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Take the Scenic Route
A Montana Landscape.
Credit:  Wikipedia Commons

By Karen Land

When I was young, we use to drive. And drive. And drive.

My parents always took the “scenic route.” Often times as an outing, my mom and I would take a spin through the country, admiring farms and barns, woods and wildlife.

Just north of Indianapolis was horse country.

Mom wound the blue ‘69 Rebel station wagon around the twisty, narrow roads that bordered one horse farm after another. Arabians, Standardbreds, Quarter horses, Shetland ponies all grazed on the brilliant bluegrass. Fresh white fencing squared off each pasture like a picture frame. Giant dairy barns - some 50 to 100 years old - were the biggest buildings for miles. I daydreamed about all of the animals that had passed through those huge double doors. Someday, I would have my own farm nearby.

Fast forward to 2010.

I sit at a stoplight. I look up. Surrounding me and the puzzle of traffic are beige strip malls, massive box stores, parking lots.

I see a Home Depot on the left, a Lowe’s across the street. Starbucks, Costcutters, Applebee’s, Old Navy. For a few seconds I am confused - I have been on the road for 2.5 months now, driving more than 10,000 miles around the country. I panic and think twice, “Where am I? Texas, Indiana, New Jersey? It’s impossible to tell.”

Nowadays, no matter where I go, I find myself in the same place over and over again.

I didn’t decide to leave Indianapolis 17 years ago because I was against change; I greet many new experiences with open arms.

I wasn’t resisting progress, capitalism, or even chain establishments.

When they began bull-dozing pristine pastures, knocking down turn-of-the-century stables, and plowing over the pockets of ancient hardwoods, I cringed and cried. When they replaced such treasures with bland, cheap, cookie-cutter malls, I fell into shock.

Who decided that beauty doesn’t matter anymore?

I wasn’t against change - I was opposed to the loss of such beauty.

Most of the time when I drive across Montana, I know approximately where I am in the state by looking out the window. Mountains, foothills, ranchlands, wheatfields, lakes, and rivers constantly reassure me.

The landscape whispers, “You are here.”

As I travel from one state to another, I sit at stoplights and take note of my surroundings.

“We could be in any state - it’s impossible to tell,” I say to my friend in the passenger seat.

Dumpy strip malls circle us on all sides. “Welcome to Anywhere, USA.”

I just hope it doesn’t become Everywhere, USA.

On one side of the street a new pedestrian mall is coming up fast.  On the opposite corner carelessly-erected buildings now sit empty with windows boarded over and trash scattered across the lot.

“What happened to the scenic routes?” I wonder.

After spending the last 10 weeks navigating through our ugly, indistinguishable, and consumption-driven Twilight Zones, I know that beauty is not an option - it’s a requirement.

Like a fingerprint or a signature, beauty is always unique.

Without beauty, we’ll be lost

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