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The Heartland

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

The Fountain of Youth and the Seven Cities of Gold turned out to be harder to locate in the American landscape than first thought, but neither has proved nearly so elusive as that place you and I have been looking for our whole lives, that place known as The Heartland.

Over the years, many explorers, believing they have found it, staked their claims. Some maps place it in Ohio, others in Indiana, in Illinois, in Iowa. Even Minnesota has claimed it. We Rock Islanders believe it is near here, along the Mississippi Valley, and we often go on day trips looking for it, just around the next curve of river, just over the bluff, just up that valley. Humans have a restless need to find, to locate.

Where is it, this heartland, this heart of the heart of the country, this calm at the eye of the storm, this center surrounded by foreign country? The heartland, where it's always the right season, the rains soft, and the sunsets look like children coloring outside the lines? Is it just over the hills and through the woods?

Before you try once more, let me give you a few directions.  Throw away all those maps that claim to know and close your eyes. You're going to travel by imagination rather than automobile. Hold the reins of fancy loosely; let her go where she will through your interior landscape. She knows the way to the heartland.

Don't worry that the road seems unfamiliar and strange or that you don't recognize the trees and the bluffs. Trust the fancy. As you come close to the heartland, objects will become more distinct and familiar. That corner, that row of lilacs, that neighborhood store.

Now, in your mind, a street is growing clearer, and its rows of houses on each side. There is no sign, but the fancy is slowing down, and you somehow sense that you have arrived in the heartland.

Addresses grow distinct along the street, especially at one house, which seems very familiar. That house number, you're certain you've seen it before.

Of course you have. It's your own address. You have come home—to the heart of the heartland.

Rock Island Lines is underwritten by the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Community
Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.