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Transported at home

What could be more agrarian, or beautiful?

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A man fished in the Wabash River near West Lafayette, Ind., one morning last month.

Michael Heinz/Journal & Courier/AP

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With good friends embarking on a trip to the Azores, Portugal, Spain, and England, others writing of idyllic days biking through the German countryside or sampling the tropical beauty of Costa Rica, I began to feel stuck in the mud here in Indiana. Finances simply haven't permitted overseas travel in recent years. I know what I'm missing, having lived for months at a time on working vacations in Europe. Just yesterday I picked up a travel brochure featuring Switzerland's Glacier Express; the familiar little red train cleaving the Alpine landscapes made me yearn to transport myself back and hop aboard.

Instead I took my pensive mood down to the Wabash River, a few blocks from home, as the sun was setting – and found myself pedaling my bicycle into an Impressionist painting. The broad river's long curve under the cloud-addled sky grew luminous in the late light just as I arrived, the water's reflective slate enlivening with tongues of gold and aquamarine. The grass and mud banks, high on the Indiana side, embraced and held the light, then slowly ceded it in a westward-moving dance. A blue heron negotiated a pale ochre sandbar on the Illinois shore in a slow ballet. Animating the scene with impossible acrobatics were hundreds of black bank swallows intent on their evening feeding. Darting and weaving above their own swift reflections, they pivoted on airborne dimes to flash soft, sunlit underbellies of palest gold.

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The sun, barely above the tree line now, caught and lit the sweeping arc of an irrigator spraying a far distant field of soybeans. What could be more agrarian, Midwestern pedestrian – or beautiful?

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I sat transfixed by the movement of the waning light, slow water, and darting birds, by the all-prevailing stillness of their fleeting balance. When the sun dipped behind the trees, leaving the banks dull brown and green, the tips of the clouds flared like candles.

Pedaling home, I felt as if I might be anywhere – and nowhere more worth being on a midsummer's night.

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