Some dreams I confess may admit of easie and feminine Exposition. – Sir Thomas Browne

Ambler, No. 31I have in my lifetime encountered numerous individuals, usually world travelers, who proclaim with certainty that “all U.S. cities are virtually the same.” Now, it is true in the sense that globalization–that horrible devil created by increased technology, notably the Internet–has made it so that it is easier for a man to not have to leave his comfort zone, whether he is in San Diego or Maine. But though globalization is a terror in society, it does not follow that all U.S. cities are virtually the same. One could certainly say the same of any other country. And while it is still of some wonder that those same dreadful chain restaurants are found wherever you go; it is of even more wonder that the man behind the counter does not live in your hometown. I find it no less fascinating that men actually live in Fargo or Fort Worth simply because both places have a McDonalds. That people call the coast home is a mystery deep and full of complexity, almost as confounding as native Topekans.


So it happens that whenever I get a chance to travel, I am amused that people not only live in the town but that they find it a rather normal place to live. But truly there is very little that is normal about Brodhead, Wisconsin and even more abnormality exists in Waterloo, Iowa; people from Chattanooga are rather odd, and I’m not sure people in New Jersey smile. But the merits of travel exist in realizing, often in different ways, that perhaps it is not the residents of Bartlesville, Oklahoma who are so odd as it is you who are an oddity. It is common for travelers to walk around and denounce the practices of those from another town; it is not until the traveler returns home that he realizes how truly unique and uncouth his own home is; it is the settled man who never leaves who cannot perceive that the barber from down the street is actually a fairy with sheers and the postman a daily (though less jolly) St. Nick.


Thus it was as I got off the tiny plane and returned home from a short journey. Whether the plane or the trip was shorter is tough to tell, but I felt as if the passengers were being squeezed out of the plane like toothpaste from its tube, and the local airport was equally as tiny. Indeed, our local airport is about one tenth the size of any of the fifty airports in the greater Los Angeles area. If anyone was to tell you that Los Angeles was not a strange and wild place, they would be very wrong. Los Angeles is not even America; it is a different country. If the residents of that land complain about the traffic, well, I say they get what they deserve. For in Southern California all men live in one big house. That is, there is so little space between any buildings that if a young man were to throw stones at his beloved’s window, he is likely to see that stone ricochet off her window and hit the neighbors’; he should plan to court the woman who happens to live next to the judge, to make the elopement process that much easier. But all this is a mute point; for the star-crossed lover in Southern California could never actually throw stones at his beloved’s window unless he had a peculiar skill at squeezing into tiny cracks and incredible accuracy with stone throwing that did not end with the stone coming back down on him.

So I say people in LA all live in one house; they practically invite multitudes to live in crammed-in boxes; they design the city thus and then complain that people live in the houses they built. But perhaps it is even more wild that the people of Southern California do not all flock to the beach. The one truly bright spot in the land is the sea. The sea is endless possibilities; it is a blue backdrop on that which any number of adventures can be painted. I never cease to stand on some shore and imagine all the men those waters have consumed; I never cease to look out and contemplate what the deepest parts may be; I never cease to think of the myriads of creatures crawling along those deep and unexplored caverns; I never cease to pretend that I can see, far across those waters, the next shore; and in all this pondering out there in Southern California behind me was a mass of humanity running around and ignoring the wild waves of the sea. It seems as if these days everyone is in a hurry to be in a hurry; it seems that even our recreation is hurried. But the hurried man is the man who will never contemplate, and the man who does not contemplate is the man who does not wonder.


A man who returns home after a journey can see his home from two perspectives. He notices at least one thing about his home that is lacking, one thing that he never noticed before; he notices at least one thing that is superior to all the other places, usually something he did not before notice. And for most travelers the thing that is lacking is often perceived as a negative, and unless he is careful, this may breed discontentment. If he is contemplative, however, he will see that even what his home lacks is a superior quality. It may very well be that when I arrived back at that tiny airport from Southern California, a certain dullness hovered about the atmosphere. That is, I recognized not for the first time that the natural colors of the plains are rather muted. At times, the sun leaves us here for days; in late autumn the dying leaves fall from the trees and create a dull brown color on the gray backdrop of the sky. The cornfields no longer have their bright green stalks and even the pasturelands look more brown and muted these days. But then my contemplative soul took comfort in the fact that so few cars were out on the highway and that my neighbors did not live with me. And then I thought about that horrible city of Hollywood–how the strip is lit up like a big lamp used to catch unsuspecting flies, how though it is lit up, the people are all dead. And I thought that though the plains may be muted they may still be flashy. The limbs of a naked tree may be brown but they are a vibrant brown; they are a vibrant brown because they are not neon blue. They are alive because spring always follows winter. We might think of the leafless trees surrounding us this winter as dead men prophesying new life. It is only by seeing a tree slowly die that we can truly appreciate its slow rebirth. It is only through the muted colors of autumn that we can get winter. It is only in winter that those muted colors can be covered with a layer of very bright and noisy snow.

Sam Snow,
Written at Thee Ole’ Midshipman,
Manhattan, KS
November 9, 2014

Transcribed by Adam the Scribe II
Manhattan, KS
November 11, 2014

Painting: “An Autumn Afterglow”
By Alfred East,
Oil on canvas, 1886


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