Monday, April 11, 2011

Field trip -- the drive to Springfield

Illinois does go on for miles and miles, hours and hours. Photographs of a farm beside the highway, and another farm past it in the distance, and a third and fourth in yet further distances, still don't convey the endless expanse of land and sky. Imagine walking through here beside a creaking, slow- moving covered wagon, when all the land was prairie cut through with meandering small creeks burbling down in the grasses. They named them "Vermilion" or "Money." I think scenery like this is the reason why, the few times in my life that I've seen mountains, I have found them weirdly disturbing and almost confining. Beautiful of course, but still. Imagine never being able to see the horizon.

Then again, imagine reaching a certain point -- right here -- and deciding, this is a good place to stop. We'll live here. Or, imagine deciding, no, let's go on walking for two or three more months and settle in Nebraska ... or Utah ... or Oregon.Who knows? Maybe some people in the wagon trains were thinking, I'd like to live near mountains. Or the sea.

The change in the look of growing things was noticeable once we reached a certain point south. The spring day was unusually warm everywhere, but beyond a certain point, the meager springtime colors of our northern part of the state changed, from the grays and browns of bare trees and plowed fields, the bright tans of last year's grasses and the deep reds of the almost budding trees, to a more uniform stippling of the palest green along the treetops and in the underbrush in the woods zooming by. Had we passed, in our drive, from what the gardener knows as USDA Zone 5 to Zone 6? In Springfield -- yes! the excitements of the capital were our destination -- things had gone even further. A few flowering crabapples were in full bloom, and a magnolia across the street from Abraham Lincoln's house had already dropped most of its petals. Then there was this odd thing.

This tree graces the site of Lincoln's first law offices in downtown Springfield. On the building next to it, in the picture below, happens to be a reproduction of a flowery painting by Vachel Lindsay, who struggles to be the second-most significant figure ever to come from the town. Poor fellow, it's not his fault. What can one do, when one is a forgotten poet-artist who happens to share a bit of biographical coincidence with an incomprehensibly epochal figure? By way of thought experiment: who, for example, counts as the second most important man from Stratford-on-Avon? Answer comes there none.

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