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AMERICA IS A COMPELLING PLACE TO BEHOLD, in both the literal and more figurative uses of that word “behold.”

Sometimes I love America as a child loves a father. This kind of love is the very etymology of the term “patriotism,” from patris, “father(land).”

I’ve travelled extensively in the interior West, and every time I do the beauty of the landscape takes my breath away. The beauty is not mannered and settled in the way that other continents are — the quaintness of rural England, for example. The American West has by contrast a wild, elemental, almost careless loveliness, and traveling through it I always get the humbling sense that it doesn’t care whether there are any witnesses to gasp in awe. John Ford, the great director of American Westerns, loved shooting long shots of his characters making their way through Monument Valley or the Canyonlands of southern Utah, and once remarked that he used the scenery as a sort of silent character in his films.

Sometimes I love America like a lover loves his beloved.

I’ve always loved New England, in part because I’ve loved Robert Frost’s poetry since I was a child. The first time I went to New England was in October 1993. I stayed at the summer cabin of a friend deep in the Vermont woods, in the middle of a clearing of about 2 acres. I flew into Boston’s Logan Airport just as the sun was setting, rented a car and drove the six hours through a very black night to the cabin, the headlights catching an occasional flash of leaf colors of an enticing vividness. I woke up before first light the next morning, made myself a mug of black coffee, bundled up in woolens — it was about 20 degrees out — grabbed an old lawn chair and walked out into the middle of the meadow. The sun was just throwing a pale glow in the eastern sky as I sat down, my heart racing as I waited for the sun to fully reveal the leaves I had only glimpsed the night before.

The light grew into a gray dimness, and then a frosty blue just before sunrise and the edge of the surrounding woods began to glow with an odd fire as the maples, beeches and oaks revealed a dim but growing riot of shades I hadn’t known occurred in nature.

By the time the sun peeked over the horizon and shone directly on the treetops, I was surrounded by colors so vivid I wondered whether I might be hallucinating — brilliant scarlet, fiery orange, vivid violet and golden yellow, all mixed together. I walked into the woods as a slight breeze made the leaves tremble, stirring like quivering psychedelic stained glass in God’s own cathedral, and I savored every moment, knowing I would only see these woods for the first time once.

And sometimes I love America like a parent loves a child.

When I listen to jazz — whether Duke Ellington’s regal compositions, Miles Davis’s almost impossibly erudite modal experiments, John Coltrane’s soulful expressiveness or Ornette Coleman’s fearless odysseys — I am proud that only America’s unique mix of tragedy, defiant hope and restless inventiveness could have produced such amazing music.

We are still the only nation that has ever landed men on the moon — we are, perhaps, the only nation in history with the mix of technical competence and almost foolhardy daring required for that particular feat. When John F. Kennedy proposed that endeavor, he said he thought we should make the attempt “not because it is easy, but because it is hard.” Not despite its difficulty, but precisely because of it.

America in December 1941 looked across the oceans to a pair of continents well on their way to complete conquest by two of the most ruthless powers that have ever existed, a significant portion of its Navy sunk in Pearl Harbor, and while it would have been understandable if the American people had pressed their government to sue for peace and let the oppressed peoples in Europe and Asia fend for themselves, instead we came together and defeated two powerful foes within 3 ½ years, burying our enemies under a tsunami of materiel produced by American workers in seemingly limitless amounts. In 1944, American workers manufactured the number of planes in the entire current U.S. Air Force — every three weeks.

If I criticize my country as I often do, it is because I love her enough to be disappointed when she falls short of her best, as she too often does. I see her dissipate herself in senseless wars, besmirch her reputation with torture programs and rendition and so on, and feel bad not because I think she is evil, but because I know she is better, far better than that.

As we watch the fireworks tomorrow, let’s reflect on the remarkable achievements of our ancestors, and let’s be inspired not just to add to their successes but to correct their failures, too. Let us forge a more perfect union.

Originally posted to mftalbot on Thu Jul 03, 2014 at 12:14 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (16+ / 0-)

    The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts. -Bertrand Russell

    by mftalbot on Thu Jul 03, 2014 at 12:14:28 PM PDT

  •  This is just beautiful. Thank you so much. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mftalbot, rebel ga, Navy Vet Terp

    Oh oh, I hope THAT doesn't end up in someone's sig line! :) - kos

    by Susan Grigsby on Thu Jul 03, 2014 at 02:38:50 PM PDT

  •  Les travailleurs... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mftalbot, rebel ga

    ....n'ont pas de patrie.

