It reflects like an optical instrument and responds to changes in the weather so sensitively that it seems like a part of the sky rather than of the land. And along with all that, Baikal is distinctly Asiatic: if a camel caravan could somehow transport Baikal across Siberia to Europe, and curious buyers unwrapped it in a marketplace, none would mistake it for a lake from around there.
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America is a leap of the imagination. From its beginning, people had only a persistent idea of what a good country should be. The idea involved freedom, equality, justice, and the pursuit of happiness; nowadays most of us probably could not describe it a lot more clearly than that. The truth is, it always has been a bit of a guess. No one has ever known for sure whether a country based on such an idea is really possible, but again and again, we have leaped toward the idea and hoped. What SuAnne Big Crow demonstrated in the Lead high school gym is that making the leap is the whole point. The idea does not truly live unless it is expressed by an act; the country does not live unless we make the leap from our tribe or focus group or gated community or demographic, and land on the shaky platform of that idea of a good country which all kinds of different people share. This leap is made in public, and it's made for free. It's not a product or a service that anyone will pay you for. You do it for reasons unexplainable by economics-for ambition, out of conviction, for the heck of it, in playfulness, for love. It's done in public spaces, face-to-face, where anyone is free to go. It's not done on television, on the Internet, or over the telephone; our electronic systems can only tell us if the leap made elsewhere has succeeded or failed. The places you'll see it are high school gyms, city sidewalks, the subway, bus stations, public parks, parking lots, and wherever people gather during natural disasters. In those places and others like them, the leaps that continue to invent and knit the country continue to be made. When the leap fails, it looks like the L.A. riots, or Sherman's March through Georgia. When it succeeds, it looks like the New York City Bicentennial Celebration in July 1976 or the Civil Rights March on Washington in 1963. On that scale, whether it succeeds or fails, it's always something to see. The leap requires physical presence and physical risk. But the payoff-in terms of dreams realized, of understanding, of people getting along-can be so glorious as to make the risk seem minuscule.
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You can find dozens of books about people taking the Trans-Siberian Railroad. I knew I had to do something different to cross Siberia. To drive and to talk with people along the way, that was how I wrote my book 'Great Plains'. I drove and camped in Siberia, but did not have a real program.
America to me is so varied and exciting. I always feel nostalgia for the place I'm not in, and then I get there and find myself in a traffic jam going into the Lincoln Tunnel, and I think, 'God, why was I romanticizing this part of the country?' I think it has to do with the romantic, unrealistic temperament.
When I go to Indian reservations in the West, and especially to the Pine Ridge Reservation, I sometimes feel unsure where to put my foot when I open the car door. The very ground is different from where I usually stand. There are fewer curbs, fewer sidewalks, and almost no street signs, mailboxes, or leashed dogs.