I slept til noon on Sunday, and when I woke up, my cousins Emma and Spencer and Amy (Frank had to work) had figured out where they wanted to take me in St. Louis. The place is called the City Museum, and it’s hard to describe how cool this place is. Imagine Tom Sawyer’s island at Disneyland, cross that with the Holy Ghost Grotto in Wisconsin, and then multiply wildly, adding in two ancient airplanes, a schoolbus cantilevered off the roof, several bulldozers used as staircases, lots of masonry from torn down buildings, many mosaics and sculptures, all welded together and connected by heavy metal mesh (outdoors) or concrete (indoors), so that you can crawl or climb or slide through and among all these wonders. A kid can crawl or climb or slide through even more of it: some of the spaces are definitely too small for a full-grown person. It is a totally incredible place, and the guy who made it keeps adding new marvels, and I’m in a bit of delighted shock it can manage to exist in these litigious days. Next time you get to St. Louis, you really must pay a visit, pictures definitely do not do it justice!
Monday morning I picked up Mary Rowell at the St. Louis Airport and we immediately headed back north (Susan, you didn’t really think I’d skip it, did you?!?!) to Hannibal, where we wandered around town and visited Mark Twain’s boyhood home and other haunts, and climbed Cardiff Hill and read aloud the chapters in Life on the Mississippi where he describes revisiting Hannibal. Tourist Hannibal is really very nicely done, the shops and cafes along Main Street are pleasant and inviting, and I was happy to spend an afternoon wandering through it. Even the nostalgia is not laid on too thick: given that Twain himself can fall prey to that illness, I think it’s impressive that the town succeeds at honoring its history without wallowing in it.
Mary and I camped out at a commercial campground Monday night and as we were setting up camp, a gentleman came over to talk with us a bit. Galen is 83 years old and bikes and lifts weights five days a week. I would have placed him at least ten years younger, not just because he’s in great physical shape, but because he was so engaged and warm and curious about our adventure. The next morning as we were packing up to leave, he came back and offered us a blessing, a formal blessing, that I welcomed with my whole heart: thank you Galen, you are indeed a physician of souls right there in the Mark Twain Campground.
So after ten days away, I finally got out on the river again in my very own kayak this morning. We drove over to a boat launch on the Illinois side directly opposite Hannibal and I put in and paddled past downtown Hannibal and down the back sloughs in and among the islands, one of which must be the place where Huck and Jim launched their journey, and I couldn’t help but stop paddling and just float, imagining how it would feel to be rafting down this river, running away from slavery or an abusive drunken father, giving in the power of the river, thinking about the trippy irony that in this great American novel, Huck and Jim float south to freedom. What they do is not Calvinist effortful striving, not sweaty action-movie heroics: they just let the river carry them.
And after a while the clouds and rain cleared and the sun came out and the wind came up in gusts, so sometimes it was fighting me and others it was helping me along, and the whole undertaking felt like a game, a series of jokes between me and the wind and the water. And I can’t tell you how much I love being out here, and how happy I am to be underway again.
I gave the kayak over to Mary about 1 pm, and she should be getting here to Louisiana any minute now (the town, not the state(!) recommended, like Quincy, by a friend I haven’t met yet named Linda Smith) and I’ll see if I can find wi-fi to post this.