Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon

He Keeps On Rollin’

Posted in Books,Change is Bad,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the February 20th, 2010

In my freshman seminar on travel literature this past Thursday, we were discussing Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. We talked about the complexity of certain phrases or images in the book, how they take on multiple, often contradictory, meanings as the narrative progresses. For example, we looked at the meanings assigned to the Mississippi River, which Sal and Dean cross several times during the course of their travels. It is positioned simultaneously as that which both links and divides East from West in the spiritual and cultural geography of the book.

Then yesterday I was on an airplane flying from Chicago to Minneapolis. For a paper I’m writing on early Cold War culture, I was re-reading Lionel Trilling’s classic 1950 study of American literature, The Liberal Imagination. In his chapter on Mark Twain, he writes about the Mississippi, about how its brown, muddy presence functioned as something god-like in Twain’s imagination, a divine and sometimes vengeful presence that embodied the pure, natural power that Twain believed ruled in America prior to the high capitalism and corrupting influence of money that held sway after the Civil War. The antebellum Mississippi, Trilling writes, was a road that moved you, one that would crush you if you weren’t properly respectful of it.

As I was reading Trilling, the pilot announced that we were beginning our descent into Minneapolis-St. Paul. I looked up from my book to glance out the window and there it was: the Mississippi River. Of course it was white, flat and immobile now, a snowy ribbon twisting its way across southern Minnesota.

I’m up in Minnesota because we’re in the process of selling my mother’s house. It’s a trip full of various emotions. I write these words in the kitchen of the place I’ve called “home” since 1969, but it’s the last time I’ll be here. When we first moved in back when I was a third grader, we discovered to our delight that we were within walking distance of the Mississippi. As a grade schooler, I used to hike down to collect fossils from the limestone banks above the water. As a high school and college student, I used to pass evenings with friends down at the river’s edge, building bonfires and watching the barges slowly drift past. More recently, I’ve taken my own children with their grandparents down to the waterfront for picnics and to skip rocks across the river surface.

Change is bad. Luckily, the Mississippi has figured out a way around all of that.

One Response to 'He Keeps On Rollin’'

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  1. Linda said,

    on February 21st, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    Thanks for sharing these beautiful memories with your readers.