have gathered a few more readers for our efforts here. Then on to a convivial dinner with faculty, new friends... So many people of good heart! It has been a truly rewarding three days here in Springfield, Bush. Wish you could have been here. You'd have found no shortage of friends on your side, too...

3 comments:

Rebecca said...

Peter, you are an extremely kind and compassionate person and we loved having you here in the heartland these past few days. It would have been a pleasure to include Bush on our trip to BassPro, perhaps he could have demonstrated for us how to fire a gun. As too, I would have enjoyed his presence in my studio, to see if he could comprehend that the work, like life, is about the sacredness, fragility and respect for all life, even those beings that you fear. You, Peter, are always welcome here in Springfield! Thank you for being you!

PK said...

It's always nice to have 2 sides so one isn't hearing the, 'I agree' all the time. Discussion, or debate is always welcomed, only time I see it not, is when it's blatantly obvious that there is no debate. Right is right even if no one does it, wrong is wrong even if everyone does it... Glad you had a good time Peter:).

PeterAtLarge said...

Thank you, Rebecca! I'll get back to you via my other email address shortly. Cheers, PaL