Written by Jerry Engler Tuesday, 02 February 2010 19:50
I’m in a motel on Bowles Street in St. Louis—it’s the east side of town, but the Missouri side of the river.
At this moment, it seems someone must have switched the “e” and the “l” on Bowles Street, because after two days of Italian food—one of Southern fried, plus forays to Krispy Kreme doughnuts—I am in agony.
My national book distributors are near here, on Big Bend Avenue, but I won’t see them. You see, my wife and my brother are happily talking about going to Krispy Kreme again before we see and buy more stuff.
I’m not feeling like I need more stuff, and as for doughnuts, I only want the vacant holes today, but know I will go for the total gluttony, smack, smack, oink, oink.
Many people here look like Marion County people, and they share many of the same concerns. They’re worried about the economy and the future, their stuff.
As we arrived here, we came by the huge Daimler Chrysler factory that made vans until October 2008. It was still a well-lighted, silver-gray, monster-edifice tribute to American ingenuity.
It looked ready to move into again if only someone would.
We saw many newer homes, but over in the neighborhoods where the Missouri Botanical Gardens is—the place hosting the annual orchid show we came to see—there are rows of elderly brick row houses. A few of them seem fixed up, but many of them are deteriorating, and some falling down, with missing windows and doors.
Maybe young people will remodel some brick row houses here since I know they’re doing that in Philadelphia, Pa., where we visited our son.
Our first day here, we crossed the Mississippi to the Illinois side to Cahokia Mounds, where my brain leaps began at times to surpass my gut leaps.
Cahokia was a native American Indian mound city of the Mississippian culture from A.D. 800 to A.D. 1300—recent as world history goes. Because its people became proficient corn growers and traders, it grew until it had a peak population of about 20,000 persons by 1200—bigger than London and many other European centers of the time.
That’s more people than we have today in Marion County.
Their city, just like modern St. Louis, was located on what is known as the Great American Bottom, a large fertile river-bottom created by the near confluence of the Missouri, Mississippi, Illinois and Ohio rivers.
Many of the city’s mounds are still there. Monks Mound is the largest at 22 million cubic feet of earth on more than 14 acres and 100 feet high, which is only a little smaller than the modern solid-waste disposal landfill a few miles west.
My brother and my wife climbed it. I was feeling stuffy.
Sometime in the 1300s, the Cahokians disappeared. Experts still don’t know for certain where they went or why they went, just that war probably was not involved.
The last traces of their culture, which once extended from the Great Lakes to the Gulf to the grasslands, appear to be preserved with the Natchez Indian Nation.
They had tatooes and body piercings. Imagine that.
Two guesses are that they wore out their ground growing corn, or that the climate of the earth temporarily cooled, becoming drier with shorter growing seasons.
That sounds familiar, doesn’t it? They didn’t take proper care of their land, covered it with stuff and the climate changed.
I didn’t see their Cahokian Daimler Chrysler plant with their mounds, but the archeaologists say the remains of their row houses are buried there. They even find remains of wood-henge pole holes where they kept track of time and seasons.
One mound used for the burial of an important chief also has bodies of nearly 100 young women and men who were sacrificed to go with him to his afterlife. Women outnumbered men there, 2-1.
Perhaps a society so willing to sacrifice the lives of its young people, or any of its people, couldn’t and shouldn’t be slated for survival.
All across Missouri and Kansas I saw other changes that have occured.
Columbia, Mo., has increased tremendously in size since I was in graduate school at the university there. New suburbs covered corn fields, pastures and wooded areas I remember fondly. New, huge upscale shopping centers are plentful, thankfully none of them on mounds.
East of there at the exit for Auxvasse, Kingdom City, Mexico, et al, a particularly pretty farm I remember is gone. Its white, board-fenced pastures have been replaced mostly by restaurants, hillbilly souvenier shops and convenience stores.
East of there somewhere they were trying to attract folks to tour an old slave plantation. I wonder how many black Americans tour that attraction compared to Cahokia?
Back in Kansas, Lawrence suburbs have grown out to Clinton Reservoir. A convenience store in a new area was so dirty and ill-kept that I wondered how soon before it will be thrown into a Cahokian heap. That’s not usual in “the burbs.”
Nice new homes and dirt moving for new landscapes stood alongside abandoned fields that I remember with crops of corn, soybeans and milo. The houses dominated the hillside pastures.
One bottom field along a small creek had 2- and 3-foot tall cedar trees growing across it. We followed Highway 40 for a few miles before we saw crops grown again.
My reflections reaffirm my opinion that land use is our No. 1 environmental problem. How many corn fields can we afford to lose? How many acres of trees can we afford to lose? How often can we trade land as a commodity that promotes all of our other activities, and not value it as the real natural resource it is?
There’s land under the Daimler Chrysler plant, land under the row houses, and land under Cahokia. I know it’s under Cahokia because from the museum I counted 31 deer grazing it, but not a single one of the Cahokians who failed to realize how to keep it.
Marion County may be becoming an island of nature and agriculture in a land of “maximizing resources.”
I may fast for a couple of hours contemplating that after I am home, and before the grocery stores have their new doughnuts cooked.