Flying along in my Saab rocket over the back highways of the Midwestern countryside the other day reminded me exactly why I couldn’t wait to return here after a year in the Arizona desert back in the mid-’70s. The lush, verdant foliage, the plethora of wildflowers and tiger lilies along the roadways, the fecund earth after rain, the patchwork quilt of the farm fields, the rolling hills as I ventured further south toward the Mississippi River—I feel so comfortable in the muggy heat of the summer, although like nearly everyone else, I seek respite in the cool interiors of rest stops and gas station convenience stores. The AC in the car has malfunctioned and with the sun beating down between the patches of thick rain clouds, it gets pretty warm pretty quickly.
I have not felt the surge of love for my Midwestern landscape that I encountered as we drove back years ago until last week, after spending a week in Hell, better known as Las Vegas (Lost Wages) in the Nevada desert. Even the green is brown. The heat is suffocating, and telling me that it’s dry heat doesn’t help. Fire is dry heat, too. Dry heat is fine if you like the pincushion effect. I, personally, have never cared for that prickly feeling, myself. Transitioning from desert brown to Midwestern green is exhaling stale air to inhale a breath of fresh air. The only place I might like better is my early home in Connecticut on Long Island Sound. The ocean to the east, the green fields and forests surrounding us, the climate is much like a Midwestern summer, without the extreme humidity and corn bugs.
The air is thick with haze and heat, the corn stalks waving and the trees rustling in the breeze. Puffy clouds sail slowly across the sky, while the steady clop-clop of an approaching horse-drawn buggy punctuates the lazy afternoon. Here in Amish country, the girls in their bonnets and long-sleeved, long dresses wilt in the heat and the men’s faces glisten with perspiration that drips from under their hat brims. With temperatures in the upper 90s, everyone seems lethargic. Even the dogs lie quietly in the shade, while the cats find places to hide under the porch. As evening approaches and the temps begin to drop, everyone and everything comes back to life. Dead of night into early morning brings crashing thunder and flashes of lightning with high winds and heavy rains. By late morning, the moisture will be drying out as the sun pounds down on the landscape. Another fragrant, muggy, hot day begins.
Now in Joplin, a couple of hours south and west of Windsor, the scenery is far more suburban, though just as beautiful in its own way. Brightly colored flowers and foliage in every shade of green are everywhere. In the evening, the cicadas and crickets conduct their own symphony. A town devastated by a category 5 tornado a few years ago is coming back to life with enthusiasm. The energy of the people here is palpable; they are determined to rebuild and thrive.
Sitting outside this morning, taking in the scent of the flowers, the play of light and shadow in the leaves of the massive oaks overhead, water glistening in the pool, birds chirping by the feeders, I have a renewed appreciation for these special places where I am so at home away from home.