Photograph by Aaron Huey, National Geographic Image Collection
Read Caption

Riders carry American flags in the Crazy Horse Ride in South Dakota in 2012. The annual event honors Crazy Horse of the Lakota Nation and veterans.

Photograph by Aaron Huey, National Geographic Image Collection

In a time of division, here’s what holds Americans together

How the story of ‘America the Beautiful’ inspired an outpouring of affection for the land—and its people.

On Election Day, we asked Americans what they love about this country. Your answers came at a time when many are stressed in the aftermath of the presidential election. While there are clear differences among us going forward, there are also things that bind us—from a love of the land to an appreciation of its people to the unique spirit of American optimism.

Reader Kay Wert Minardi wrote that the kindness she experienced biking across the nation “gave me faith in Americans.” Nadine Vaughn D’Ardenne said that despite divisions and a pandemic, “we offer respect to this sacred land and an abiding belief that we will survive.” Juan Carlos Cuadros looked ahead. “America,” he wrote, “is still in the process of becoming.”

Here are excerpts from the scores of comments sent to us in the past days:

‘The evergreens standing tall’
“America is represented to me in the year-round beauty I see in Washington [State]... right now there are reds and yellows fit for royalty, all tucked between the evergreens standing tall... On sunny days, sunshine lights up the world. There are views of mountains, or city lights, or rivers, all breathtaking.” —Michelle Kelley

View Images
Sunlight filters through the trees in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California.

‘When I was a keiki
“Hapuna Beach, with its warm water and fine sand, is my favorite place on the planet and where we spent most weekends when I was a keiki (child). And with great diversity of people comes incredible food from all over the world, reinvented into a cuisine that is uniquely, and deliciously, Hawaiian.” —Wyoming Maile Irwin

‘Nothing calls to me like Lake Michigan’
“My favorite area is from Charlevoix to Mackinac City—and everything in between. The shops in all the small towns there, the beautiful beaches and the beautiful sunsets. I don’t think you can spend time there without thinking what a beautiful country we live in. It calls to me as it did to Hemingway and others. That is ‘America the Beautiful’ to me.” —Paul H. Jacokes

‘The Sacred Black Hills of South Dakota’
“As a VIP volunteer park ranger at Mount Rushmore, I studied and created a display that integrated the park with the Native American Nations: Lakota, Dakota, Nakota for the Native Badlands Pine Ridge Chamber of Commerce. It was my privilege and honor. According to Lakota legend, all life originated in the 350-foot-deep dark Wind Cave, and all life will return at Earth’s end. We, centuries later as visitors, can experience the true genius of those peoples who transcended the depths ... I hope to make [the area] my retirement home, volunteering at the South Dakota Native School.” —Deborah Ann Ehr

‘I get teary-eyed’
“I went on an epic journey with my now fiancé, who drives a tractor trailer. He had a load of coffee beans going to Seattle. ... I saw the ‘northern Grand Canyon’ in North Dakota, herds of pronghorn antelope, the Great Salt Flats in Utah, and mysterious dense forests in northern Washington State. ... When I sing ‘America the Beautiful,’ I get teary-eyed, it moves me so much.” —Paula Dedek

‘The only thing I can find’
“It is the day after the election, and the only thing I can find beautiful in our country right now is the natural wonders, from the smallest insect, the highest trees, and our most majestic mountains and seas from north to south and east to west. Humans not so much. I know they are out there but somehow [they] have been overwhelmed by the divisiveness and hatred that clouds over humanity.” —Pandora Baldree

View Images

Beach-goers enjoy the turquoise water of Miami’s South Beach in Florida.

‘I have hope we will return to kindness’
“My great-grandfather was a drummer boy in the Union Army during the Civil War. ... I love the stories of America and how America keeps changing and growing. We are learning from George Floyd and all the other Black men whose lives have been cut down this past year. I have hope that change will come. I have hope that we will come together as one nation in liberty and justice for all. I have hope we will return to kindness. That is the American spirit.” —Marybeth Bland

‘The alabaster cities are my first love’
“The beauty of the land that is America is unimaginable to anyone who has never traveled from sea to shining sea. As much as I am awed by all that I have seen in traveling across the lower 48 and Hawaii, the alabaster cities are my first love. They represent the soul of a nation built by the toil and imagination of immigrants. I am the child of immigrants, born and raised in Brooklyn. I love New York. The energy of the city and the opportunities it represents are unique in the world.” —Ellen Finegold

‘Like a first kiss every time’
“When I became an adult I chose to be in my parents’ home state of Vermont. The stunning Green Mountains and unbelievable autumn dance that lays its colored carpet down for winter’s long visit. I do a road trip to Montana every other summer; it has become my second home. The vast valley floors and young mountains take my breath away like a first kiss—every time.” —Laurie Martin

View Images

A forest of golden-leafed aspens in Colorado, in autumn.

