19 September 2006

How We Came to Rootabaga Country

As a little girl in coastal California, I fell in love with Carl Sandburg's Rootabaga Stories. I loved the open plains dotted with little towns, full to the brim with fields of corn and wheat and beans and squash, with barefooted children in overalls running home from school to help with harvest. I loved the magic of that wonderful fairytale land, with its oddly named towns and strangely named people. The funny stories as well as the sad ones have resonated with me in a way I can't even really express. I've been dreaming of this place that was like Oz, but more real, nearly my entire life.

Four years ago, my mom bought a house in southern Illinois, which is also called "Egypt" for its grainbasket reputation (and possibly where that famous term -too rude to mention here- for the middle of nowhere originated). We're from here, semi-originally (at least since the middle of the 19th century), and Mom has always wanted to move back to where her mom grew up. So she did - she fixed up and sold our little farm on the Mendocino coast, packed up everything and trucked it across the country, doing it all ourselves, because we are those sort of people.

Mom's house is a massive, crumbling pile of bricks, surrounded by trees, on the edge of a town with a name that's truly unique - it was named after a town in Scotland, but we spell it differently. There is no other town with this exact name, and the whole place is full of towns with odd names: names of foods, names of people, grand and ambitious names, and names that seem like they were just nicknames for a spot in the road until someone painted a sign to hang on the way into town. This end of the state has a couple of big interstates, but mostly it is cobwebbed with tiny rural highways, graveled roads, narrow cuts that were clearly made for a Model T to pass another Model T, and you sometimes feel that you are goign back in time as you drive down a little road with a cornfield on one side and little green hill with a little white frame house on the other.

Two years ago, we moved here. I loved the snow in winter, the silence of it as it fell on everything like an insulating blanket. I was enchanted by the burgeoning life of spring, little frogs leaping in the growing grass and the awakening of the bees. Then we suffered through an oppressive humid summer accompanied by the stressful yet lazy songs of cicadas, and went on into a changeable autumn, not unlike this one, that runs hot to cold, punctuated by rainstorms that blot out everything around us.

There is so much green here, so much life, it is like places farther down the great rivers, but not so dripping with sweat. This country is all about the growing of things, and a little of the taking of things out of the ground. It's slow and quiet, gentle and neighborly. No high-speed city life is here - you have to drive to St. Louis for that, as well as any unusual shopping needs. The fastest, or slowest, thing around here is often the train.

A few weeks ago, I realized I had come to Rootabaga Country, or a part of it, or somewhere nearby. I think it might have been when I was working on the historical society website, organizing hundreds of old photos in the archive, and I found myself staring into the faces those same little kids in their overalls, looking ready to run home to cut the corn down, or bring in the cows. It might have been when I walked my little boy to school along a gravelled drive for the first time.

Maybe it was really the day I saw the dragonflies dance in the fading autumn sunlight last year, or when I saw the bees break off to go somewhere new. It might have been the day I found a large praying mantis sitting neatly on my lampshade - they always sit neatly - delicately eating some little bug. Possibly it was the day I looked out the back to see the woodchucks - three of them - eating the fallen persimmons and apples in the grass. Or, really all of these things and many more.

I'm in love with this place. It's easily as magic as any I read about as a child, and the people, well, they aren't any less interesting or freindly.

I think we might stay.

1 comment:

OpenJoe said...

I like your house. We are old house people too. Witness:
I came in to your site actually from following the link back that you put to my Rootabaga Stories online. Thanks for putting it. I think Rootabaga is gaining in popularity here lately.