Jane Colihan’s article about the Adirondacks (“Out of the Woods,” April 1997) brought to mind memories of an event that turned my life around. In the Soviet Union, where I grew up, one of the most potent propaganda arguments against the lure of all things American (along with the assertion that in the United States only rich people could afford Coca-Cola) was the claim that the United States is virtually a desert, a wasteland devoid of vegetation. The idea was to convince the Soviet people—immensely proud of their country’s natural beauty while starved for America’s man-made goods—that this devastation was the direct result of capitalism. In the Communist system, by contrast, motherly government ensured that the great Siberian forests were preserved in their natural virginity, always ready to greet new arrivals to the concentration camps there. We were never told that thousands of acres of forest were continually sold to tiny Finland in exchange for paper products, which our vast country was unable to produce. In this perpetual diatribe New York City was singled out as the pigsty of humanity—a place of rampant crime, ugly buildings, and not a tree in sight.
This image reverberated in my mind at about 7:00 P.M. on October 24,1974, as my family and I flew into New York on a flight from Rome, eager to begin a new life. Suddenly my wife tapped me on the shoulder. “Look out the window,” she said. I did. As we descended below the clouds, a mass of green burst into view. New York, swimming in parks and trees, was presenting us with a beautiful greeting card of our new life.