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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

On the Road

Air Date: Week of July 4, 2008

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When commentator Verlyn Klinkenborg traveled from California back home to his farm in rural New York, along the way he found himself asking “Could I live here?”

Transcript

GELLERMAN: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Bruce Gellerman.

It’s a long drive from Southern California to upstate New York where commentator Verlyn Klinkenborg has a farm…and as he made the trip…it gave him plenty of time to consider the meaning of “home.”

KLINKENBORG: Whenever I drive across country, I carry a single question with me. Could I live here? It's a central question for a species whose habitat is defined as much by imagination and emotion as it is by biological constraints. And it's a question that raises the matter of time as much as place.

Cutting across central Wyoming, I see a sheltered spot under the hills where the sagebrush breaks into grass, and I think, 'I could live there.’ And I could, now, because living anywhere has been made so easy in our time. It's no longer really a problem of physical limits—how far you have to haul water and salt and flour, how long you can go without company. But what I'm really asking when I wonder ‘could I live here?’ is ‘who would I be if I did live here?’ To that question I never know the answer.

I see an abandoned farmhouse on the high plains, the ruins of a few old cottonwoods, and I can imagine hearing the notes of a meadowlark being carried away on the wind as I go to work on the place. I have to remind myself that in this simple experiment in relativity, I cannot allow myself to imagine living anywhere I can see from my current position. But what if it were a place just like this and over the horizon, out of the sight of so much movement?

Perhaps this is a mental game everyone plays—a way to test the life you are actually living. You drive through a small town at night and wonder what it would be like to feel at home in one of those houses where only the bedroom lamp is still shining. You wonder what your own life would look like if you could somehow stand outside it as a stranger.

But what this question always confirms in me is something I must have understood when my wife and I decided to settle on a small farm in the country. Driving across America, I see place after place I can happily imagine living. And what I notice is that they are mostly uninhabited places.

So Nebraska comes to an end, and the next day we drive into Iowa, where I have already lived a good part of my life. It’s been raining since dawn, and now the wind is pounding down from the north. The rain has begun to cut across the hillside fields and run down to the creeks and rivers, carrying Iowa away to the Gulf of Mexico. Two more days on the road and we’ll be back in the place where I no longer wonder if I could live there because this is the place it turns out I live.

GELLERMAN: Verlyn Klinkenborg is an editorial writer for the New York Times.

 

 

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