"Git up and hump yourself, Jim! There ain't a minute to lose. They're after us!"
-Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
I remember in high school English learning about turning points -- where things can either become tragedies or comedies. The murder of King Duncan in Macbeth. Stuff like that.
Huck has lived on Jackson Island with the fugitive slave Jim for weeks. Nothing would have stopped him, up to this point, from turning him in for the $600 reward. But -- put in a position to have to make a choice, Huck chooses to help Jim escape -- and start on his own path to redemption. We learned at the Twain museum that the novel had been started, set aside, and then resumed after Twain had done his own trip up and down the Mississippi in 1882. Speculation is that what he saw on the trip triggered a very different kind of book than Tom Sawyer -- a shared adventure of a white boy and a runaway slave.
Stop 1 today was Ferguson, made famous in 2014 by the police killing of Michael Brown. After reading and hearing so much, I wanted to see the town, see the site of the shooting. Try to understand something about 'what causes this'?
Ferguson was nothing like my preconceptions -- it is a normal, working-class town. A black working-class town, but normal in the sense of homes, lawns, shops, nice cars. I stopped at the site of the shooting -- aside from a small roadside memorial, nothing. It had the kind of toys and mementos you see at the spot where someone has been killed in a road accident, but modest, faded. It felt disrespectful to take a photo. Looking at the old photos, either time has healed wounds or perhaps covered over them. But it felt like a community at peace.
After crossing the Mississippi into Illinois via Chain of Rocks Bridge I worked my way to Cahokia Mounds State Park. Cahokia was built by a tribe known today only as "the Mississippians". Between 1000 and 1200 they built an enormous complex of dozens of mounds here at Cahokia, and numerous similar mound sites up and down the river (I will be visiting several others). The largest, Monks Mound, covers 14 acres, is 100 feet high and contains 22 million cubic feet of earth. I had a feeling of wonder just walking around it and climbing the steps. It is the largest prehistoric earthen structure in the Americas. Despite extensive archeology, there remain no definitive answers why the structures were built and why they ended up being abandoned around 1400. The site is only 10 miles from downtown Saint Louis, so definitely recommend a visit if you are in the area.
The road south from Cahokia took me through East Saint Louis, and WOW -- I kinda knew it was a rough place but it reminded me of the pictures I had seen of the worst parts of Detroit -- one single house left standing on a bulldozed city block, boarded up and falling down buildings -- and almost no people. Had a little flutter when a car revved behind me and then pulled alongside -- "Looking Good!" yelled the driver out the window. :)
170 miles down, 700 to Vicksburg!