Yesterday we drove out into the country to visit a farm in McHenry County. Just outside Marengo, on Route 20, we saw a mysterious old watchtower right by the road. More
Last weekend, a friend invited us up to a horse farm in Wisconsin to see a dressage competition. It was quite a drive–Chicago weekend traffic can be murder–but the weather was gorgeous (though still cold). The landscape, decked out in the delicate finery of spring, was lovely to behold.
I had never attended such an event. I was surprised at the tranquility of the scene. Seeing the horses and their riders, and walking the quiet paths whose fences bounded the long allées, made me wistful for the days before the automobile. My thoughts traveled back in time to the Impressionists Degas and Manet, who were fond of painting horses and racing scenes. It was great fun to be transported back imaginatively into that vanished world.
This tableau with stuffed bears inside Bass Outdoor World is only one of its surreal features. I visited one of these stores for the first time the other day and found it an assault on my gentle sensibilities. A salesman proudly told me that the store contained $2 million worth of taxidermy. Across the US, there are 51 similar stores, with plans for many more in the offing.
What is Bass Outdoor World? It’s a colossal store selling gear for outdoor pastimes—camping and hiking, hunting and fishing. The stores are often on the fringe of metropolitan areas, along the highways that affluent people use to reach their vacations. The stores have huge parking lots, vast inventories. They are extravagantly materialistic, while seeming to worship the natural world.
The Bass Outdoor shop in Portage Indiana is a cavernous two-story building, with a rough-hewn timbered look under fluorescent lighting. It features a dizzying array of fishing gear, a showroom of expensive boats, and, upstairs, a hunters’ paradise with a sobering display of guns.
As the United States becomes more built up, our focus on the glories of outdoor life becomes more intense, too. There is a vast commercial market for roughing it, a market where you can buy fancy sights and expensive comfortable chairs from which to shoot deer. With enough expenditure, campsite conveniences rivaling the comforts of domestic life can be had.
Have you ever been to Bass Outdoor World?
A secluded oak savannah in the dunes pulses with two seasons’ energy. Dried twigs and grasses are still blazing with the colors of autumn. The fire-blasted remains of a tree still writhe, while the trunks of those living glow with the greeny auguries of spring.
It’s where Chicago works toward transcendence. Only from afar can we see the magnitude of all we’ve accomplished yet appreciate the trivialities that distract us every day. May Chicago rediscover the resources and inspiration that made her great, and that are needed, now more than ever, to avert her decline.
The rural traffic jam had its compensations. There was time, while sitting on the road below Milwaukee, to admire the color gamut and the grainy texture of the dirty snow. The telegraphed serenity of the twilight households. There was time to acknowledge the moon’s splendor too.
A drive to Wisconsin yesterday gave me a chance to enjoy the tranquility of the country. The twilight was beautiful as it fell over this farm and its sleeping fields.