• Mary Anderson

Big Sky, Small World

Today I was watching three tiny bugs spend a half hour going around and around on the top of one small flower. I wondered what it would be like to have your entire world be so small.

Then I thought about some of the people I have met. They have been born, grown up, and lived their entire lives in almost the same place. Certainly in the same state. And they have seldom, if ever, traveled out of it. I thought it was like spending your entire life on one flower. You get to know that one flower really well. But you aren't as aware of what the other flowers are like.

I thought about how I have traveled around the states, getting to know lots of different "flowers." My life feels richer for those experiences. I've gleaned a sense of how a place affects people and their views of the world. I've seen how a place shapes a person's day-to-day life. For example, here in grizzly country in Montana I have seen most people carrying bear spray. Even people who pick me up hitchhiking have it in the car. It is a way of rural life out here just as much as wondering where the next fire will be every time there is a lightning storm.

The big sky, dry land, and sparse vegetation seem to affect how people interact. People here, as in New Mexico, understand that water is life and do not hesitate to give it to a stranger. I can't exactly put it into words, but I feel I am understanding more how people develop a sense of "Leave me alone to live my life the way I want to and I'll leave you alone. I'll help you if and when and how I want to but don't force me into it."

When I lived in Harlan County, Kentucky, I was struck by the strong sense of interconnectedness and laid-back living that the very close mountains, dangers of coal mining, and warm weather seemed to impart. People were much more effusive than my New England neighbors. There was almost a sense in that part of the South that strangers were welcome and were to be fed. I often felt like I was treated like family in southeastern Kentucky.

I've seen prejudice all across the country, but I've also seen a lot of kindness. Even though on the outside it looks as though people in different parts of the country have widely different world and political views, when I get to know them I've noticed they have much more in common. They all want to have plenty to live on and a good life for their children. They want to enjoy life. And it seems to me that most people want to be kind to each other. The limiting factor seems to be fear, especially fear of difference. But once a real conversation starts, the fears seem to fall away, and heartfelt connections are made.

As much as I love what I have learned through my travels, I am also aware of the deep satisfaction many of the people who have lived on that one flower seem to have. They love where they live and are contented with their lives. For me, this highlights different personality types, and as much as I've come to recognize the value in traveling and getting to know different flowers, I've learned to see the value in those lives lived on just one flower. In a different way they are just as rich and rewarding.

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