When i was a kid, i couldn't get enough of the Great Outdoors. I would explore the soybean field behind out house, picking goldenrod from the wild grass at the edges. I would climb the mountain across the street, claiming each grassy foothill as my own. I would run through our yard when the grass grew long, searching for the fat, bright pieces that were so sweet to eat. I would go down the road, to empty lots high on the hill by the ditch, and lie in the grass that had never been cut.
When i was on the foothills of our mountain, lying in the dark green, soft grasses, all i could see above me was sky. When i flopped on my back in the dry, faded grasses near the ditch, all i could see above me was sky. When i wandered through the goldenrod and leftover soybean stalks and looked up, all i could see was sky.
I could erase all boundaries, all constraints, all restrictions, and simply be open. People talk sometimes about one particular place or another being "God's country". If you ask me, God's country is anywhere that you can lie in the grass and see the sky.
Find a fat, clean stalk with a bright, juicy end. Chew gently. Some may be bitter, but most will be sweet and juicy and will put gourmet salads to shame. Who needs handcrafted dressings when you have sunshine and air? Lie on your back in heavy grass. Don't worry about grass stains, about mud, about bugs. Glance around first for dog poop or spiders, but then stop thinking about it. Look at the fringe of grass around you, and look up at the sky.
Here there is no prejudice, because there are no other people around. There is no anger, greed, or fear. No jealousy, pride, or judgment. There is no dishonesty, no discrimination, no hatred. There is only grass and sky, only you and God. This is God's country.
I'm not twelve anymore, and i don't live in farmland. I live in the city, where i have a job and friends and responsibilities and shopping and museums and restaurants. I have to deal with coworkers and visitors, phone calls and meetings, email chains and disgruntled roommates and terrible drivers and pedestrians. There is a serious lack of grass, and what grass can be found is sparse and dry and dirty. The ground underneath is hard, and above are telephone poles and airplanes and tall buildings. It's hard to find that place again, to escape to grass and sky and just breathe.
But i don't want to live entirely without the city. It's hard to walk the line between civilization and God's country, between the culture and flavor and color and noise that i love, and the peace that i crave. I'm finding compromises: swimming laps in the ocean or bay, keeping wildflowers in a jar by my bed, pausing to notice snails. Some books can take me there as well: the Sandman comics, the Little House series, Pablo Neruda or Emily Dickinson poems, even my own poetry. I carry some of it in my memory, in my soul: images of grass and sky, sensory memories of prickles in my back and the scent of outdoors, old photos of old places. I sometimes have an adventure: i take a long walk by the beach, or eat lunch outside in the sun, or take a long drive with the windows open.
I crave grass and sky, especially in times like these. When i hear news reports of hate and discrimination, of shootings, when i see Facebook posts supporting cruelty and anger and fear, when i overhear a conversation, i feel my soul contract, shrinking into itself, desperate for air.
There is no real substitute for grass and sky, nothing else quite like that endless blue, that sweet embrace. There are lots of things in my life that make me happy, lots of things that bring me peace and rest, lots of things that are good for my soul. But there is a serious lack of grass and sky, and i am beginning to feel it.