"Cows are my passion. What I have ever sighed for has been to retreat to a farm and live entirely surrounded by cows–and china."

Charles Dickens

October 16, 2011

Farmwife on the Prairie: Day 1

 
 Part of the the journey is getting ready for the journey. Two weeks ago I came up with a long list of reasons not to go–that I will not bore you with here–but in the end, three people whom I love prevailed upon me to come along, too. I'm glad that I did. And when you drive and do not have plane reservations, there is a great deal more flexibility in departure and itinerary. Either way, there is the inevitable "to do" list before leaving. Much was done, some was tabled for our return, bags were packed, and life continued. The road awaited us: America!

         Centre of equal daughters, equal sons, 
         All, all alike endear’d, grown, ungrown, young or old,
         Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich,
         Perennial with the Earth,
         with Freedom, Law and Love,
         A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother,
         Chair’d in the adamant of Time.  
~ "America" by Walt Whitman


We began our 8.5 day, 3,700 mile journey on Friday, October 7 in a blurry-eyed pre-dawn haze, arriving midday at the St. Louis Gateway Arch (now also named The Jefferson Expansion Memorial by the National Park Service). It is most certainly Finnish architect Eero Saarinen's masterpiece and was constructed between 1963-1965 after the architect had won an architectural competition in 1947. We had all driven past it before on separate trips in the past few years but hadn't stopped. I had studied it somewhat in Thomas McCormick's "Modern Architecture" seminar in college almost thirty years ago and vaguely remembered my parents talking about its construction completion back in the mid-60s.

Is it architecture? Sculpture? Or both? We were able to go up into it, too, which presented its own set of fears: height (me) and small spaces (Eli). But the beautiful day and architectural interest prevailed!

As it is a National Monument, we had airport-like security on our way into the subterranean visitor's center. Our boys got to keep their pocket knives as I suppose they were really just looking for explosives. That made me a bit uneasy, as did the idea of St. Louis being just north of the New Madrid fault line. So I just sucked it up and acted like the brave and fierce mother that I can be at times. And what is 630 feet, really, between family?

What impressed me about the monument is that beyond its architectural design and iconic presence, there is the feat of engineering. Its stainless steel-clad frame rises from sixty-foot foundations in the ground and houses two series of elevator cars that ferry visitors to and from the top within minutes. It is built to withstand almost any disaster, including 150 mph winds. It remains a symbol of the embodiment of the great American spirit of expansiveness and opportunity that fueled the settlers in the 1800s. As a "Gateway to the Midwest," it connects the Mississippi River with the land beyond where settlers awaited endless explorations and discoveries of the Great Frontier.


So it seemed a fitting and symbolic place to begin our own 9-day excursion, by Honda Pilot, into the great American West. There is no better way to see this magnificent country of ours than by driving around and across it. By nightfall we were east of Kansas City, Missouri munching contentedly on hamburgers at Winstead's (they weren't as good as Swenson's from Akron but, as my husband always says, "Hunger makes a kingly sauce."), a few antique malls behind us, and ready for a good night's sleep.


"Earthlings, please prepare to board for your final destination."
The elevator access ports had a very futuristic Logan's Run feel to them–
as Temple and I are both well past thirty, this wasn't exactly a comfort!

Eli was a bit anxious about the pod things.
The cozy pods seated five: no windows.
   
I made myself look through the small portal and take this photo. And then I almost threw up.

You come back when you're ready! 

Catherine

2 comments:

  1. We live about 40 minutes away from the Arch, across the river, in Illinois. We've taken many visiting friends and family there, but I haven't taken the trip UP with any of them. I can relate to Eli about the pod anxiety. At least he was brave enough to do it! After seeing your pics, think I'll continue to stand guard on the ground. :)

    It is an amazing piece of engineering, that's for sure!

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  2. HOLY SHIT! You could NOT have made me go up in that thing. You would have had to clean me up before you buried me if I had. Great pictures.

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