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Writer's Block

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Like all humans who put words on paper, I suffer from bouts of Writer's Block. I think, how many Rock Island Lines can there be; what stories are left to tell? I've done them all.

When these bouts hit, I try to cure myself—unless, of course, the weather is perfect for a walk or the garden needs weeding. I cure myself by recalling a remark the painter Paul Cezanne made: "I could spend my entire life painting from one spot," he said, "just by turning from left to right."

That's Henry David Thoreau, too: "I have traveled a good deal in concord," Thoreau wrote, making fun of those who needed to travel the world to see new sights. Instead, Thoreau sat by Walden Pond, turned from left to right, and wrote a book.

It's no different on Rock Island. Standing on the north shore of the island, near the house of the first white settler, I can see far to the left the low blue line of Credit Island, site of an Indian trading post and a battle. Across the river is the site of Saukenuk, the great village of the Sauk Indians and the site of the westernmost battle of the American Revolution. A bit closer lie the waterfronts of Davenport and Rock Island, both rich with stories and events, and Fort Armstrong at the tip of the island. The government bridge now connecting the two cities was built after the Civil War by G. K. Warren, the hero of Little Round Top credited with winning the battle of Gettysburg for the Union side. Just this side of that bridge are locks and dam fifteen, built in 1933, the first lock and dam built of the nine-foot channel project that changed the Upper Mississippi forever. More immediately to the left is an abutment from the first bridge ever across the Mississippi, and near it, the location in the Rock Island Rapids, of the sunk steamboat on which a young engineer officer, Robert E. Lee, made his headquarters in 1836.

Time's up. Writer's Block is over, and I haven't even begun to swing to the right, full of stories of the Civil War, of sawmilling, and a hundred other tales that make up the rich mosaic of this river valley.

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