    The superfluous goods of the rich are necessary to the poor, and when you possess the superfluous you possess what is not yours." St. Augustine

    by Davis X Machina on Thu Jul 03, 2014 at 02:44:46 PM PDT

  •  Nicely done. n/t (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mftalbot, rebel ga

    Corporations, which should be the carefully restrained creatures of the law and the servants of the people, are fast becoming the people’s masters. -- President Grover Cleveland, 1888

    by edg on Thu Jul 03, 2014 at 02:56:10 PM PDT

  •  Reminds me of a favorite patriotic song (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rebel ga, mftalbot

    though technically Finland owns it.

    "The extinction of the human race will come from its inability to EMOTIONALLY comprehend the exponential function." -- Edward Teller

    by lgmcp on Thu Jul 03, 2014 at 04:28:34 PM PDT

  •  Often, in modern times, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mftalbot, ladybug53

    we're all cynical and ironic, because it's "hip," or whatever.

    I'm thinking of you sitting outside in 20-degree weather to watch a sunrise. I commend your ardor, your passion.



    Supple and turbulent, a ring of men/ Shall chant in orgy on a summer morn...

    by karmsy on Thu Jul 03, 2014 at 05:36:53 PM PDT

  •  happy 238th America! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ladybug53, mftalbot

    we are believe it or not, the oldest country in the Americas. we pioneered the idea of national parks, and have more protected land - about 800000 sq miles- than any other country, 4 times as much as Russia, and more than Canada and Australia, who are #2 and 3 on the list, Combined. still there are literally hundreds of areas in this country that could be protected and aren't, because this Congress doesnt give a damn about our special places. making this country a better place requires a constant vigilance and struggle, as Franklin put it , " a Republic, if you can keep it' we lost our collective minds after 9-11, and regaining our senses will take years.

    •  National Parks (0+ / 0-)

      and the idea of wilderness... Thank you, John Muir.

      “If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin.” Charles Darwin

      by ivorybill on Fri Jul 04, 2014 at 07:35:11 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Muir and Pinchot and TR (0+ / 0-)

        and all those that followed in their footsteps. we should have more wilderness than we do, but at the same time, folks have to have a place to live too. so its a balance.

        •  We can rebuild... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          our nation toward greatness once again.  Please consider encouraging Bernie Sanders to run as a (D) for President.

          •  i favor working as much within the party system (0+ / 0-)

            as possible. given the dominance since 1850s of the rs and Ds, trying to create a third party is very unlikely to succeed.  Sanders imo is a great man, but would not be electable for president, not in a country where socialist and liberal are dirty words, and even someone as historically moderate as Obama gets pegged as to the left of FDR. i agree that we can rebuild. we need to revive the new Deal, and in particular the CCC and public Works administration. monmey isnt the issue, putting people to work ios. Government is not business, just because you may be successful in the private sector confers no advantage in running for the public sector. a business can fail by running out of money, government cannot, since it can print as much as it needs to pay its debts. Government does things without regrd for earning a profit, indeed, if the government did not give out over 1 trillion a year in subsidies, many of things we take for grated would be impossible. owning a home is subsidized through the mortgage deduction, agriculture and oil and gas exploration receive billions in subsidies, that frankly should be abolished.

  •  We need (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    a rigorous debate within the Democratic Party in order to begin the rebuilding of our democracy.

    •  This is a good place to start (0+ / 0-)

      US Continues Iraq Buildup with Combat Troops, Helicopters
      Denying 'Mission Creep,' US Escalation Creeps Along
      by Jason Ditz, July 04, 2014
      Print This | Share This
      US officials continue to loudly protest against concerns of “mission creep” in Iraq, but with the rate of the military buildup in the nation it no longer appears at all credible to deny that the administration is moving toward direct involvement in the latest Iraqi War.

      Last week saw deployments of growing numbers of ground troops, with claims Obama’s promises of no boots on the ground only covered “combat troops.” Monday of this week, the first combat troops came, with the promise now shifting to a “no combat missions” one.

      Even that seems absurd, as the Pentagon sends Apache attack helicopters into Iraq for the combat troops to use in these “non-combat” missions. The administration appears to recognize the unpopularity of a new Iraq War, but seems determined to escalate quietly until it is no longer a potential move to warn against, but a simple reality.

      Though US operations center around Baghdad, the first special forces troops have also been sent northward into Irbil to set up a second Joint Operations Center for the fight against ISIS.

      Even the denials of America’s war-footing in Iraq are getting mighty slim, with Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey saying of direct US military involvement only “we’re not there yet,” while confirming the US assessment that Iraq can’t retake any of their lost cities without foreign involvement on their behalf.

      Promises of no more than 300 US troops have now led to nearly 1,000 troops on the ground, with more coming in all the time, and no signs that the escalation is stopping.

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