Those of us familiar with both urban thoroughfares and rural backroads tend to compare the former unfavorably with the latter. You know, graffiti versus wildflower vistas, trash-filled gutters versus new-mown road shoulders, and plastic bags on telephone lines versus owls perched on tree branches. That sort of put-down on the cityscape.
On our backroad this summer you will find at the corner the following scene, here rendered in all its breathtaking color.
Six Volvos, four of them dead, rusting in the moist and verdant hills of Vermont. Unfortunately this scene is not atypical. It is duplicated, the mess if not the wrecks, around the corner just fifty yards away. Or down the road to the village, a couple of times, where farmhouses have been abandoned along with the detritus of ancient implements of agriculture. And, yes, plenty of cars "run into the ground," here, unlike that cliche's usual consequence with me (the old car, bleeding the green out of my wallet and never quite dying), actually in the ground with hay fender high.
Human mess isn't just an urban phenomenon. I conclude, from a lifetime of alternation between metropolis and forest, that the main difference between those sites is the number of people. The more people, the more extended the mess. Vermont has just 650,000 in habitants, one-fifteenth the number of people on Long Island. Multiply the mess on our rural corner fifteen times and you wouldn't have Nassau County. You'd have a huge garbage dump more like the scene beneath the Pulaski Skyway.
A friend who once lived in Saskatoon reported the difficulty he, keen as he was on ecological concerns, convincing farm boys in Saskatchewan, with the wheat fields rolling in front of them for hundreds of miles, that there was a danger in the world of overpopulation. I liken his difficulty to ecologists in Vermont trying to persuade owners of old Volvos to dump them at a junkyard when they have several of acres of open space in which to let their dead autos rust away... and no local authority willing to insist that cleanliness is next to, if not Godliness, good citizenship.
What really grabbed me about the scene on our backroad corner was the brand of car, Volvos, Swedish engineering and German engines. The family is blond and blue-eyed. And tall. But I certainly wouldn't classify them as yuppies, among whom the Volvo is one of the vehicles of choice. They seem to be latter day hippie, with a refined taste in automobiles.
Maybe they just want to have available near at hand an ample supply of parts for the one Volvo that works. I felt that need during my Volare days when I did my own repairs on the slant 6 engine, replacing exhaust manifolds on our car and our daughter's Duster. But the Village Code Enforcement Officer was known to hand out tickets to homeowners who let their grass grow into hayfields and parked their cars on the lawn. Valley Stream NY was definitely not Corinth VT.
Years and years ago a North Carolinian transplant from New York wrote in his book, Only in America, about the peculiarities of the techno-culture of our land, in which, among several curious developments, churches had kitchens better equipped than many gourmet restaurants. His observations could be updated with six Volvos in mind. What does it say about the state of our economy when a family, apparently with marginal means of subsistence, collects used Volvos? A new one costs upwards of $35,000. Yet after eight years of use they are treated like those disposable cameras that can be bought at the local CVS. Talk about tributes to the abundance and generosity of our modern American economy! Our Vermont corner is a visible testament to it.
Lest you chide me for a penchant for noting the snakes in Eden, I offer you another picture of our Vermont, a field of wildflowers. I would have liked to catch a deer in the lens, but they graze mostly at twilight on the edge of the meadow and my camera isn't sophisticated enough to make them visible.
God is in the Volvo and the black-eyed susan, in the open field and the city square. No need to elevate the one over the other. Each has its particular wonders, and each has at least one same human disappointment.