Friday, September 28, 2007

Oh, dear Missouri!

Remember that part in Homer's Iliad that went on for about 100 lines, listing all the towns that sent ships for battle? It was neverending. And it really didn't have much to do with the narrative at all. In graduate school, I think I skipped the whole section, having labored through it in translation as an undergrad.

I've been asked recently by someone I hold in high regard, "why all the Missouri-bashing lately?" Honestly, I didn't realize I had been grumbling at the state, but maybe I have. So, in a post you're welcome to skip, a catalog of great things about Missouri:
I cherish Missouri's white oaks, prairies, the dissected till plains of the North Hills, clear, fast-moving Ozark streams, caves, seeps, fens, spring wildflowers, box turtles, wetlands, dolomite cliffs. I respect their remarkable dedicated state taxes which directly protect large, vast stretches of land, their utterly bizarre position during the Civil War (which always makes for an interesting story), their riverboat history that had such an impact on the spread of jazz. Sedalia's Scott Joplin Festival is fantastic: upwards of 30 pianos scattered on the streets of downtown, all outfitted with pianists playing ragtime. Columbia is a fine little town, one with bike trails, a decent natural foods store and farmer's markets. St. Louis has some fantastic, significant architecture, which is finally being carefully restored after many years of neglect. Missouri's wineries are very special places, all dependent on the the interesting soils and rock layers below. Ste. Genevieve has done a fine, fine job at maintaining the ambience of a French colonial community; it's like a well-funded Cajun town.

I'll always cherish every moment I've spent at Hawn and Prairie State Parks, both extraordinary places anytime of the year. The antique stores in Hermann are always great places to find antique embroidery. The red rocks of Arcadia Valley are stunning, with rather disjunct, fascinating plant communities. I find the state capitol building beautiful, complete with murals by Missouri's own Thomas Hart Benton. Kansas City has finally started to protect its Vine Street neighborhood, an area so important to the great Billie Holiday that it should have National Register status.

The people here aren't as tough as they are back home. Along the Mississippi River in Cape Girardeau, there rests a large mural of famous Missourians (like Rush Limbaugh). My herpetologist put it succintly: "If that was in New Orleans? It would be covered in graffiti." There's not a lot of trash floating around the city streets like there is in Brooklyn. You can leave your car unlocked in most rural communities. In modern history, no Missouri town has had the dubious honor of being the country's "murder capitol."

No, I think Missouri's fine for a land-locked state. The state's political, natural, and cultural histories are truly fascinating. What do the Jesuits say? Bloom where you are planted? Yes, that's it.

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