It was the perfect time to experience America firsthand. While both the actual news and the hyperbole that passes for campaigning have been really frightening lately, the America I saw did not seem on the brink of destruction.
I had a lot of time for reflection in my favorite section of the country--that area so many Americans think of as "fly-over" country is still where I dream biggest and best.
I am still charmed by small town America and invigorated by its cities.
Many places remain across America where I can find sanctuary, both in the literal sanctuary of its churches or in awe of nature.
Whether the sculptural bridges or the rivers that run beneath them, there is beauty in America.
Man-made or natural, America remains beautiful if not perfect.
I visited Mayberry on this trip in an effort to escape the daily news. It should come as no surprise to discover that Mayberry doesn't actually exist. Mt. Airy, the North Carolina town that Andy Griffith fictionalized in my early childhood, is pretty commercialized now. You'll never convince me that Opie grew up to manage the candy store that bears his name on Main Street, or that Aunt Bea regularly fires up the barbecue on the edge of town like a sign seems to imply. In the end none of that matters, because the real America I found is a treasure trove all its own.
We are flawed, yes; but we are a work in progress. We are not cast in stone. We can take steps to repair the flaws that threaten segments of our population, but forward progress only happens when we come together. Separating from those who aren't just like us only fuels suspicion and mistrust, neither of which is good for our country or our individual souls. We have to turn off the voices that bombard us with messages of doom and destruction, clasp hands, and walk boldly towards a better future for us all.
Photos, top to bottom: North Carolina Statehouse; Countryside in Southern Illinois; Post Office in Boone, NC; Episcopalian Church in Raliegh, NC; Cherokee National Forest, Tennessee; Bridge at Land Between the Lakes, Kentucky; Sunshine on River in Elizabethton, Tennessee; Mural in Chapel Hill, NC; Mt. Pilot, NC; "Andy and Opie" Sculpture in Mt. Airy, NC