Tuesday, August 18, 2009

just getting back from a family vacation that started in st. louis, took us down to kentucky, and ended up here on a a cabin overlooking kentucky lake, near the town of grand rivers, a short ways south of paducah. our intention was to not go far, but to do lots of family things: city museum in st. louis, chucky cheese in paducah, and throw in a train museum, a try at the arch, a lot of swimming, paducah street fair, and ice cream on demand. It's steamy out, yes, but we expected that; it's august; we're in the south. the august sun sets over kentucky dam; a very steamy night settles on a river/lake; the boys, all three, are exhausted and asleep. tomorrow, it's back to carbondale.

the city museum's outdoor garden is a maze of metal gates and fences welded together so that kids can crawl, out and up, all the way up to an airplane perched way out above the parking lot and the ball pits below. It is way out here that some guy at some point dropped all his credit cards, and his id, but while I was chasing a four-year-old, it was way out here, a good crawl on twisted metal, that he had to go potty. this is to be expected. the hard part, for a big old guy like myself, is to follow him in places where I barely fit, or to get him to go a different direction. the whole museum, though, is truly an american landmark, a kids' paradise. I was glad to see it thriving, to see it full, and to see the vast majority of its workers young punkish kids with earrings in strange places.

we had to stay near the airport two nights, in order to pick up two different family members on two different flights, and in st. louis this means a very confusing set of roads in and out, and a number of different villages where the city of st. louis should be. normandy, woodson terrace, berkeley, norwood, bel-nor, etc.; these are towns that barely could think of a name, yet were determined to notbe part of st. louis proper. And you truly pass through dozens, or maybe it's the same ones, dozens of times. at the arch, we ate down by the river, but a car was broken, and a long line threatened to get much longer as the afternoon wore on; we left for points south. in sikeston, we ate at a famous restaurant, lambert's, that advertises as throwedrolls.com; they throw their rolls, and put lots of license plates all over the walls. maybe they were the original, for putting license plates on the walls, but this is something very agreeable to me; I was in the middle of a license plate game, which is still not finished by the way, and appreciated both the variety and the historic spread of the plates- and also, a tribute to some local, done entirely in missouri plates, up front. the road from sikeston to paducah crosses back into illinois for barely a minute, at the tip down there by cairo, but we didn't really see cairo; in minutes we were in wycliffe kentucky and on the road into Paducah. Lots of ice storm damage on trees all over the place; it seemed steamy, and strangely devoid of healthy trees; what was left looked sickly and covered by tangly vines. Paducah is familiar to us, except for the train museum, but eventually we ventured down here to Kentucky lake, barely twenty minutes away, where we saw a different world entirely.

kentucky lake was made by the tennessee valley authority; and is made by the damming of the tennessee river where the kentucky river feeds into it; both are now lakes with river channels in them, and the area between, land between the lakes, entirely wild and full of parks. I can only imagine the massive displacement that must have resulted when the dam and the lakes went in, and, though the lakes, or this one anyway, is wide, clear and beautiful, it still has river barges plying it, and a huge power plant within sight, up at the edge. so I imagine that in fact there are lots of mixed feelings, somewhere in the countryside, about the tva and what they wrought; but, what do I know? to me a wide lake, blue, fresh, with a breeze on it, means a break from a steamy, stifling summer at a time when I need it the most. kentucky, which advertises itself as unbridledspirit.com, is in fact somewhat wild, pretty, hilly, but definitely hit by that ice storm I mentioned. and steamy, yes. we're in the delta, or near it; the river, the barges, the roads, everything seems to be pulling us further south, where it's hotter, steamier, and one is best advised to stay in, lay low, take it easy, and have iced tea, sweetened or unsweetened. the boys charge around as if it's all normal; this is life, let the grownups take care of the details. I remain offline, trying hard to ignore thirty or forty emails a day, stay off of facebook, pretty much, and just concentrate on the boys and new tricks they're learning, especially in the water. they are only at these ages once. the rest of our lives are so busy, we are barely able to see them.

unbridled spirit, is one thing I think of, when I see rivers left natural, to pound rocks, find their course downstream, and do what rivers do. or, when young boys tear around, getting away with whatever they can, testing their limits, doing what young boys do. In fact, the boys are now sound asleep; angelic, soft motel-cabin pillows around them; who knows what they dream? the rivers are entirely tamed; not only the kentucky, but also the tennessee, and the cumberland, and whatever else flowed up this way and fed into the mighty ohio and then the mississipp. I know that the words 'tennessee valley authority' were not said without spitting, by many; they built huge dams, mainly because they could, and they were good at it too, and this supplied a lot of power, but it drove lots of people off the land, and totally devastated the ecosystem. all of this is now virtually forgotten; it was well before my time even; I barely heard of it, it was already twenty or thirty years back before I was traveling around these parts. forgotten, maybe, or dimmed, hazy, lost in other concerns. kentucky, with a character of its own- a bluegrass honda, a bluegrass check-cashing service; a 'dirt-cheap' cigarette store, a well-preserved old river town; it feels a little behind the times, in some ways, yet also, in others, more prosperous, more successful, than our part of illinois. the barges haul their coal up and down the bridled rivers; way out, in the lake, a few sailboats drift, back and forth, taking in the sunset and the soft breeze, having found a single cool and pleasant spot to let the heat of the summer pass. The rest of the year, it's pretty mild, usually, and there's something to be said for that.


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