A country at work

~a column by Colleen O’Brien

As I travel around the country visiting my kids and friends, I see construction and maintenance at every bend in the road. Within a short distance of leaving my home and the streets and businesses that I don’t have to pay any attention to, I am quickly caught in the surge of vitalness stretching out before me, stopping me dead in the road. From Florida to Maine to the Ohio to the Mississippi, I am never on an interstate not under construction.

Old bridges and old blue highways are under repair, too, so I am rerouted by the hour. I’m happily surprised on the days I get to where I’m going.

Housing developments and shopping malls are rising outside of towns and cities, entire hillsides of forests cut down whole to accommodate them and the handful of baby trees that will be planted in place of the old oaks. No fields, whether fallow or full of crop, lie safe before what appears to be a big boom upon the land, at least where I drove.

The eastern half of the U.S. is bursting with the energy and purpose of people with vision. Or maybe it’s just companies with money needing to be invested. For every brand new strip mall, an abandoned one a few miles closer to town loses a renter or a roof.

Construction workers in their hard hats and orange shirts literally swarm. Giant earthmovers, one after another, grumble along the new road beside me, competing with drag lines and front loaders. Sitting in a line of comatose drivers, I watch the intricate back and forth dance of millions of dollars’ worth of dinosaur-like earthmovers filling dirt trucks that gear up and with a shudder move onto the highway in front of us to carry the soil someplace else.

I am watching jobs of value and good pay out there with the cement trucks and semis loaded with girders. I never cease to be impressed by these road builders and their bosses who seem to know what everyone should be doing; and the engineers who designed it all – brilliant.

It’s the time of year when farmland comes into its own, sleek and profitable. The rows of cotton plants and corn stalks, the fields of soybeans and alfalfa, all greens of a different hue. Pecan trees march huge and stately in their southern orchards, peach trees flourish from Georgia to New Hampshire, roadside stands pop up everywhere with their homemade signs advertising the peaches as well as tomatoes, sweetcorn, rutabagas and cabbages, runner beans and homemade strawberry jam. It’s a prideful sight. The hope and industry that goes in to every square mile of farmland under plow does something to my heart.

John Deere tractors mowing mowing mowing along the hedgerows and meridians and front yards of this country of 326,812,708 folks {as of last Thursday, August. 24, 2017} – those buzzing, whirring, quick-turning little fellas must be the most profitable product in the country.

On the blue highways, little towns show off gems of little parks with no one in them. But they are maintained as well as the lawns of the funeral home and the town square. Now and then I’ll go off-plan to follow a quiet tree-shaded road. Pickup trucks pass me, a tractor moves over to let me by. Even here, far from the madding 80-mile-an-hour to dead stop of the interstate is action and plan, and under the canopying trees lives a tidy prosperity.

I did not drive in the heat and fire of the West or the flooding of the South. I did not go into the ghetto of the cities, so all I saw were the pretty yards of hedge and flower and the prosperous business blocks of mid-sized towns along the eastern seaboard and into the mountains of Appalachia; the sometimes ramshackle houses with mowed lawns, the still prideful, if dwindling, villages. Often enough these once-bustling burgs have new houses going up just outside of town, a new little storefront on the main drag with chairs and tables on the sidewalk as cosmopolitan as any overrun tourist village in Tuscany; the country town is close enough now to be a commute town to the ever-expanding metropolis that used to be a hundred miles away.

Now and then I saw decrepitude – falling down barns and neglected trees, houses leaning. There are fewer farms but more acreage under till. Big farms are the modern way. The edges of cities, once derelict, are now where construction happens; it’s the centers that are dilapidated, if not worse.

Times change. I’m happy to see it, even as I sometimes lament what it was like when I was a kid. The way it is now will be the nostalgia of our children and grands, so I tell myself to let it go.

When I do and “go with the flow” as I drive along, when I just settle into the long waits and watch the truly amazing construction and repair of highways; when I breathe in the country air on the slow roads and watch for the people going about their business on the farms and in the towns and villages, when I just think about all those lives out there doing the best they can, which is what we’ve always done — hard work on top of innovative idea — I get goosebumps. The country’s doing fine, I think. It’s simply going to work every day, coming home for sweetcorn and watermelon fresh out of the garden, the kids playing into the dusk.

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