Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Geographic Mindfulness

I couldn’t help but pay special attention to states that begin with the letter “I” during the four cross country ventures I’ve taken during my first 30 months of retirement, always accompanied by Mugsy, my English bulldog.

When I first relocated from my native intermountain west to Durham NC, nearly a quarter of a century ago, I was amused that so many native North Carolinians still classified me as a northerner and whenever I responded, “Idaho” to a question about my origins, the reply was invariably, “oh, where they raise the corn.”

Earlier this month as I traced the path my ancestors had taken across southern Iowa 167 years ago, I indeed saw lots of what my friend and Iowa native as well as fellow-North Carolinian, Harvey Schmitt calls “sweetcorn”, as though it were one word, but I was also impressed by the beauty of the topography there where deep, tree-filled creases are carved in glacial till.

Unless you classify geography by crops and vegetation, Iowa isn’t part of the Great Plains, although a small part of that region spills into the very northwest corner from South Dakota.

Iowa is actually in what is classified as the Central Lowland Plains.

A majority of the state of Montana along with major portions of Colorado, Wyoming, both Dakotas, Kansas, New Mexico, Texas and nearly all of Nebraska comprise the Great Plains.

During my trip I crossed outbound through the vast Southern Iowa Drift Plain and then back through the very flat Des Moines Lobe stretching down from Minnesota and the shallower-creased Iowan Surface regions of that state on my return.  The northeast corner stretches up toward Madison, Wisconsin in a Paleozoic Plateau.

Overall the drop from the Great Plains into the Central Lowland Plains is one of elevation.

These cross-country ventures, using largely different routes, have left me with a positive impression of the other “I” states and how different they are from my native Idaho.  Even Indiana, where during the outbound leg this month, I garnered only the lasting impression of a forest of ugly roadside billboards in stark contrast to Illinois, but the Hoosier state redeemed itself upon closer inspection on a return route.

One of the things I’ve enjoyed in retirement, besides indulging many passions beyond that of my now-concluded forty year career in community-destination marketing (demand-side economic development) has been the luxury of what psychological researcher Helen Langer termed “mindfulness” in a book published way back when I first moved to Durham in the late 1980s.

But an even better description is found in the title of her new book with updated research entitled Counter Clockwise.  In an NPR interview I listened to as I drove back roads through western Illinois on the second leg of the outward bound route of my most recent trip, Langer gave a great definition of “mindfulness” as follows:
"People often confuse mindfulness with thinking, and thinking has gotten a bad rap itself. Now, when you're being mindful, as I study it, you're simply noticing new things. Even when you're thinking…”
Continually noticing new things and listening to new things as well as  experiencing the incredible geography of this great nation and the companionship of Mugsy and time with my daughter and grandsons are all reasons I enjoy road trips.

When I consider such experiences, in addition to everything I learn through curation of this blog, I realize that I am proving Langer correct when she says they are making me grow younger in retirement.

As Dr. Langer blogged recently, “...activities are not inherently interesting or boring... If we want to find something, or someone for that matter, interesting, all we need to do is notice things about it. The more we mindfully notice, the more engaged we become...”

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