Say it loud, say it proud

Published 11:00 am Saturday, June 28, 2014

Wherever you are, please join me in singing:

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
— from “America the Beautiful”
Words by Katharine Lee Bates,
Melody by Samuel Ward

Independence Day will be here before you know it, and I didn’t want to miss opportunity to write about this true holy day.

Perhaps like me you can’t read those lines that Bates reportedly first wrote as a poem without hearing the tune by Ward. Though the song goes on for several more stanzas, most times that I hear it performed the singer stops after the second set of verses. No matter. I think you’ll agree the opening really says it all about our great country.

As I might have mentioned last year around this time, my brother and I were Air Force brats. As SOAs (sons of an airman), we were required to move from time to time and were fortunate to live in different parts of the country. This enabled us to witness those spacious skies in Idaho, for example. The amber waves of grain could be found in Indiana. Then there’s the purple mountain majesties even in the desserts of Arizona, and let’s not forget the fruited plain in Virginia. We are indeed in a bountiful country. No wonder that people are willing to risk their lives to come here, even if they do so illegally. Poor things.

True, there’s a lot that needs to be fixed. For example, why do people continue to deliberately litter? Periodically in this newspaper, Boykins Mayor Spier Edwards and Riverkeeper Jeff Turner have brought to the public’s attention that the fields and streams of Western Tidewater have too often become the personal dumpsites of the lazy, the spiteful and the thoughtless. Cameras and trash cans could be posted every 10 meters, but that can’t fix the issue. That change needs to come within. Perhaps when more people see how pollution truly damages the landscape where they live and the water they depend on, they’ll learn to think twice about leaving their mess willy-nilly. We can only try.

Littering also harms community spirit. Those of us who care about where we live cannot help but be discouraged at the site of garbage tossed out of car windows or left to rot in front yards. Visitors and potential businesses can also be repelled by polluted roads and rivers and both will take their money elsewhere.

Now I want to shift the tone to the positive, and touch on something said earlier this month at a speech in Franklin by our congressman, J. Randy Forbes (R-Va.). He talked of a few key ways to keep America from becoming a third-rate nation. The first is to re-develop and maintain the attitude that, “It’s OK for America to be the best in the world. I want someone distinguished and superior to build a bridge that won’t collapse.”

Darn right, Randy.

But how to cultivate this much-needed new attitude? Again, it comes from within individuals. When we simply demand the best of ourselves, we’ll be more inclined to carry that over in rearing families, working at our jobs and developing a healthy landscape and culture. This mindfulness can grow from place to place so that the whole country willingly rededicates itself to being a place that’s beautiful in more ways than one “from sea to shining sea.”

STEPHEN H. COWLES is the staff writer of The Tidewater News. He invites you to visit Western Tidewater and other parts of Virginia. Contact him at 562-3187 or