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"We seem imbedded in Vastnesses wherever we stand."

The Muse and I live in The American West, a territory defined by its vastness. She hails from the Upper Midwest, also vast, but more two-dimensionally so, though the sky there amply fills in for soaring snow-covered peaks when galleons of thunderstorms spewing lightening float overhead. We lived for a time just over the Maryland line from Washington, DC, in a tiny municipality shoehorned into scores of small towns and aging neighborhoods which summed into a claustrophobic kind of vast. We currently live in a small village poised upon so-called foothills which almost anywhere else in this world would easily qualify as a vast mountain range. We seem imbedded in Vastnesses wherever we stand.

I was born in a small town and raised in a small city, each of which passed for vast for me in their time, later to find themselves relegated to some more minor classification.
As I moved up and moved out, I encountered fresh vastnesses, each initially overwhelming and later, much less so. I coped with each new sense of insignificance by cordoning off the stunning variety surrounding me there. I accomplished this very quickly, for the sense of feeling surrounded by vastness seemed to suffocate something inside me. Often on my first foray into some neighborhood, I'd privately decide to never return, usually on flimsy evidence I'd conclude that it just wasn't my place. I'd end up with territory decidedly not vast, not even half-vast, space I could traverse without bumping into any sort of limitlessnesses. I only felt whole or free when firmly surrounded by terrain familiar to me.

Others cope differently. Some seem to attempt to conquer the vastness surrounding them, blithely driving or flying to sort of shrink the distances. The Interstate highway system spans every imaginable sort of vastness but to my mind has become a vastness of its own now. My friend Daniel, visiting into the weekend, spent his last day plotting a course home which would minimize his reliance of that vast highway system which was intended to leverage vastnesses but became one instead. These roads have increasingly become the homeland for long haul trucks, Daniel's Harley seems to be simply tiny in comparison, somehow in the way, crowded out of any tolerable place on those vast highways. He follows the remnants of prior times, state routes, even county roads, to cross the Great Plains' vastness, remaining a tiny huddled profile in the face of such immensity.

I learned when I first went out into the world that the world could overwhelm me. I understood that the vast world didn't require conquering as if I could somehow clue the damned thing in. It first demanded some coping on my part, some ability, then under-developed, to identify and inhabit some space, my place, within its otherwise belittling presence. I felt so insignificant at first that rather than receiving inspiration from the space, I felt myself shrinking. Peering across endless rooftops, though, I finally realized that I could never inhabit more than the rather close space surrounding me. I could see to the middle of the next block when walking, but I never exceeded the close quarters immediately around me. I became self-contained, roaming through undeniable vastnesses, but never myself expanded any larger than when I was first born into that tiny little town surrounded by rimrock and sky.

Big city, big country, big sky, each might serve to pull my eyes toward ever more distant horizons without materially shifting the space I command, which seems to contain adequate vastness for me. I never grew up or out. If I've grown at all, I might have expanded within, an ever greater and still largely unexplored domain over which I command little control, a nested field of vastnesses all their own, all my own. If I had an odd day to spare and a thousand bucks, I could wake up tomorrow on another continent, seeking my same old cup of decaf within a strange yet curiously not wholly unfamiliar vastness. I would rather quickly cordon off that one, too, as is my wont, creating another in a now long series of intensely personal spaces within which to park my very own and terribly personal vastnesses.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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