Travels with Amos: Minnesota and Wisconsin

The journey through the countryside and small towns of Minnesota and Wisconsin was beautiful. Kennon and I particularly enjoyed Bayfield and Ashland, two towns on Lake Superior. You can see the pictures here.

As a political junkie, I appreciated being in Wisconsin as the June 5 gubernatorial recall approached. It was the topic of conversation with almost everyone I met along the way, particularly in Madison where a union worker holding a Tom Barrett sign told me, “If we lose this election, America will have made the final step toward becoming a corporatocracy.”

We camped one night near Milwaukee, spent the morning driving along Lake Michigan, and had an outdoor brunch at a coffee house near the lake.  This part of the journey was a wonderful addition but it put us nearly three days behind the projected schedule I prepared in planning the trip.

Fortunately, we do not have a deadline and are free to wander where our hearts lead us. So instead of pushing it on the toll highways toward Pennsylvania and New York we traveled the back roads of Pennsylvania farmland through the Amish villages of New Westminster and Volant.

In New York, we visited the Niagara Falls, and then drove on local roads along farm fields and wetlands to Pittsford and Fairport, small New York towns on the Erie Canal.

I continue to be amazed at the diversity of our nation and have a growing understanding of why it is so difficult for us to live into the motto “E Pluribus Unum.”

I have met farmers in the countryside, small business people in towns, white-collar corporate types in cities; people who are rich, working and non-working poor and an increasingly anxious middle class.

The style of living, the meaning of family and religion, the challenges of weather and landscapes, and day-to-day work and economic pressures are dramatically varied among Americans. It is no wonder that people in different parts of this nation look at the same issue and reach different conclusions.

I’m finding that one’s immediate context has the greatest influence on her or his interpretation of what needs the most attention. We are all biased by what we consider our urgent concerns.

We too often have conversations with people just like us (listening and reading the same or similar news’ sources) and thus become inured to what is happening in other places around the country. We are in fact divided into “many” and not united as “one.”

While economic, social and political divisions have always been present in America, it has not always been as viciously polarized as it is today.  A small business owner I met in Tomahawk, Wisconsin agreed, and he set the time we began fracturing into win/lose competing interest groups at 1980.

My questions of the week:  “Given our diversity in geography, financial status, educational levels, religion and political outlook, do you think it is possible for Americans to unite as one people around a common vision? If so, how do we do it? If not, why not?”

Let me know what you think by email (jamiesonwilliam@gmail.com) or at The Pub on my PeoplesVision website.

Thanks to those of you who have sent me comments. Leslie Boyd of Asheville, North Carolina offered the following response to my question about diversity:

With each wave of immigrants came a new wave of xenophobia. Our ancestors were confined to tenement slums, to dangerous industrial jobs that paid subsistence wages only if everyone in the family worked. 

“Citizens paid immigrant Irish to take their place in war. Immigrant life was cheap. Factory owners liked having children work for them because their small hands could reach into the machinery and untangle textiles. It didn’t matter that the machines occasionally maimed or killed the children. My grandparents, children of Irish immigrants, were eight when they started working in the textile mills of New England. My grandmother taught herself to read and write and later taught her husband.

“In Pennsylvania, Eastern Europeans worked in the coal mines. My father-in-law had the tip of his finger cut off in a mining accident and was sent back to work immediately by the company ‘doctor.’ Again, there was always someone to replace men who quit or die on the job.

“Company stores accepted company scrip; workers never saw cash. Pay was so low that people couldn’t buy what they needed so they were indebted to the company store and worked as indentured servants.

“This is what we have done historically with the diversity of immigrants, people so desperate for a better life for their children that they were willing to endure the danger and poverty. And their children did better because this country really did offer opportunity. Whether it will continue to do so remains to be seen.”

To my question about hope, Ann Johnson in Arizona wrote, I am not sure that I feel hopeful. Unless we can shut down the news media and their twisting of every event, and those people that believe all the untruths out there, we are in trouble. The last time our son-in-law visited, he asked to watch Faux (Fox) News.

“I told him ‘Not in my house.’ When we visit them, I leave the room when he watches that swill. The Tea Party people scare me. What will happen to our country if they get control? I feel like echoing all the concerns that Parker Palmer raises in his book The Heart of Democracy. But then I balance that with Jesus Freak by Sara Miles. Here in Graham County people are very caring and supportive of those in need, even when they support the Tea Party.”

