Wednesday, January 19, 2011

What Country Is....

In the past decade or so, "what country is" has gone very mainstream. In college, every other frat boy I met, had mud tires on their trucks, and the sorority girls had John Deere trucker hat that they sported sideways with their tongues hanging out of their mouths, throwing "deuces" in every picture posted on facebook. But would they actually know what a cotton boll looked like if they were standing in a field of it? They know about Johnny Cash because they just love Joaquin Phoenix and Reece Witherspoon. They know bluegrass because George Clooney starred in Oh Brother Where Art Thou? When you turn on the radio and hear modern country music on soft rock and pop stations, you know "what country is" is not what country was. Mainstream country anyway.
When you peal away the trimmings that so many people put up to claim country or southern status, what do you have? A pile of John Deer hats, and little else.

Being southern or country has a lot of negative connotations to it. Our speech is one thing the rest of the country constantly makes fun of us about. Let them. Our speech is a languid, and relaxed as our summer nights. And I love that.

How many of us want to actually trade in the comforts of air conditioning in the summer for a box fan in the window to "suck in the swamp air" that the south in known for? Not many of us. I for one, love central heating & air, but I also love to go out and wet a line in the creek. I love to throw a saddle on the back of a pony, and head off down the trail. No, I don't like to be sweaty, and play connect the dots from where I was relentlessly attacked by bat sized mosquitoes and knats, but I love to be out in the country. The cool, clear water flowing over your feet as you wade through the creek. The thrill that runs over you when you feel the tug on the line when you're fishing. The red Georgia clay that means you're in the heart of the south. Watching the dragonflies light on flowers growing wild in the meadows. Feeling your stomach drop out from under you as you fly through the air on a rope swing over the lake, and that moment of simultaneous terror and pure joy as you hang suspended in the air before letting go. Waiving at the old man driving down the back road on his tractor because he still has fields that need plowing and sowing. It's rocking chair front porches, and family stories that are passed down with recipes. It's the total excitement, and thrill that overwhelms every man, woman, and child when the county virtually shuts down due to a once-in-every 20 years snow storm (and then the inevitable, "ho hum" that was fun for a day attitude that quickly moves in). It's the sun going down over the little town where you were born and raised, that still has a main street that gets clogged when the trains roll through. That's country. That's southern. That's everything.
My heart and souls belongs in the country, not necessarily Emerson, Georgia 4-E-V-E-R, but somewhere I can hear the katydids, watch the lightning bugs dance over the tall grass in the fields, and lay out under the inky black sky and actually see the stars. There's a particular dialogue in the movie I Heart Huckabees, that sums up quite nicely how I feel about the country.

Albert Markovski: I'm talking about not covering every square inch with houses and strip malls until you can't remember what happens when you stand in a meadow at dusk.
Bret: What happens in the meadow at dusk?
Albert Markovski: Everything!
Mrs. Hooten: Nothing!
Albert Markovski: Everything.
Mrs. Hooten Nothing!
Albert Markovski: Everything!
Mrs. Hooten Nothing!
Albert Markovski: It's beautiful.
Tommy Corn: It's beautiful.

No, it's not just about John Deere hats, and pickup trucks. It's about feeling the earth, the land, in your soul. It's about being able to stand in a meadow at dusk, and seeing everything.


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