Down East 2013 ©
One of my favorite pieces of writing by E.B. White is an essay called "Clear Days," written in the autumn of 1938 while the leaders of Western Europe were busy dealing with the devil in Munich. White got so aggravated, watching helplessly from a great distance as the disaster unfolded, that he climbed up on his barn in Brooklin, Maine, and installed a cupola.
"[A] barn," wrote White, "is the best place anybody could pick for sitting out a dance with a prime minister and a demigod."
No such luck this time around. The historic events in Iran  — which might yet turn out to be something other than disastrous — have been unfolding during a protracted rainy spell in Maine that at times has seemed downright Biblical. Slugs the size of jalapeños are feasting in my new herb garden. Gorged on germander, they have no taste for the cheap beer I leave out in saucers at night, and I'll be damned if I'm going to give them the good stuff — such as our home-town favorite, Andrew's  Old English Ale. Their little friends, the snails, have nearly taken down an oak-leaf hydrangea. Can you imagine? They have to climb 18 inches up a woody stem to reach the first tasty leaf.
How many Iranians, or Iranian-Americans, are living in Maine, do you suppose? Ever-resourceful Anne Ravana of Maine Public Broadcasting turned one up for an excellent interview  in the immediate aftermath of the election back home, which, it now seems increasingly evident, had just been stolen . The interviewee, a legal permanent U.S. resident, asked to be identified only by her first name. She sounded, at the time, a bit shell-shocked. I can only guess how she feels now with blood running in the streets.
There's a 40-percent chance of rain today in Tehran , with temperatures around 90°F. Here on the coast of Maine it's gray and cool and the teenagers are sleeping in. E.B. White was early, among Americans, in understanding how events in a faraway corner of the world might have a profound effect on us here at home. How many of his contemporaries could have pointed to Czechoslovakia on a map? Or even Germany? And how many of us today can find Iran?
That's a trick question, in a way. Anyone can find Iran in a matter of seconds by typing four letters into a search bar. Via Google Earth, we can zoom in on satellite photos of any Iranian city. You can take a virtual stroll, for example, down Kargar Avenue  in central Tehran. That's the place where a rifleman on a roof gunned down Neda Agha-Soltan , an incident captured on video and posted to YouTube. You can read live Twitter messages containing the text string #iranelections and, if they're written in Farsi, run them through the Google Translate tool, which just added a (possibly still buggy) module called Persian ALPHA .
You couldn't do any of this in 1938. But you could spin a globe, and read a newspaper, and listen to broadcasts from radio pioneers like William Shirer in Berlin and Ed Murrow in London. Few people, it would seem, bothered to do so. And those who did drew, all too often, the wrong conclusions: that this was not America's affair, that we'd better stick to problems here at home. American First!
They were frightened, I suppose.
I think in a place like Maine we run a risk like that. Most of us don't know any Iranians personally, so we may think of them as greatly different from ourselves. Tehran is a world away — look how long it takes the animated globe to spin all the way over there! And we're frightened, no doubt, by strange-looking men with rifles.
Fear does strange things, and in some ways our knee-jerk reaction this time around is the converse of 1938. Back then we tried to look the other way. Congress passed the Neutrality Act to prevent FDR from charging off half-cocked into the mire of central Europe. Today we have a different idea: Let's bomb the hell out of them! Or at least let's give Netanyahu a wink and let the Israelis do it.
Neither of these extreme positions makes any sense. And in that regard I hope the existence of Twitter and YouTube — and courageous journalists of the old-fashioned kind reporting in spite of everything from the heart of Tehran — may have a sobering effect. Like the semi-anonymous Iranian-American safe in Maine, and Neda Agha-Soltan bleeding to death on Kargar Avenue, these folks are our neighbors.
I wish them well.
Novelist Richard Grant lives in Lincolnville and is the author of Another Green World.