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The Country's Best Season
Some thoughts on American regionalism and diversity
I remember one of my old colleagues wrote an article promoting some sort of American nationalism, and he said something about fireflies. One of my other colleagues said, “You know, some regions of the country don’t even have fireflies.”
The point was that, if you argue that certain particular things constitute America, you can end up creating your own false abstraction of what is really an incredibly diverse country, in so many ways.
Certain things make me think about this. Elections, for one. I still like this bit I wrote a couple of years ago:
It’s becoming spooky season, by which I mean not Halloween but elections…
Most fascinating to me is the almost ritualistic invocation of various bellwether or swing counties, as well as many more obscure ones. Ashtabula. Macomb. Kent. DeKalb. Nash. Luzerne. Dozens in the sparsely populated rural areas of states that I only really know as names on a map. It’s almost mesmerizing. Election nights are about the only times the American public sees, and is really made to grasp, the whole United States in both its massiveness and its granularity.
These segments always inspire a certain kind of patriotism that I rarely otherwise feel. Not the shallow, emotional, flag-waving and flyover variety, but a genuine, literal patriotism: a deep appreciation for this land. This, importantly, is not nativism or nationalism either. “Blood and soil” is itself an ideological abstraction; the land under my feet is not. And it belongs not to any one demographic, but to everyone represented by that map, in every nook and cranny of the country.
I have these images when I think of American life. Not Norman Rockwell, or trucks and guns and flags. Sitting at a long table in a field outside a farmhouse, somewhere in erstwhile pioneer country, celebrating Thanksgiving with three or four generations present; boiling seafood in briny air outside a house overlooking some rocky beach in the Northeast; walking the impossibly urban small towns in New Jersey or seeing if the car can break 100 on a sparse stretch of Interstate in Virginia or Pennsylvania.
I don’t exactly know where these images come from, or came from—things you remember without remembering their source feel almost like a visions, revelations. Of course, these images are probably a pastiche of my own experiences and television or lifestyle magazine presentations. And, of course, they’re just a fraction of what American life is and can be.
The notion that “I don’t need to travel, America is good enough” is often seen as a vaguely conservative, unsophisticated sentiment. But it can also be a recognition that this country contains multitudes, which is seen as a vaguely liberal sort of attitude. It’s interesting.
But anyway, all of that is a prelude to my question here: which part of the country does a particular season best? I don’t mean what your favorite season is, nor do I mean which season is best in your place. I mean something else: which place does a particular season the best?
What’s closest to the Platonic form of winter: a frigid Boston winter or a mild Mid-Atlantic one? Where does fall feel the most autumnal, where the breeze and the rustle of leaves almost literally whisper spiced apple cider and warm donuts? Where does spring feel the most like the opening of a new year?
I’m partial to the Mid-Atlantic seasons I grew up with, which are all differentiated and get to shine on their own. I love places where you can have blizzards and beaches, spring flowers and fresh-picked apples, all in one year. The idea of living somewhere without one or two discernible seasons is, to me, like celebrating the church calendar without Christmas or Easter.
But again, my question. Think about it, leave a comment!
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