In his classic (and often hilarious) essay for Harpers on the Illinois State Fair from l993, Ticket to the Fair, David Foster Wallace ruminated on many questions, including how people see nature in the MidWest.
Rural Midwesterners live surrounded by unpopulated land, marooned in a space whose emptiness starts to become both physical and spiritual. It’s not just people you get lonely for. You’re alienated from the very space around you, in a way, because out here the land’s less an environment than a commodity. The land’s basically a factory. You live in the same factory you work in. You spend an enormous amount of time with the land, but you’re still alienated from it in some way. It’s probably hard to feel any sort of Romantic spiritual connection to nature when you somehow have to make your living from it.
To concentrate this thought: because rural Midwesterners can’t escape nature, they can’t romanticize it either. By contrast — he theorizes later in the piece — Easterners can see going to nature as getting away from it all because they don’t have much of it in their life.
A theory: Megalopolitan East-Coasters; summer vacations are literally getaways, flights-from — from crowds, noise, heat, dirt, the neural wear of too many stimuli. Thus ecstatic escapes to mountains, glassy lakes, cabins, hikes in silent woods. Getting Away From It All. Most East-Coasters see more than enough stimulating people and sights M-F, thank you; they stand in enough lines, buy enough stuff, elbow through crowds, see enough spectacles. Neon skylines. Convertibles with 110-watt sound systems. Grotesques on public transport. Spectacles at every urban corner practically grabbing you by the lapels, commanding confines and stimuli — silence, rustic vistas that hold still, a turning inward: Away.
Here’s an example of an “Away” in Wallace terms: Half Dome last week from over its back (Eastern) shoulder, or officially, the “subdomes.”
And as a Westerner it’s true for me too — I believe in “Away.”