We have a five-hour wait in O’Hare, then on to Phoenix. O’Hare is a busy, but fairly comfortable place to wait. My favorite airport in the entire world is Orlando, which is actually a pleasure to visit. Reagan National is also nice these days. This one is not bad.
Wisconsin was interesting, although not surprising. We didn’t stray far from Lacrosse, although we did drive up to Chrissy’s parents and her sister in Blair Wisconsin. Wisconsin is really a pretty place, its green fields interspersed in greener forests of oak, basswood and white pine. Water in lakes and rivers is clean, mostly. Wherever you look, nature is returning, taking over old farmsteads. Cities are also expanding, also taking over old farmsteads. Soon this particular part of Wisconsin will resemble Loudon County – forest and exurbs. I am looking forward to looking out the window as we fly to Arizona. I hope it stays light long enough for me to see the mountains.
Alex wants the computer to play his video game. I suppose I will give it to him. It is 3:00 on June 30, 2003.
Western Wisconsin is nice enough – clean and pleasant. There is almost no crime. People don’t lock their cars. They even leave the keys on the dashboard sometimes, and they leave valuable things such as bikes unlocked in their back yards. Although I bet the local people would tell me their particular harrowing crime stories, you can’t be too afraid to walk around in a town where barking dogs and aggressive littering are reported on the police section of the local newspaper. I ran for about a half hour through north Lacrosse. I have never actually set foot in that particular neighborhood, but I have been there before. This type of human geography extends from New England to the Pacific Ocean. Adjust for regional variations in vegetation and you could easily find this in Buffalo or Boise, Sioux Fall or Spokane. Norman Rockwell could set up shop here. Millions of Americans still live his lifestyle.
So what’s not to like? I don’t like the houses, and the yards, especially the yards. Houses are small and there is almost no landscaping around them. Thanks to fertilizers, weed killing chemicals, and power mowers, the grass is neat, but people don’t seem fond of trees or big bushes, at least not near their houses. There are lots of trees on the streets – maples, ash, hackberry and linden – but not many on property people take care of themselves. That is a contrast with the East where trees sprout from even small spaces. Around here, people would complaint that shade interfere with the grass; roots clog drain and trees drop leaves in the rain gutters. I know this compulsive neatness that loses sight of goals. My father wanted grass ½ inch high and neat, although we rarely achieved it. (He was too lazy and I didn’t care about a neat lawn . . . and I was lazy too.) Strip mall & gas station owners spread little stones over the landscaping. It is neat and requires no care, but it is unattractive and predictable. I would rather have the confusion and profusion of growing plants, even ones that were not well maintained or volunteer to occupy that patch of ground. Most people call the latter variety weeds. They are better than the little rocks or the chemically induced grass.
I would not want to live here, but I understand why so many do. The Lacrosse area is growing rapidly. I might complain about the houses, but it looks like most people can afford to own one, at least in cooperation with their mortgage company. Prices are remarkable low, by Northern Virginia standards. This place has become a paradise for hunters and fishermen. The forests and fields near town teem with wildlife as farm fields revert to nature and create habitat. Fish are jumping in the lakes and the Black River across from my hotel is full of small boats. There have not been so many deer here for more than a century. Wild turkeys, which were rare in this area even 200 years ago, are common. They like the old farm fields. Eagles nest along the Mississippi. God’s Country.
This is Middle America. The citizens of Lacrosse work hard, teach their kids decent values and send them off to the local university, or maybe to the University of Minnesota at Winona not too far up the river. “The Lacrosse Tribune” carries stories of local boys serving in Iraq. Many houses fly the American flag. Most people love the USA. SUVs & pickup trucks fill the wide and well-maintained streets and most people drive near the speed limit, unlike drivers in my Polish experience. Wisconsin is a nice place to visit and a wonderful place for a lot of people to live, just not for me. It is my native state, but I can’t go home again permanently.
The boys and I are staying at the Roadstar Inn, since it would be too hard for Chrissy’s mother if we descended on her small house. It is an inexpensive 1970s type hotel, near fast food places and the Mississippi River. We are about to head out to the free “continental breakfast”. The weather is warm (about 70) and humid. It rained last night. It is 7:15 am on June 28, 2003.
I am not sure how much my personalities have in common. People in some professions move more often and maybe even farther from home, but Foreign Service Officers absorb more characteristics of our assignments. Diplomatic life is intense. Everyone knows who we are. We live our jobs to a greater extent than most people. We learn the language of our countries and adopt different personas to adapt to our surroundings. My Polish personality is different than my Norwegian personality and both are different than my Brazilian personality. My American core has become stronger over the years. I know a lot more about my country than I did when I came into the service, but the America I know and love is an ideal place. Now I am headed “home” to Boston, to a place I have never been before in the real America. I still can’t believe the State Department is giving me such a sweet deal. I can think of nothing that could make me happier, at least nothing I could reasonably expect to get. For all the complaining I sometimes do, this is really a great career.
It is fitting that we hang in the sky for several hours between incarnations and go down a long hall to get on and off the planes. The low roar of the jet engines creates a dreamlike atmosphere and the fact that one slips in and out of sleep during the nine-hour flight confirms it. Poland already seems like a dream. I am looking at the pictures I took of my garden on the day I left. I planted lots of trees during my time in Warsaw – tulip trees, oaks and beech – although only two in my own backyard . The garden is full of perennial plants and I improved the soil, so I expect my activities will survive my leaving for at least a couple of seasons. I will remember the good people of Poland and I hope that some of them will remember me, but we pass so quickly. I don’t think any of us leave deep footprints.
My latest American journey starts soon. We will drive all over the U.S. It should be fun. This is our fourth cross country trip, but the first one through the Southern states.
I am not sure what time it is. It doesn’t make much difference in this jet-lagging world. I think it would be morning in the U.S. and afternoon in Poland on June 27, 2003.
Both pictures are my garden in Warsaw. The ivy will eventually cover the walls and the trees will be big.