America is still the beautiful; go see for yourself
Recently, I interviewed an American author who lives in Amsterdam, After 15 years abroad, he has been missing the United States lately. What exactly does he miss?

"Americans are so optimistic," he said. "They're not cynical."

Meanwhile, filmmaker Ken Burns, whose six-part series "National Parks" just aired on PBS, says that audiences choke up when they see his documentary.

Why? Many Americans don't even know we all own these parks. They don't "realize how rich we actually are," he told the Farmers Almanac.

And the famed traveler Paul Theroux, who has written about the world's most exotic places, recently drove from Los Angeles to Cape Cod. He is not known for sentiment. And yet, he wrote in September's Smithsonian magazine:

"In the 3,380 miles I'd driven, in all that wonder, there wasn't a moment when I felt I didn't belong, not a day when I didn't rejoice in the knowledge that I was part of this beauty, not a moment of alienation or danger ... in the most beautiful country I'd ever seen."

Lately, it seems like TV talking heads who seethe with hate and sarcasm have boiled down our nation to whatever petty dispute is brewing in Washington.

How dare they? Washington is not the soul of the United States. Not even close.

My advice? Grab a suitcase, get in your car and drive. Drive to the Grand Canyon, maybe. Or to see Graceland. Stop by for lunch in a small town. See a museum. See a lake. See a mountain. Or just drive over to the next city.

Why? To count your blessings.

We have a vast country. A safe country. A free country. A very beautiful country. A country where you don't need permission to go someplace.

Even when economic times are tough, nobody can take those benefits away.

When you travel a lot, three things become apparent. First, compared with the rest of the world, there's still a lot of space to breathe in the United States. Two, I'd put our scenery up against anybody. Three, Americans do have a refreshing openness.

This month on an international flight, I met a Michigan woman who lives part time in Paris. When she goes out to dinner with French friends there, she says, she has to dial down her curiosity.

"The French don't ask too many questions," she says.

But in America, we do. In fact, curiosity and optimism are our best parts. And those are the parts, I fear, that are being snuffed out by the vitriol spewed on our airwaves, shrinking our image of our nation to a dark, shriveled-up, fearful place.

Don't let it happen to you. Travel our land. See for yourself. Let America's beauty restore your optimism.

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