Monday, August 22, 2016

This Week (Wanderlust, Demolition, and a Whole Lot of Cornfields)

“People say that Missouri is just one big cornfield. That’s not true at all! ...This is a soybean year.” 
~a Missouri joke I heard somewhere

An old photo, along the Katy Trail. I didn't take any pictures yesterday because I was experiencing the moment.

This weekend has been packed full of stuff. I volunteered for several hours at a beer booth at Festival of the Little Hills to raise money for the Frenchtown Heritage Museum, then stayed up till almost midnight that night playing board games with friends (even a couple rounds of Nerts, a stressful card game that has driven me to violence in the past). Yesterday, between church, spending time with family, and taking a scenic drive to Alton for dinner, I felt like I had three days’ worth of activities packed into one. Wonderful, but tiring!

Today, Zach and his brother Francis have been working on a room in our garage, tearing off the walls to prepare for turning it into a habitable space for Francis to rent. While they demolish stuff, I’ve been folding laundry and washing dishes and listening to Beatles and The Who, as usual.

After I wrote the mini-series about contentment last week, I found ample opportunities to practice what I preached. A breath of cool weather washed over St. Louis, bringing the promise of autumn— as well as a sudden, intense, always-experienced-but-somehow-never-expected surge of wanderlust in my heart. I blame Tolkien for conditioning me to feel that September is the month of travel (but it does work out well, with air fare dropping significantly after Labor Day). I looked at a map of the US and poked around restlessly on Google Maps. I distracted myself. I tried to allow myself to feel the wanderlust without judgement. I read Rocket Llama’s comics about her PCT hike (they are AMAZING). I started work on my own memoir, even though it hurt. I played a lot of piano and sang impromptu songs about my feelings, because that’s how I roll.

Yesterday, I finally told Zach, “I feel like I need to get out. Can we go eat dinner in Alton?” Alton is a tourist town across the Mississippi River on the north side of St. Louis, a stop on the way to my favorite hiking spot, Peremarquette State Park. Zach agreed, and we hopped in the car, windows rolled down to enjoy the cool air.

Instead of taking the fastest route, a web of highways through North County, we headed straight north from our house. Here, about five minutes of driving takes us out of St. Charles and into the outskirts— the remnants of the small-town living that once dominated the area. Here we see a racetrack with bumpers made of old tires, a building with heavy columns and a light-up Budweiser sign out front, dilapidated farmhouses next to modern bungalows (taking their chances on the floodplain), a white VFW post with neat rows of picnic tables out back, a red-tailed hawk perched on a telephone pole, teenagers joy-riding in tractors, forests with gravel roads delving into them, a mailbox painted like an American flag, a factory churning out smoke, ditches filled with water from the latest flood dotted with great snowy egrets, wooden signs for the Alton Lake Sailing Club, parking lots for people’s boats, a roadside stand selling peaches, huge power lines stretching into the distance, and acres upon acres of cornfields, brown for the harvest. Errant clouds drifted across the sky, and the sun was low, casting a golden glow over everything. 

As we drove, I felt my muscles unknot and my body relax. I looked over the vast floodplain, details great and small that are both familiar and new. My family always used to take this route to Peremarquette, the long drive’s anticipation being part of the experience. Nostalgia rose in my heart, not only for the past but for the present moment. I imagined myself old and gray, talking to my grandchildren, telling them how I remember when that Super-Mega-Suburb-Complex was just a giant cornfield. I almost cried thinking about it. But then I perked up and told Zach, “Or maybe they’ll just turn this whole area into a wetlands preserve and heal the land of the damage the farming’s done.” That was a better idea. I was going with that.

I leaned back as the miles rolled by, gazing into the distance at the columns of white rock jutting out from the green bluffs across the river. And I smiled, because despite any pull I have toward other places, despite how much I might struggle every time autumn arrives, I know that I am a Midwestern gal, through and through. My roots are here, not trapping me, but nourishing me. This is home. This is mine. This is right here, right now— and it’s beautiful.


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