 

 

Travels with Amos: The Black Hills and Badlands of South Dakota

This journey continues to unfold new wonders every day. Traveling through the Black Hills and Badlands of South Dakota (see pictures at ShutterFly) was a deeply spiritual and contemplative time.

The power of the hills, cliffs, canyons, rivers and streams in the Black Hills, and the gallery of shape and color that nature has carved out in the Badlands simply overwhelmed my senses. The small towns along the way, such as Deadwood and Leads, added spice and interesting people.

Kennon joined me in Minneapolis on Saturday and we made some revisions to our itinerary. We spent the last two days driving through lush farmland, along the Root River and through Bluff Country in southeastern Minnesota, and then across the Mississippi River into Wisconsin.

On May 30th we crawled up the eastern side of Wisconsin to the Apostle Islands and Lake Superior, then made our way down to Lake Michigan. I give thanks to my friends Mark, Bonnie and Kathleen for suggesting this diversion.

Thank you to all who responded to my last post.  I continue to ask everyone I meet — even those reading this blog — whether the state of things in our nation gives you hope or leads you to despair. Whether your answer to this query is “yes” or “no,” please let me know why. Thanks so much.

RESPONSES THUS FAR:

Wayne Dernetz from the San Diego, California area wrote, “I, too, have been ruminating about what besets this great land of strong people. I boil it down to two factors: First, our political process has devolved into a form of political tribalism. We have decamped into three major groups (Republicans, Democrats and Unaffiliated) which view the other ‘tribes’ as un-American…

“Among these groups, we have lost the ability to communicate with one another. We are lead by ‘shamers’ who engage our emotions, rather than our reason, in whipping up animosity toward the other ‘tribes’.

“The second is greed. Greed is the result of unregulated capitalism, and the loss of perspective that our society need not be engaged in constant competition in a zero-sum game… We no longer are willing to give government its due in exchange for the benefits of common good. I don’t have answers, but remain hopeful that someone, someday will find a means to lead us once again into a period in which we are all proud of our country…”

David Keller from Asheville, North Carolina wrote: “This land is more than the people who live in it. It can teach us, as it has taught Native Americans, that we are part of the land and therefore part of each other… To answer your question, I am both hopeful and frustrated. We are so disconnected from the land and from each other that all we can think about is ourselves.”

My reflection for the last few days has been on the physical diversity of our nation. I’ve traveled through forests and farms, along the Pacific Ocean and beside many rivers and streams, up towering mountains and down into valleys.

America truly is exceptional in her geography and in the fruits of her land. My travels have taken me through fruit groves, cornfields, and other rich cropland. I have seen beef ranches and dairies, and towns devoted to commercial fishing of everything from game fish to abalone and oysters. There have been oil fields and wind farms, and corn grown for ethanol.

Our diversity of resources and natural beauty makes us strong. Why is it, then, that many in America consider the diversity of our people as negative?  The “take back my America movement” attempts to set up “English only” laws; and the focus on immigration issues is (in my opinion) primarily aimed at limiting the human diversity in our country.

Most Americans are here because the nation welcomed their ancestors, and welcomed the diversity of language, traditions and skills they brought with them. Over the generations we all became part of the great melting pot, and old traditions blended with new. With each generational turn, America became stronger. What has changed?

Why are so many from the “melting pot” called the United States now turning into xenophobic people? Have we forgotten the extraordinary contributions to American greatness that have been made by Native Americans, Hispanics, Italians, Irish, African Americans, Indians, Asians, Norwegians and those from many other nations?

Why do we celebrate the diversity of “our” land, but try to limit diversity among our people. I’d love to know your answers. Please join me in conversation by sending an email to jamiesonwilliam@gmail.com

