“O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!”
– Katherine Lee Bates
America is the land of freedom, the land of opportunity, the land of accomplishment. They build off each other, they exist because of each other, but they are not in a vacuum. Intrinsically linked to this triumvirate is an abundant supply of resources, from the dirt and rock that make up the physical United States of America to its host of natural commodities to the people and culture that constitute this country. Some of them are essential to our survival; others aid in our achievements; still others provide pure enjoyment.
I’ve been blessed to travel and see much of this country. I’ve driven highways through mile after mile after mile after mile of corn and soybean fields in Indiana and Illinois, seen hay bales peppering rolling hills in Iowa, smelled the cattle on a thousand hills of western Nebraska and eastern Colorado, and eaten the fruit grown in orchards of Florida and California. I’ve flown over the infinite irrigation circles of America’s Breadbasket. I’ve tasted the trout from mountain streams and fresh seafood from coastal waters. I’ve devoured American cheese from cows raised in Wisconsin, fried eggs and bacon provided by local farms, and grilled burgers from some of those aforementioned cattle.
I’ve stood atop and inside of Hoover Dam, which harnesses the power of the Colorado River to provide electricity to parts of Arizona, California, and Nevada. I’ve driven beneath massive, gyrating wind turbines and past derricks drawing from abundant reserves of oil. I’ve drunk the refined water of Lake Michigan (and if you’ve smelled Lake Michigan, that’s no small feat.) I’ve resided in lodges and cabins built with lumber hewn from great cedar forests. I’ve worn clothes made in America, from cotton reaped in America. I’ve seen the gigantic steel mills of the rust belt and the massive factories that produce so many American goods. I’ve delved deep into the shafts from which gold, silver, iron ore, and coal that sustain our economy have been mined. (Okay, no, I haven’t gone into the mines. I have no such courage. But thousands of other men and woman have not just visited the mines, they have labored and toiled in them to support their families and to furnish our way of life.)
We take for granted our electricity, our clean water, our abundant supply of food. We grumble about having to drive through the “boring” landscape of the heartland. We protest the extraction of natural resources other countries would die to possess. We fail to cherish a cornucopia of resources.
I’ve met people of different races, colors, creeds, backgrounds, upbringing, means, and traditions who have each brought their unique perspective, abilities, and vision to contribute to society. Resources aren’t just inanimate objects. They are the inventors, designers, creators, and blue-collar laborers who take potential and forge results. America is a nation of immigrants who have come to America, not only to gain what it had to offer, but also to offer something themselves. Doctors, scientists, and artists have brought their unique skills to America. So too have the “average Joes,” the men and women who maybe don’t have some exclusive proficiency, but who do have a work ethic, a contributive mindset, a will to make America great. As vast as natural resources are, perhaps our human resources are even greater.
America is also a land of unlimited diversity that affords unlimited amusement and entertainment. “From sea to shining sea” we find prairies, deserts, rolling hills, mountains, rivers, lakes, swamps, and forests. We smell the cherry blossoms of spring, feel the warmth of summer sun, crunch through the fiery leaves of autumn, and romp and frolic through powdery snowfalls. Our wildlife is as varied as our people. I’ve seen American bald eagles and hummingbirds, speckled fawns and bugling elk. I’ve watched common ground squirrels and marveled at thundering American bison. I’ve seen dolphins frolicking and black bears lumbering in their natural environments. I’ve yet to see the whales in person, and I still haven’t spotted a moose. But I know they’re out there. From cougars to kittens, puppies to howling wolves, from the condor to the cardinal, and the alligator to the Appaloosa, America is home to almost every species on the planet. Those that aren’t native to America can be seen in amazing zoos and wildlife refuges.
We have it all in America, for our practical use and for our pure entertainment and pleasure. In my travels, I’ve crossed the grasslands of Minnesota and the badlands of South Dakota. I’ve lounged under Nebraska’s endless sky and craned my neck at the jagged peaks of Glacier National Park. I’ve peered over the rim of the Grand Canyon and nearly scraped the sky atop Rocky Mountain National Park’s Trail Ridge Road. I’ve stood—miniscule—beneath the redwoods of California, smelt the sulfur of Yellowstone’s geysers and springs, hunkered in the swamps of South Carolina, and stalked the Saguaros of the American Southwest. I’ve breathed the sultry air of the Deep South, endured the biting cold of the Great North, and felt both extremes in the span of 24 hours in the Midwest. I’ve felt the waves of the Atlantic and watched the sun sink into the Pacific. I haven’t been everywhere like Johnny Cash, but I’ve come close. And the more I see, the more I appreciate this amazing land—the actual land.
For all I’ve seen, I’ve yet to visit the tropics of Hawaii, treading the black sand beaches and gawking at lava flowing into the sea. I’ve never braved the rugged frontier of Alaska, navigating the icebergs of its fjords or climbing the majestic, wildlife-laden mountains. I haven’t hovered over the Everglades, spanned the mouth of the mighty Mississippi, passed beneath the arches of Utah, or cruised Highway 1 through Big Sur. I’ve never hiked along the rugged coastline of Maine, basked in Key West’s tropical paradise, or run my hands over the heads of golden wheat fields in Kansas. I haven’t spied the volcanic peaks of the Great Northwest, rafted the wild waters of a Western river, or bid the day farewell from San Diego’s balmy shore. As much as I’ve seen and done in America, there’s just as much yet to see and do and experience.
America is not alone in its scenic beauty, astounding wildlife, natural resources, or ingenious people. But no other country is so diverse, so rife with assorted possibilities, so full of potential. No nation blends the variety of natural phenomena, raw materials, and the cultural melting pot that is America. Perhaps I’m just being poetic, but this great land and all that it provides seems to epitomize the American spirit, the freedom and opportunity and accomplishment that are essential to who and what we are.
“When an American says that he loves his country, he means not only that he loves the New England hills, the prairies glistening in the sun, the wide and rising plains, the great mountains, and the sea. He means that he loves an inner air, an inner light in which freedom lives and in which a man can draw the breath of self-respect.” – Governor Adlai Stevenson
Nathan Birr is the author of more than a dozen full-length novels and several short stories. When not writing, he enjoys painting, watching football (or any sport), traveling, and spending time with his family. He lives in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, with his wife, Sierra.