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We live in a wonderful country
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Forsyth County News
“You can observe a lot just by watching.” Or to take a little liberty in paraphrasing Yogi Berra’s astute statement: “You can observe and learn a lot by keeping both your eyes and your mind open.”

Often perspective is everything. Today, polls show that the average American is down on the future. We seem to face challenges everywhere we turn, and few people have much to say that is positive about the economy, our political institutions or social trends.

Unfortunately, I often find my thoughts wandering in that direction.

But sometimes all it takes is a change in venue to bring reality back into focus. And the reality is that everything is relative.

My wife, Beverly, and I are currently traveling in southwestern Colorado. Virtually every part of this country offers sights and experiences that are exciting and unique, particularly for people raised in other parts of the nation.

It is too easy to take for granted what you have at home. The key is not only to observe what you see, but to relate it to the world around.

This part of the country triggers many thoughts and feelings for me.

First, it is incredibly beautiful; deep valleys cut through by rushing rivers and surrounded by majestic jagged mountain peaks, some still spotted with snow; beautiful pine and aspen forests; high alpine meadows painted with color by glorious mountain flowers; and incredible gorges like that of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

The experience is heightened, as it has been for us, by the real opportunity for chance encounters with deer, elk, bears and even a lynx.

Contrast this with a return to our motel rooms with TV news focusing on the Russian invasion of Georgia, the ongoing trials and tribulations of Iraq and Afghanistan, continued strife and starvation in Africa and even the possibility that Belgium will divide over linguistic differences. (Thank goodness for the Olympics.)  

The contrast between what we are experiencing during the day and what much of the rest of the world is going through emphasizes the fact that we truly live in a wonderful country.

It also provides an opportunity to completely leave “normal lives” behind. Whitewater rafting experiences clear one’s mind of most of the clutter, and knuckle-whitening, stomach-churning four-wheel drives over mountain roads and passes that would daunt even a sure-footed mule guarantee to remove any traces of other concerns one might have had before starting the journey.

This opportunity to get away and refresh our mental computers is another great feature that this country offers in abundance.

Then there is the history. One can go way back, with elegant ruins such as those found at Mesa Verde or Hovenweep — remnants of ancient native civilizations that date back well before the coming of Columbus. Unfortunately, much of this past has been overlooked by those who write our school history texts, but it is a heritage in which we should all take pride.

This is a part of the country where much mining activity took place, particularly in the 1800s.

Millions of dollars of gold, silver and other metals were taken from the land by a hardy bunch of men who braved the harshest of conditions to achieve their goals — many of whom also failed along the way.

They built roads and railways through the most inaccessible terrain, driven by a spirit of adventure and the chance for riches — entrepreneurs in the most meaningful sense of the word. Ghost towns and played out mines dot the landscape.

And some of these towns still remain — towns like Silverton and Ouray — today attracting tourists rather than miners, but providing an opportunity to venture, at least part way, into the past.

And of course, there is a more modern history that includes the filming of Westerns (John Wayne left his mark) and the endless quest for water to turn much of the otherwise starkly arid land into verdant farms. Each of these periods adds additional dimensions to the region and to the nation as a whole.

By definition, every place has a history. But being able to see these dramatic changes over many centuries, to experience them, is special.

It takes one away from the cares of daily life and helps to put things in a different light, particularly when one thinks about what it took to move from one phase to another — and most done primarily with human ingenuity and energy. We truly live in a wonderful country.

Finally, there is today. Within the region, huge farms abound, raising cattle, corn and even peaches. It is populated by small communities that still show strong community spirit, reminiscent of that which existed in many other parts of the country until a few decades ago. Its people seem less hurried and have time to smile and say a kind word to a stranger. There is a sense of caring for one’s fellow human beings.

Although western Colorado clearly offers many unique features, so do most parts of this great country, and similar observations could be made about them. There are things to do and see, fascinating histories and, wonderful people to meet. In almost every case, if one places the experience in a more global context, it is hard to avoid the inevitable conclusion that we live in a wonderful country.

Every American should take the opportunity to get out and wander. It’s refreshing for the soul, but perhaps more importantly, it provides a broader view of what this nation and life are all about.

I’ve often expressed the wish that every American could travel abroad, not only to learn about other nations, but because, by contrast, one learns so much about our own — things that are not obvious until placed in a broader perspective. That, for financial reasons among others, is not likely to happen. But traveling in one’s own country is feasible for almost everyone.

The important point is not only to “observe a lot just by watching” but to take the time to think about what is seen in the context of everything else that is going on around us. We need to recapture that “can do” spirit and what better way than by seeing that we actually are doing things well, that we have a wonderful country filled with many wonderful people,  and  that beauty, creativity and energy abound.

Sometimes it takes a jolt to break out of the daily routine, and what better way to achieve a positive jolt than by seeing the U.S. for what it really is and helping move it from here to what it really can be in the future.

Dr. Melvyn Copen lives in both Georgia and Arizona. He is an educator and businessman who has worked and lived in many foreign countries and provides consulting services throughout the world. His column appears every other Wednesday. Please share your comments with him via e-mail at