This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.
Habits die hard. Men and boys once stood along the levees and landings near Rock Island to watch steamboats come and go. Today, we Rock Islanders still come out to the levees, parks, and blufftops to watch the seasons flow along the valley. As if pulled on invisible threads by migrating ducks and geese, spring and summer pass us heading north to St. Paul. At the other end of the year, fall and winter arrive from the north, destined for St. Louis and New Orleans.
Early in March, that delicate packet boat spring announces her impending arrival with a distant calliope of drips and drops from branches and eaves, calling us to the levee. Now, here it is in its fresh, green and gold trim. Crocuses and tulips open in greeting, and on the trees, buds turn fat.
Summer follows just behind, that old slow sidewheeler loaded with produce—apples from the apple trees, and more tomatoes and squash than anyone could possibly use. Summer idles at half speed, scattering wild roses and daisies in waste places as if forgetting that it has to go all the way north. Then, it’s gone.
One September day when we come down to the river, fall has picked the roses and replaced them with blue asters, goldenrod, and gay feather. By October, fall has tinted the bluffs at Red Wing. Newspapers report that the leaves are at their best now at St. Paul. Now the country has peaked at Lacrosse and is heading for Lansing. Like boxes of melted crayons, the bluffs at Rock Island mix into reds and golds and yellows and rusts on the maples and hickories and oaks.
By November, Winter has signaled its first frosts, and towboats and their barges pull aside into harbors to let winter pass. The water rests under a sheet of ice and blankets of snow. Our visits to the levee are brisk and brief. In the bare wintery February branches along the shores, eagles roost, crows gather, and the cardinals, blue jays, and chickadees listen carefully for the first sounds of that calliope from the south.
Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.