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This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Humans may have built the seven wonders of the world—eight if you count Chicago—but for all this, they have never learned the art of putting rocks, boulders, and stones in the right places.

Take a close look at any of the limestone buildings in towns along the Upper Mississippi River: columned court houses, steepled cathedrals, clock towers, post offices, and factories. Buildings with rough stones, others with smooth stones, and still others with odd sizes. Their stones are often quarried from the bluffs right behind the towns, but what a difference. Along the bluffs, the limestone layers rise for several hundred feet, always beautiful and often awesome as they sweep and curve and bend and tilt, every turn full of surprises: a trickle of water coming from nowhere, a seedling struggling to grow out of a fissure. Compared with this grandeur, all human buildings sit stiff and formal, imposing, perhaps, but with all the magic gone.

Even the occasional eccentric turreted limestone castle nestled in the bluffs themselves can't quite measure up to the original. Nature's constructions spark the imagination, invoking names like Granddad Bluff or Maiden Rock, and stories of buried treasures, but the best a castle can do is an elusive ghost.

The best any limestone building can hope to become is an "edifice" destined to give way to a new mall someday when people get tired of its architecture.

Even something as simple as a low retaining wall curving up a long driveway seems to be beyond human ability. Somehow, the layers aren't quite natural, the stones are too regular, or too irregular, or they stick out a half an inch too much or too little. That little touch of human imperfection is always there.

I'll bet even the Disney people, with all their experience with Magic Mountains and whole worlds wouldn't be up to the task. What do you think they would come up with if we Rock Islanders challenged them to build an attraction called Lover's Leap, similar to the one upriver near Winona, Minnesota?

Or is it your feeling that perhaps, we shouldn't even ask?

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

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.