June in Kalamazoo is a wonder. There is no lush like this. Flittery delicate deciduous lush. Dizzying yellowgreen glimmers. We bust right out of our wintry exoskeletons and begin to buzz. To the beach, to the woods, to the yard, to the market, do the work, play the play, it's after nine how can it still be so light out, there are thirty cool things I thought I might do this weekend but instead I will read this book and sweep the stairs and spray the neighbor children with a hose. And there is this porch on which I should sit and drink coffee and read a magazine.
Summer is movement. These days of summer are not lazy.
Before I know it we will be hurtling eastward. This year's August plan, as it stands, is to sweep up New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. I keep having to remind myself that unlike last August, all of these destinations are very close together and ten-hour drives won't be the norm. This drive is less daunting in every way. No desert, no Beartooth, no rattlesnakes.
I kind of can't believe how little research I've done to prepare, considering how swoony I tend to be about that region of the country. It occurred to me just today, when an old friend in New York mentioned that I might like to visit Beacon if I'm ever out that way. So today I begin to plan and to research. Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson and two-if-by-sea! Capes and islands and whales!
My infatuation with US history is a torrent, often simultaneously euphoric and nauseating. A few years ago, I went through a really serious period of fixating on the Founding Fathers until I had a good long think about the three-fifths compromise and Abigail Adams urging John to "remember the ladies." I then entered a sullen season during which the elemental irony of slaveholders feigning to found a nation in which all are free made me only want to puke and punch things. At first drowsily romanced by cobblestones and petticoats I'm now more often roused by the siren, like a truck backing into me: BEEP! BEEP! NATIVE AMERICANS! AFRICAN AMERICANS! WOMEN! ATHEISTS! JEWS! POORS! GAYS! BEEP!
Yes, so it's flawed. Slowly, though, I've required less certainty. I can't really discern whether that's maturing or giving up, but mostly I've abandoned thinking that I have a dog in this fight. The deification of our history is what makes it inaccessible and boring. Mythologizing requires value judgement where none is appropriate, and buries evidence of our stinking, loamy humanity. I now consider Lincoln to be our true Founding Father: Lincoln, who mocked people for their girth. I'm into the grays. They intrigue me.
My place in the paradox is part of why I feel the need to start planning. The trip will be as much a pilgrimage as it is a ticket to the freak show. I want to see where pregnant zealot Anne Hutchinson defended herself unsuccessfully in court, and where Abigail Adams let her doctor inject her children with the flesh of a smallpox-infected, dying man. I want to know what to look for to be both thrilled and disgusted. Last year's jaunt was an education in natural features. This year I take with me the awareness that being indentured to a lifestyle often requires being inured to its abuses.
I recognize that in two hundred years, citizens have used the mechanism the Founding Fathers designed to increasingly access their freedom. But even more so, I'm drawn to the impossible story of how this beast grew, in a scant two hundred years — to paraphrase Jack Handey — trampling and eating everything it sees. The most dangerous animal is not the lion or the tiger or even the elephant. It's the manifest destiny.
So, nerds, offer me your favorite historic sites. I've got gawking to do.