Nothing has surprised and delighted me more about the Midwest than the fact that it is so darn civilized. I thought moving here would thrust me into the cruel wilds of nature.
We Easterners aren't big fans of nature. Nature is the reason we have cities. From the beginning of time, humans have banded together in tribal villages, barricaded fortresses and sprawling metropolises to protect themselves from the dangers of nature. And though I live on the edge of my small rural town, nature surrounds me. From my outpost in the wild, wild Midwest I hear coyotes at night and doves in the morning. Every time I step out my front door, I’m taking my chances with nature.
This is a challenge for me, as I was raised with the Easterner's mistrust of nature, a mistrust based on undeniable facts:
-- Nature is dirty. "Soil," "loam" and "earth" are synonyms for "dirt." Nature is dirt with things growing in it. It's something you pitch your tent in, spend the night in and drive away from in sixth gear so you can get home to wash all the nature out from between your toes.
-- Nature is unhygienic. It's where the animals go to the bathroom. Nature is, essentially, one big bathroom. When you're walking around in nature you have to watch every step you take.
-- Nature is inhospitable. It's designed for animals that don't mind sleeping naked in the woods, not for people who have to carry tents, sleeping bags and shovels.
Yes, you have to carry a shovel if you're planning to spend more than a few hours in nature. This is called "camping," and I have engaged in the horrid pastime. Of all the weekend's horrors, nothing compared with the experience of using a latrine. I don't mean "latrine" in the Army sense of "a restroom in which soldiers attend to their needs." I mean "latrine" in the sense of "a hole in the ground around which, while you are using it, animals moan and snarl, terrifying you to such a degree that you decide you can hold it until you get home."
-- Nature is loud. My wife and I spent a weekend in The Tree House, a screened-in cabin nestled in the tree tops of Schuyler County, Ill. The daylight hours were tolerable, as the animals were too busy to bother us. But as night approached, they started talking.
Animals don't converse. Conversation involves an organized back-and-forth of ideas. Animals all talk at the same time. The birds started it, the tree frogs joined in and pretty soon nature sounded like a bus station waiting room full of people screaming into their cellphones.
Lest you think I am ignorant of the natural world, I remind you I spent a few years at a small rural New England college in the early 1970s, the height of the "back to the land" movement. It was a world of deer in natural clearings nestled in pine forests. Unfortunately, for every deer there was a guy blasting a shotgun, for every natural clearing a 120-horsepower snowmobile, for every pine forest a developer with a bulldozer and a carton of dynamite. I know about nature, friends; it's a hellhole, a noisy, dirty place where danger lurks around every bend in the trail.
And around here it's totally unnecessary. The Midwest offers plenty of places where you can find peace and quiet. They're called living rooms. I’ve got one and I can’t think of a better place to get away from it all.
Frank Mullen III is a former New Yorker who now lives with his wife in her Aledo hometown.