There is a spiritual geography to America that is not defined
by mountain or plain, valley or desert, forest or lake, but by
patterns of people and the way they sometimes behave.
Our places were named for the spirits that once inhabited them,
now the places themselves inhabit us. So there is truth to the
belief that to know the true name of a thing is to know its soul.
Ashwaubenon, Mukwanago, Koshkonong. Town names roll
from highway mileage signs in an occult incantation, magics that
the Anishinaabe almost certainly must once have known.
Oconomowoc, Boscobel, Weyauwega. To travel these rural routes
is to disengage from the taffy grasp of time. A flock of hawks drifts
in an improbable double helix, a slow-motion tornado above
glacier-etched hills. Dairy cows graze on green slopes and there is
some hope it will always be this way; that we will till soil in spring,
harvest in autumn, bore ice in winter sipping brandy-laced coffee
knowing nothing is ever this simple, holding desperately to the belief
that it must be. That we will pray diligently on Sunday and are prayed for,
that we will awaken each day blessed with the burden of another
and sleep relieved that in the end, marked by stone tablets in clean
cemeteries shadowed only by church steeples and sheltering trees,
our spirits will endure in places like
—Martin Bartels, Leesburg, VA