Through East Coast Eyes

We are flying over jade and peridot plains arranged in perfect rectangular patches, except for the visible tracks made by tractors, diagonally, in curves and parallel to the borders of each patch. These tracks differentiate one patch from the other. They also account somewhat for the usual gradation from jade to peridot and the occasional mirages of emerald and malachite.

The plane is now flying so close that I can see the house set in the middle of the jade and the edge of the peridot, as if stolen from the Monopoly board. Dinky cars move slowly and obediently along clearly laid out roads. Here's a tree reminiscent of the three and four-leaved clover trees we drew in kindergarten. And another. And another. Hints of goldstone, yellow topaz and onyx appear below the green wash. Perfect patches of water are visible-obedient daubs of blue in swimming pools and artificial lakes. The swampy and reed-banked streams of the prairie cannot be seen.

I have lived in and loved this place, but as I land today, my eyes take it all in and say, "How small it is!" How cute. How picture-perfect. How small.

We have flown for almost half an hour at this low altitude, hovering over farmland and a rare model village, and I have not seen any people. Yes, I do know the dinky cars are not animated by a remote control, but I also think, "How empty!"

I step off the plane in a place that was my safe haven for six years, and I feel like Alice after she ate the cake marked "Eat me" and grew nine feet tall in the rabbit-hole! I am looking at this familiar place through East Coast Eyes, and feeling very guilty about it. I do not want to return with scorn or mockery to a place that is once more taking me in. But it is small. And in remarking upon it, I am returning to myself ten years ago, when I arrived from one of the world's largest cities and thought, "How cute! How picture-perfect! How small!"

My two and a half days in town are a preview of the year to come. Despite my best resolutions, I anticipate missing the trains, the people (the sheer numbers of them and the variety), the sense of immediate engagement with the outside world and the food-this last, most of all. Some things never change. And others, like me change so much, they become what they used to be-urban creatures untouched by this land without horizons.

I will never look on this land in the old way again. I will notice its geometrical minimalism. I will mark time to the height of the corn. I will note when grey covers blue and black covers green and white-turned-glass covers it all. But its limitless expanses will seem small. Once more.

Urbana, August 7, 2002

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