Travels with Amos: Idaho, Montana and Wyoming

I now truly understand the words in Pete Seegers’ version of the song This Land is Your Land:  “As I went walking that ribbon of highway I saw above me that endless skyway, I saw below me that golden valley…”  From the time I entered Idaho and moved into Montana and Wyoming I have been mostly driving along ribbons of side roads through golden fields and valleys with a never-ending blue sky above me.
This truly is “big” country with hills and valleys, rivers and streams, fertile ranches and colorful mesas. Sometimes the two-lane road I am on is so long and straight it seems as if it will continue forever. And the sky above stretches endlessly to the horizons.  I wonder as I drive whether or not we as Americans are becoming too small  for this magnificent land.
We seem to have lost the capacity to understand the meaning of “common good”, and we spend our time in debates that focus on ideological purity rather than finding consensus solutions to mammoth problems such as combating climate change, repairing our decaying infrastructure, making our education system relevant to the 21st century, establishing fiscal sanity, providing healthcare to all, and ensuring equality of opportunity for all people (including those who are “undocumented”).
But, as I drive and wonder, I feel a sense of hope rather than despair. I do think we are big enough as a people to rise out of the political quick sand we find ourselves sinking in. First, however, we must loosen the straps of ideological purity that hold us so tightly.  What is your opinion? Do you feel hope or despair? Please join me in conversation by sending an email to jamiesonwilliam@gmail.com, or at the Pub at http://peoplesvisionusa.com/the-pub-reader-feedback/
For pictures of this segment of my journey go to: http://peoplesvisionusa.shutterfly.com/600

Travels with Amos: Driving the Coastal Highway

The journey from Monterey, California to the Olympic National Park near Seattle, Washington was spectacular. I stayed on the coastal road for the entire trip, winding my way around farms and through redwood forests, along rivers and beside the Pacific. My senses are filled with majestic sights, and my heart and mind touched by meaningful stories. A neighboring camper asked me what I’ve enjoyed the most, and I responded that the days are woven together like a multi-patterned quilt that can’t be separated into discrete pieces without losing the beauty of the whole.
But I do agree with the words John Steinbeck wrote after traveling through the redwoods: “The redwoods once seen, leave a mark that stays with you always… from them comes silence and awe. The most irreverent of men, in the presence of redwood trees, goes under the spell of awe and respect.”

I’ve collected nearly a notebook full of places, people and stories, and a journal full of personal reflections. But I am too engaged in the continuing quest to pull away and organize the many experiences into discrete posts. Suffice it to say that the picture we get of America from the media and our politicians is quite different from the portrait I see emerging from my travels. I’ll share fully when I return to Asheville and have time to reflect on the whole, rather than trying to break it into pieces as I go. The photos of the coastal trip can be found at http://peoplesvisionusa.shutterfly.com/508.

A concluding thought from John Steinbeck: “A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike… We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.”

Travels with Amos: From Texas to California

The journey through Texas, New Mexico and the eastern part of Arizona was hot and dry.  Then, three nights ago I was camping in the cool pine trees of the Coconino National Forest. The next day I was in the Mohave Desert and camped that night in Barstow, California where it was hot and dry and dusty .
The scenery abruptly changed once again when, after climbing up a long grade outside of Mohave, California, I started driving down into a lush, green valley that has been called the market basket of America. There were acres of cultivated fields of almonds, citrus, grapes, pistachios, asparagus, and dozens of other crops.On the way to Salinas, where I am spending a couple of nights, I passed by Gilroy, the self-proclaimed garlic capitol of the world, and next week this area is hosting an artichoke festival. I am eating fresh vegetables and fruit from a local farmer’s market, drinking milk from the local dairy, and will have local wine with my dinner tonight.

Tomorrow I’ll go to the Steinbeck Center in Salinas, and visit some of the places he loved. Then I’ll begin a slow, six day trip up the coastal highway to Washington’s Olympic National Park. For me, the journey along the coast from San Francisco to Washington is a soulful one. Sharon Parks once said that every soul has a particular landscape embedded in it, and when you are in the midst of that landscape your soul is at peace. My soul will be at peace for at least the next week!

A final thought: I was struck as I vagabonded my way through a kaleidoscope of American landscapes that this is perhaps a metaphor for our nation: The political and social landscape is changing. If we feel caught in a hot, dry desert we just need to keep the faith and keep  moving in new and fruitful directions. To see some pictures of this second phase of the journey go to Travels with Amos: From Texas to California at http://peoplesvisionusa.shutterfly.com/460.

I am learning a lot about America as a wander through the country and meet people from all walks of life. Most seem willing to share their views about our nation and the extent to which they think we are living up to our founding principles. Please let me know how you view the “idea” of America.  What principles of our nation stand out for you? Where do you think we are falling short? I’d love to know what questions you would like me to pose to the people I am meeting.  You can send your thoughts and/or questions to me by email (jamiesonwilliam@gmail.com) or post them on this blog.