This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.
Just as Adam named all the flora and fauna in the Garden of Eden, so we Rock Islanders give names to the landscape around us in order to show our control—our dominion. Valleys have names, as do the bluffs. Even the smallest ponds and creeks have names. And of course, every human construct has a name, too: 38th St., the Kahl Building.
Why do you suppose it is, then, that we have failed to give names to one of the most prominent features of our river terrain: the ravines? All along the Mississippi Valley these steep gorges carved by water running down the bluffs to the river bisect our lives, our roads, and our neighborhoods. Because of the ravines, only two or three streets in each town run uninterrupted the whole way. The rest bend or dead end.
Yet we go out of our way to pretend they are not there. Someone asks how to get to the Smith house. We say, go three blocks south, turn right until you come to the stop sign, then turn right for two blocks. We never say, "It's just a hundred feet across the ravine. Folks who live along ravines claim their backyards end with the neat privet hedges at the end of the lawn. They would prefer you did not look over the hedge to the deep darkness beyond.
It is the darkness, isn't it? Something beyond our control. A ravine with its deer, raccoon, and skunks, and its thick tangle of weedy trees, burdock, and nettle, cuts through our civilization as it cuts through our roads. Our dominion is incomplete.
Most ravines also hold signs of our former lives—the shells we have cast off, moved on from in our march toward civilization. At the bottom of the ravine lie the clinkers from coal furnaces, perhaps a rusted wringer washer, an old water heater, tin cans from a thousand meals, a wagon with three wheels, lost toy soldiers, a doll with eyes that no longer work.
Those round towns up on the prairie can pretend they are in control, with their square blocks and neat fences. We river dwellers have ravines to remind us how tenuous dominion is.
Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.