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Another Day in the Country

Where are you headed?

© Another Day in the Country

I never have a doubt as to what direction I’m going when I head home from Salina.

I’m going east. It’s a pretty straight shot once you are on K-4, out across the plains. Dipping along, with a couple of loopy turns, the road briefly follows the river as it leaves Gypsum and then abruptly turns south, past the outskirts of Hope, and you are almost there in Ramona.

Whenever I get up on a Friday morning and head out of town to go to Centre school, my thoughts are on the art classes coming ahead, not the road.

What a great adventure the children and I will embark upon! I give nary a thought as to what direction I’m going. I know the way. It’s become familiar terrain.

This last week, I was taking a medieval castle with me to art class.

Children in fourth grade are studying about the times of lords and manors, maidens, and knights strutting around in ungainly armor. So, we tried our hand at building one of those castles out of low-bake clay that I could heat up to harden in my oven.

We were learning from the past, seeing how different things are now. The children wanted to see how their creation had turned out, so I was cautiously taking it back to school.

They had good reason to be concerned. Our rudimentary skill and lack of formal bracing meant the castle walls, put together in a rush of hopefulness, wobbled, weaved, and threatened to topple before they were baked.

Would this great experiment hold together? Would it all end up being a bad idea, just a blob of clay in the bottom of my oven? Or would it stand up and survive? 

By now, I’ve backed out of my garage, turned south, and headed toward the railroad tracks.

Somewhere along this route, however, I lose my sense of direction.

Why? The roads lie in straightforward lines. Is it because the tracks bisect the edge of Ramona at an angle, as if once the train started going towards Herington it was in a hurry?

Then again, trains don’t make left or right turns. Is it because my house sits at an angle, and when I leave I get disoriented?

When I head out of town, it feels as if I’m going west, heading into the sunset, only it’s 8 in the morning.

I turn left toward Lost Springs, and it shocks me to find the sun in my eyes.

What? I feel as if I am going south, but I’m actually going east. I’m disoriented. There’s a disconnect between my perception and reality.

I double-check the car’s compass, and sure enough, I am actually going east, but it sure doesn’t feel like it.

My feelings of going east when I feel as if I’m going south are nothing compared to how I feel about this country, the United States of America, that I love.

I’ve read the latest news; I don’t have to reiterate it to you. Do you ever ask yourself, where the heck are we going as a nation? 

I grew up in the early 1950s, after we’d just come through a horrifying war. With our allies, we’d defeated a despot, a hate monger, and our country had come together, united in our support and enjoyment of democracy. 

Time goes on. We take our eyes off the road ahead, comfortable in our surroundings, driving without paying attention, because we’ve been down this road before, complaining about potholes but leaving the work to someone else. We are on a cruise, an adventure, a road trip.

A lot has changed in my lifetime. We don’t eat the same. We don’t laugh at the same things we did 50 years ago. We don’t even look the same as a country. It would be like expecting a 5-year-old to look the same at age 60.

Sometimes it is a shock to see who’s riding in the car with us, but here we are, pilgrims on a journey.

Supposedly, we have learned things in the intervening years. We now know more about everything — science, outer space, the effects of pollution, our bodies, our minds.

Suddenly, the road ahead is questionable. Something is off. The direction feels wrong.

What do we do? Go to war? Blow up the road?

I say, read the map and check the compass when we veer into uncharted territory. In this analogy, the map is our history, the compass is our country’s constitution.

We don’t have to belong to the same party, go to the same church, believe in the same God, be of the same race, think the same way, eat the same way, or live in the same kind of dwelling.

But we do have to continually strive to honor and respect the compass, believe in true north, and be willing to make course corrections in our journey.

We can’t afford to zone out as we ride along a country road. We must pay attention to the road conditions, look out ahead, stay alert, ask questions — whether in Ramona, at the county seat, or even just in this paragraph I’m writing.

Was there a destination in mind when I started on this journey? Are we still on course, or has disorientation become the new normal — just going to school, turning left and right, checking out the view, on another day in the country.

Last modified Feb. 1, 2024

 

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