HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

August 11, 2008
From the Editor

John Turner


Whenever I return from a trip my mind is in a state of wonder about the advent of the digital camera. Between the two cameras we took with us on the journey to Newfoundland, we captured almost 1,200 images. That's a lot of pictures. Over the weekend, I tried to sort them out, and transfer them to CDs. As I did, I kept asking myself, "What's the meaning of all these pictures?" I didn't get an answer.

We got back to Vermont to find that the weather here has been setting records for wetness. August in Vermont is generally a pleasant, dry, sunny month. But not this year. The rain falls and falls. People here have a sense that there's a transformation of climate caused by global pollution. I guess we'll have to wait for the future to tell us whether that sense is valid.

I read little while I was away. I took my Kindle with me, and used it to read some of Tennyson's poems in my cabin by the sea. But, overall, books weren't as large a part of my life as they usually are.

On the way home, we stayed at a bed and breakfast llama farm in Maine. Llamas are fastidious creatures. Our hostess told us they come in the house without bumping into anything or causing any sort of disruption, and that when she needs to take one on a trip, she merely puts him on the back seat of the car, where he reclines comfortably and patiently until the journey is over, even if it takes hours.

Away from the coast, Maine strikes me as becoming ever more junky, which is a sad thing to see. Ellsworth and Bangor are both terrible sprawls. I suppose one could find charming parts of them if he knew where to go. But just driving through one sees nothing but ugly commercial strips. The evolution of small American cities into ugliness is one of the most significant stories of our era. Yet, you hardly ever see anything written about it. Perhaps urban American ugliness is becoming so normal no one can recognize it anymore. Other countries are not as ugly as America is. I wonder what it is about us that makes us so susceptible.

Years ago, I wrote a short piece about the ugliness of a small city in Tennessee, and the vice president of the Chamber of Commerce, having seen the article in an Alabama newspaper, wrote me a letter threatening to have me beaten up by the police if I should ever drive through his fair city again. I was very pleased by the message, and I hope I still have the letter in my files somewhere. Probably no one from Bangor or Ellsworth will see what I've said about their cities, which is just as well, I suppose.

We saw three bald eagles during our travels, two in Nova Scotia and one on the coast of Newfoundland. We saw none in the United States. I don't think eagles know they are our national bird, and if they did know, I don't think they would care. One of the most pleasant things about animals is their perfect disregard for national borders. In that, they are as we all should be.

Getting back into the United States was not difficult. We were detained at the checkpoint for only about thirty seconds, and no one looked at anything in our car. I remarked about it that, probably, we were viewed as being too old to be dangerous, which was insulting after a fashion. But, still, convenient.

Now, I'm presented with a return to routine, which I'm beginning to think is not a healthy condition. But, maybe I can work it out. I'll let you know next week.


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