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Sacred Places

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

A few days ago, I stopped in at a New Age bookstore and coffee house near Rock Island to browse.

On one shelf I found a map of the world marking all the sacred places: those mystery spots on this globe where there is a convergence: where the energies sweeping the universe reach down and touch the earth.

The Elqui Valley in Chile was on the map, a thin slit of green in the Atacama Desert where the poet Gabriella Mistral was born, South America's first Nobel Laureate. Now, three communes have gathered near the convergence to drink in its forces.

The map listed many of Inca ruins in Peru. Peru seems to have cornered the market on sacred places.  Several years ago, I watched a busload of New Age tourists opening themselves to the Inca stones at Macchu Picchu, the Lost City of the Incas high in the mountains. Nearby, a family of Quechua Indians herding three sheep, a pig, and some chickens seemed mildly amused.

But I noticed that the book had missed our sacred spot. The one near here. Fourteen miles upstream from Rock Island, the Mississippi River has its own sacred space.

It is a three-acre green circle in the river. You must come here just before sunrise in May, for only in that month do the paths of the sun and the river channel meet in a spectacular harmony. Bring others with you, for these energies must be shared. Build a small fire, heat some coffee, and wait. Make only the smallest of small talk. At about 5:30, the sky will brighten and pink. Stand, then, and look up the channel, and watch the sun edge over the low bluffs, ignite the world, and turn the water to a molten red accompanied by a chorus of birds from the woods nearby. Moses had no more burning bush than this.

Ten minutes and it's over, but enough to last the year. I understand why New Age geography might have missed our spot. In true Midwestern fashion, we do not call it a sacred space, we call it Lock and Dam 14.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.

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.