‘The shimmer of a breeze rustling the leaves’
“The totally monochrome golden colors of fall in the Aspen hills has no equal. No kingdom’s wealth of gold leaf on walls can produce the shine and shimmer of a breeze rustling the leaves on a mile of Aspen white-trunked trees. ... America gives and receives, holding hopes and dreams until someone finds them.” —E. Harper Gilkeson

A top 10 list
“These top 10 are what I think make America beautiful: natural abundance of beauty and various landscapes…especially the national parks; diversity of its people; democracy, freedom, and the electoral college; entrepreneurism; The Constitution; traditions….Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Thanksgiving, baseball, football; love of the arts; farming; freight rail; journalism.” —Jack Norris

‘My breath gets taken away’
“Every day on the way to work I can see [New Hampshire’s] Mount Washington and the Presidential Range. On the rare clear day I can see the mountains, especially when capped with snow, my breath gets taken away. Highest point in the northeast and revered by the Native Americans as Agiocochook [which loosely translates to ‘Home of the Great Spirit’].” —Walter Davis.

In Tahoe: ‘Living here is a privilege we don’t take lightly’
“We moved to the east shore of Lake Tahoe in early 2000. As my husband likes to tell people, ‘We haven’t had a bad day since.’ Living here is a privilege we don’t take lightly. ... Every evening that we can, we love to watch the sunsets from our deck.” —Anne Rackerby

‘The lungs of our nation’
“Lower Manhattan, crossing the East River to Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island, shores that are the brains, love, and power of America. From the skyscrapers to the wetlands of Nassau County, surfs, shores and beaches that are the lungs of our nation that breathe with the tides by the lunar morning mist. A populace made sober by power, passion and creativity; knowing that unadulterated vision is what makes us grow!”—Edgar Mendes

View Images

Rush-hour traffic speeds across the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City.

Not a tree hugger, but ...
“Born and raised in Eureka, Humboldt County, California, I was well into my 40s before I appreciated the beauty of our redwoods. While I am not a ‘tree hugger,’ I do feel it is important to honor and preserve these silent giants for future generations. ... While standing quietly in the redwoods, listening to the wind in the canopy and the sounds of gently falling redwood fronds, accompanied by birds going about their daily business; breathing in the forest smells, one can almost hear the banana slugs munching detritus, doing their ecological part to keep the trees healthy. Not exactly a tradition, but it should be!” —Joy Lindholm

The John Muir Trail
“The Sierra Nevada mountains are a spectacular series of ever-rising massive jagged cliffs with a dramatic white color to them, with creases of gray interspersed. ... As I climbed from the valleys up towards the Mount Whitney peak I crossed through sections dotted with sequoia trees of all sizes and ages. Their redwood bark is so rich and vibrant that the contrast with the white marble cliffs was just remarkable. I was in one of the most beautiful places on earth, and the white jagged cliffs and sequoias convinced me, at least, that this is my cathedral of the gods.” —Stephen Schuler

View Images

Lone Pine Peak rises in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California.

‘The true patriots of this nation’
“From sea to shining sea, I have lived and loved this beautiful country. But what I love most are the people who share this sacred love. Through divisive times, a pandemic, and threats of stolen elections, we offer respect to this sacred land and an abiding belief that we will survive. These good-hearted caretakers are the true patriots of this nation, not divided, and with fervent hope that we will one day offer liberty and justice for all.” —Nadine Vaughan D’Ardenne

‘The kindness ... gave me faith in Americans’
“My greatest appreciation of our nation came during my 1987 bicycle trip across the northern United States, when I was only 26. It was then that I grew to appreciate that its people are what make our nation great. The friendliness and kindness that I (and my riding companions) encountered everywhere we went gave me faith in Americans. Sadly, I feel like I need another cross-country ride to regain that feeling.” —Kay Wert Minardi

‘Cacti blooming’
“Born in Texas and lived there for over 45 years. Smelled a field of bluebonnets. Marveled at cacti blooming in the West Texas desert, and kept my small dog on a leash while watching alligators circle a lake inside a state park.” —Marcia Gerhardt

View Images

A woman bikes along a scenic road in Bend, Oregon.

‘The Driftless Zone’
I grew up in the coulees of the Driftless Zone in western Wisconsin and eastern Minnesota. Long afternoon rambles took me deep into those hills in search of mushrooms and squirrels and I was entranced and mystified by the sudden pockets of ice-tinged air at the bottom of certain coulees. Only later in life did I discover the reasons behind them and, even armed with that science, I am still awed and mystified. It is a wonderful region in a magnificent country and I hope we can all come together to ensure it remains so.” —Patrick Doss-Smith

The bison grazing
“I live in the northeastern Oklahoma Cross Timbers, just east of the Tallgrass Prairie. I love the tall, green, big bluestem grass; the bison grazing; the wind almost always blowing.” —Lucy Weberling

‘We cannot be blind to our faults’
“We have been gifted our county’s bountiful beauty, and lasting peace. Our greatest dangers arise from within—through greed, negligence and lack of respect for the land and our fellows. I’ve had 75 years to respect and appreciate the choice my grandparents made when they left all they knew and traveled with little to create new lives. They learned a new language, adopted additional traditions, worked hard, and instilled patriotic devotion in their children who fought to defend their family’s adopted land. We cannot be blind to our faults and what must be nurtured or it will lost to those who follow.” —Elaine Diller

‘America is still in the process of becoming’
“America being a multi-culture is what sets it apart from other nations. I truly believe that America is still in the process of becoming an independent country. And truly we the people are the ones who have to make it a great country.” —Juan Carlos Cuadros

David Beard, a former international correspondent and digital news director, is National Geographic’s executive editor for newsletters. Follow him on Twitter.