Traveling across this land, you meet people who are reasonably happy with the places they call home. When you ask them why -- what is it they like about their city or town or piece of countryside -- they often reply: "I like the quality of life here."
But what does that mean? What goes into a quality of life?
The answers are as varied as the people.
Being close to nature, says one.
Good schools for my kids, says another.
Neighbors you know and trust.
Feeling safe in my home.
Having music and theater close by.
Being accepted for who I am.
Immigrants are often amazed at Americans' restless search for this elusive quality of life. We move incessantly, sometimes for reasons no more profound than to be close to a favorite trout stream or sophisticated nightlife scene; or to have a waterfront view, a yard big enough for the dog to run, or a welcoming church or synagogue or mosque.
Of course, quality-of-life considerations must sometimes give way to job demands or the needs of a spouse or parent or child. Tragedies and disappointments and the passing of the years can radically change our options and plans.
But whenever we can, we try to adjust our recipes for a better life. We dig a pond out back or build a den for reading. Maybe we hit the road in a mobile home or move to a leisure village with a golf course.
The American West has been settled; the wild places tamed. In Sioux Falls or Sioux City, North Carolina or South Dakota, the wheatfields of Kansas or the cranberry bogs of Maine, the search for quality of life is Americans' new, personal, ever-changing frontier.