Posted by jdg | Monday, October 13, 2008

Last March we took the kids hiking up and down the highest hills in the mostly-flat state of Indiana. As our daughter trudged along wearily behind us, we'd shout, "You're climbing a mountain Juney! Isn't it BEAUTIFUL?" No matter how crabby she'd been, when we asked this question she would put her hands on her hips and survey the vista behind her like a tiny figure in a romantic landscape painting. "What a view," she'd say, and we'd crack up. This was, after all, Southern Indiana.

Over the past few weeks, I've tried to take the kids hiking as much as possible to enjoy the changing seasons, even if it's just an afternoon at our usual hiking spot on Belle Isle. We are exactly how I pictured us. We hide behind reeds and watch a blue heron on the river. We see a hawk dive towards a meal. We sit in the tall grasses with crickets and dragonflies all around us and we talk about the seeds I've picked up along the way; I explain as much as I can about how seeds work. We clip clusters of sumac and sassafras for tea we'll make later in the afternoon. I gesture broadly out towards the yellowing foliage. "This is nature," I tell my city kid. "Isn't it beautiful?"

Her response: tepid. She is hungry now. The dog is in and out of the river. The baby shrieks with joy each time he emerges. I need to find a mountain.

This past weekend, the wife needed to shop at one of those giant-parking-lot stores. We were driving along the highway and saw all the telltale signs of one, so we pulled off and drove up into a brand new retail center built on land that started as a Ford Motor Co. clay mine back in the 1920s, but for the last sixty years was used exclusively as an industrial landfill. To access the shopping center we had to drive up a series of switchbacks. At the top, a city on a hill: Target, Best Buy, Bed Bath & Beyond, Home Depot, Lane Bryant, Longhorn Steakhouse, Barnes & Noble, Old Navy, and dozens of other beloved modern mercantiles. My daughter looked out over this barren former landfill, past the retention ponds and ditches of parking lot runoff with their scum of oil and antifreeze shimmering in the afternoon sun.

"Isn't this beautiful?" she said without a hint of sarcasm. "Wow, what a view!"