American Interlude

I arrived in the United States at midday a week-plus ago after a five-hour flight from Reykjavik…and what a transition it was.

I left behind the soft, cool blue of the northern summer sky at almost-66 degrees latitude and arrived in the hazy, 90-degrees-Farenheit heat of a New England summer. I left behind a small, chic city of a hundred thousand and landed near the gritty sand of Revere Beach. I went from the routine and isolation of being on a boat in the middle of the sea to the go-go-go lifestyle of 2011 America, complete with ubiquitous Web access and 24-hour news cycles that leave one numb (and not writing). I left the tranquility of blue ocean and white snow and green hills and wound up being bombarded by never-ending tales of an ineffective government acting like a bunch of spoiled, petulant kids.

Seriously: in just a few hours I went from 32 degrees with wind-chill factors in the teens, fog and drizzle to a scorching, 100-plus-degree-with-equally-high-humidity heat wave that rivaled any I’ve ever experienced anywhere. Throw in the BS going on in Washington, D.C., and I’ve been counting the days until I return to the much more benign soap-opera drama of Polar Bear and its owners.

But I’m here in the United States for the wedding of two dear friends. That will take place this weekend in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire, as lovely a place as any I’ve seen on this summer’s trip. And that’s been one of the great takeaways from this year: that every single place on this planet is nothing short of spectacular; it’s up to us to see the beauty — and that perspective is something we carry with us everywhere we go, it comes from within and not from a mountain or an ocean or a sunset or a whale sounding.

I’d always thought that what made Americans American was the land, that sense of frontier and wide-open spaces that evaporated from the Old World so long ago that it had been lost from the collective unconscious. It always seemed to me that this land ethic infused our culture to such an extent that it created our sense of who and what we are, and so a sense of location, of home, has always been so important to me in my life.

For instance: I was born in New York City. On the edge of Harlem, as a matter of fact. But I’ve always considered myself a New Englander whose home was a small island about 30 miles north of Boston. And over the course of the years, I’ve lived in some pretty amazing places, including some that I’ve come to regard as home. The lineup reads like a vacation wish-list: Utah, Montana, Idaho, San Diego, Austin, Alaska. I’ve even lived in Europe.┬áSome places resonated with me more than others, but that sense of location, of where I was on the planet, informed, I believe, who I was.

It was upon leaving San Diego last spring that I realized that I’ve enjoyed and hated every single place I’ve lived. I love Anchorage, Alaska…but when I’m there I miss the beach and even the night sky in summer. I always bad-mouthed Southern California when I lived there…but the climate afforded me the active lifestyle I so cherish.

So I’ve come to realize — prior to this summer, to be sure, but this trip has cemented the notion — that while I may have what I consider to be a home (or two), I can be happy in any place on Earth. That every single location on the planet is special and unique and beautiful, and I should take joy out of every place and every moment I’m here.

And right now, that means reveling in being home in New England with friends and family. For another week I’ll be here, eating lobster rolls and sweating bullets, and then I’ll head back to Iceland and on to Greenland for the home stretch of this summer adventure.

And then it’ll be on to the autumn adventure…

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