The route in this map is how to get to Wal-Mart from my dad’s house; to get there, you drive through a grocery store parking lot. I am from a small town (though it’s technically a city!), whose motto is “Close to the crowd, but not in it!” After living in West Virginia for the last 5 years, I can’t believe how flat it is. Look at the green water lines growing across it like vines, how lovely.
Now that I have lived far away for over 10 years, in a place where mostly nobody has heard of my town, where no one misses seeing cornfield all the way to the horizon, looking at this picture I feel both homesick as well as an alien fascination. I know so much about all the little streets in this map, yet, I’m a stranger there.
I love and hate driving home, and I wait for that moment in Indiana when the prairie opens up and you can look out across the cornfields to the curve of the earth. The scenery is silos, the outline of an occasional steeple, gas wells pumping lazily, and of course, the great big sky.
People in Appalachia talk about how exposed they feel under that huge sky, with nothing but nothing all the way as far as you can see. As for me, my eyes crave the sky, and too much time in a deep holler, or in the narrow spaces between city buildings, makes me feel claustrophobic. I’ve always thought that being able to see so much of the heavens and of the earth we live on is inspiring; it makes you feel small, but it also makes the far away seem within reach. If I can get to that horizon, why not the next one, and the next one? I like to imagine that wide open spaces inspire a certain sense of introspection, a propensity to dream, and a feeling of connection with other humans.
At this distance, that pile of square fields with green creeks creeping over them is almost indistinguishable from the hundreds of other little communities that come together like puzzle pieces across the Midwest. But when I glance at it, I see hundreds of stories. I know just where all those roads go, exactly what those fields looked like in 1998, and the precise smell of driving through them, of wet soil and motor oil at the steering wheel of an orange and white 1979 F-150.