Crow’s Feet

Rider’s Point is just over the county line from New Salem Village, a Civilian Conservation Corps reconstruction of Abe Lincoln’s childhood home. Following the county roads, you can get to New Salem in an hour, if traffic is good–that is, if you don’t get stuck behind a farm tractor or a tractor trailer. As the crow flies, the distance is a little less, but of course we can’t travel that way, and if you took the scenic route along the Illinois River, toward Havana, you could drive through Sand Ridge State Park, Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge, Sanganois, and Jim Edgar Park and Finger Lake–this last named for our only governor in recent memory, it seems, who has not served time in prison. The trip would be longer, but it would be more beautiful, and the more philosophical and sappy among my acquaintances would reckon there’s a metaphor for life in there, pretty obviously, for those people, at least.

I didn’t grow up in Illinois, so I never got the elementary school version of Lincoln’s life, which, according to what my daughter studied from third grade onward, seems to compose most, if not all, of the Illinois history taught to children (aside from the French explorers and the Native Americans). Abe Lincoln is, and remains, one of the most important figures in Illinois history, which I can tell you as a high school history teacher, since we spend two weeks on his life, his politics and policies, his impact on the country, and his legacy. We live in the Land of Lincoln, although he wasn’t born here–but anyone who has moved away from the place he or she grew up can tell you that there’s “home,” and then there’s Home. I don’t know how long it takes for a place to become Home–I suppose that for some people the realization is instantaneous–but I do know that even now, now that I’ve lived here so long there are crow’s feet and readers at my eyes, so long that I’ve been here longer than I ever lived in Minnesota, even now I feel foreign, exotic–like a sojourner, seeking sanctuary.

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