“There’s a bright, golden haze on the meadow
There’s a bright, golden haze on the meadow.
The corn is as high as an elephant’s eye
And it looks like it’s climbing clear up to the sky.

Oh, what a beautiful Mornin’, Oh, what a beautiful day….”

This summer I relocated almost 9,000 miles from Tel Aviv to Stillwater, Oklahoma (population 45,000 plus 30,000 seasonal students). The reason: my wife, author Joan Leegant, was hired by Oklahoma State University as a one-year visiting professor in creative writing.

Needless to say, this move has resulted in a bit of culture shock, although I suppose moving to northern Alaska might have been even more intense. I thought I would share some observations now that it is four weeks since we drove into town.

The things i wish could be different:

  • Unlike Tel Aviv, where the beach was down the block from our apartment, there is no such sandy shore in Stillwater. The nearest one is 500 miles away on the Gulf of Mexico in Texas. That’s too far to walk.
  • Stillwater seems to be the proud host to every chain restaurant in existence, fast food and otherwise. The avenues are lined with them, one after the other. Taco Bell, Arbys, Olive Garden, you name it, it’s here. Except for the many watering establishments (bars) that service the student population, there are few homegrown and locally owned restaurants. This is in sharp contrast to Tel Aviv where it feels like every block, even the quietist side streets, seem to house a privately owned café, contributing to the cornucopia of incredible food offerings. I anticipate my future in Stillwater will entail lots of home cooking.
  • This is a car — or rather a pickup truck — culture. I have never lived in a place where there are so many such trucks. They are ubiquitous, filling the roads and parking lots, often driven by those who seem to have little need for them. Even students have them (maybe they are useful schlepping books to and from class). In contrast, our Prius is lonely, with only a few others to keep it company, isolated sentinels for energy conservation in the heart of oil country.

The pleasant surprises:

  • Perhaps the biggest surprise is the Oklahoma State University campus. We had anticipated a poorly funded state college with utilitarian or mismatched modernistic buildings. Instead, the campus is beautiful, filled with brick lined walks, ornamental gardens, and a consistent architectural style that creates a picturesque environment.
  • Living in Stillwater is easy, without many of the aspects of big city life that cause stress. This is a very small city – it takes me 5-7 minutes to get all the way across town. There are no traffic jams, except after weekend football games when the university’s giant Boone Pickens Stadium empties out.
  • The drivers are incredibly polite. At four-way stop intersections, I can listen to an entire Shakespeare soliloquy before the first car moves.  And I have yet to hear the honk of a car horn in contrast to Tel Aviv where they start honking at you to get going even before the traffic light turns green.
  • People are incredibly friendly. Everyone will talk with you and, given the slightest opening, will tell you their life stories. It’s like a village where folks make the time to connect instead of rushing to the next task.  Of course, given my background, it can get annoying having to stop and respond to every sales clerk in the supermarket as they give me a hearty greeting and ask how my day is going. I could be rude, nod, and rush past to get my shopping done quickly or stop, break old habits, and engage. I think this may have something to do with “stopping to smell the roses….”
  • Oklahoma has a reputation of being the reddest of Red states. However, Stillwater is a university town and, with faculty coming from all over the world, it has a greater diversity of political perspectives.  Democrats even have a prominent office right on Main Street. The town kind of feels like my home state of Massachusetts that gained the distinction in 1972 of being the only state in the union to have favored George McGovern during the Richard Nixon landslide that year.

But what I thought I would miss the most from moving here was the physical beauty of Israel: the white sand and aqua waters of the beaches, the awe-inspiring vistas overlooking the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) and the Golan, the stark Judean hills leading up to Jerusalem and the West Bank. But surprisingly, I have found Oklahoma to posses a strange beauty that has captivated me. The flat rolling grasslands, the fields of grain, and the endless sky convey a promise of unstated possibilities. Driving along the empty roads on the outskirts of town, I find myself experiencing the same moments of awe as when I viewed the blue Mediterranean. It’s as if God is forcing me to expand my horizons and demanding witness to the infinite variety of creation.

As a final note, I hope to find the time on this now misnamed blog to convey additional thoughts of life in the heartland of America – while still commenting on the worsening tragedies unfolding in the Middle East. But in the meantime, below are two small notices I recently ran across that may convey to all you city dwellers a sense of the environment where this transplanted New Yorker/Bostonian and frequent Tel Avivian now finds himself.

A small ad in last week’s local Stillwater newspaper:

“LOST: 2 black cows. Strayed from 68th and Westpoint on Saturday. Call….”

And this ad was on Craigslist:

“Problems with coyotes or hogs? I am a hunter and respect your land and property rights. I will not cut fences, damage your property, leave gates open, or leave trash around, etc. Willing to leave the meat with you in exchange for letting me hunt these varmints on your property. I do not charge for services. CALL ME AT…”

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