Friday, April 09, 2010

40/40 Revisited

I found this today while reading back through my journals from the 40 States in 40 Days trip last summer. I think it perfectly conveys the nostalgic mood I was in, and reflects all that I was taking in as we traveled from coast to coast.
The lyrics to Guthrie’s “This Land” first caught my attention as a sixth-grader in Mrs. Hamilton’s music class.  “This Land is My Land/ This Land is Your Land/ From California to the New York Island,” we sang, as we strummed the very basic chords of this song on our half-size Yahama student guitars.  “New York Island?” I kept thinking, “I’ve never heard of New York having an island.”  I was lost in thought, pondering Guthrie’s descriptive phrases of America’s landscapes as we finished the abridged version of the song that we had learned, consisting only of the refrain and first two verses.  “This Land” was part of the school’s repertoire of patriotic music.  It was sung every year during our Spring Fling concert alongside classics such as “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” “Fifty Nifty United States,” and “America the Beautiful.”  I never took note of who wrote the song, what kind of life he led, or what inspired him to write.  From my perspective, whoever the author was, he was no doubt a great American hero, like Francis Scott Key, who wrote our national anthem in the midst of an attack on his battleship.  “This Land” has always been a purely celebratory hymn for me.  From sing-alongs with my siblings to school performances, singing this song was to paint a most beautiful picture of America.  Several years have gone by since my elementary years, and “This Land” had been filed away in the depths of my cranium, along with memories of lunch boxes, playground competitions and colorfully illustrated maps of our fifty states.  But this summer, as I entered northern California’s redwood forests for the first time in a long time, a wave of nostalgia washed over me as a mental video clip from my childhood started to play: I watched my family pull up to the same redwood forest nine years ago, singing “This Land” repeatedly as we jockeyed for a prime window spot from which to look up at the ancient towering sequoias.  From that moment on, and throughout the rest of our trip—as I looked out over the rocky Oregon coast, rafted through swift waters in Yellowstone, drove through miles and miles of South Dakota’s badlands, stood on one of New York’s islands while staring up at our Statue of Liberty, walked among the graves of a generation that gave everything to secure our freedoms, and as I looked down under the bridge in South Carolina at the Gullah harvesting sweet grass—Woody Guthrie’s most celebrated song was on permanent repeat in my head.


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