If you think the U.S. is divided and ugly, hit the road

On a busy street corner in Newark, N.J., a mother protectively clutched her daughter’s hand as they waited to cross. In eastern Pennsylvania, the soaring, craggy rock formations by the highway sent a silent message: We were here before you were born and we’ll be here after you are gone. Driving over the Delaware River, with the splendor of the famed Delaware Water Gap below, we caught the first magnificent sight of the Pocono Mountains—and those trees, all those breathtaking miles of ancient trees. Who could ever count them? An impossible task.

In large cities life can seem crowded and claustrophobic. In rural Pennsylvania the overwhelming sensation was of how much open space America still has to offer: the room, if we choose, to spread out, to free ourselves from barking over each other’s shoulders. What must life here have been like before the telephone, before television, before the internet, when people didn’t have thousands of angry and disembodied voices—the voices of strangers—barraging them every day, stirring them up? When the voices they heard belonged, in the main, to their neighbors?