Friday, January 27, 2012
They’d come to the land and tried to shape it according to their imported ideas of science, progress, community, landscape. Now it began to shape them. Its message to the people was blunt: live here, and you will live barely and in isolation. It shook itself free of the littler of surplus bildings, the fence posts and barbed wire with which the Lilliputian homesteaders had tried to pin it down.
The land would wear just so much architecture and society, and no more. In the Platonic republic of the United States, the land of limitless imagining, where ideas were no sooner conceived than they became concrete entities, nature was not supposed to dictate the terms on which mankind could live with it. Of course, nature often struck petulantly back at man, with earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and fires; but this inflexible drawing of lines and limits was alien to the American temper. The prairie was not amenable to problem solving; it wasn’t going to be fixed by new farming methods, or turned green by applied electromagnetism. It was what it was, which was not at all what people had conceived it to be.
Swallows nested now in the wrecked houses of the theorists and high-hopers, and in the abandoned cabins of the rolling stones.
(Jonathan Raban, from Bad Land: An American Romance)