U.S. Family, Friends, Surprising Places – including Cahokia Mounds, Allerton Park, and Amish Country
When we left China several months ago, Barry and I took to the road to visit U.S. family, friends, Servas hosts, and interesting places.
We started with our great family in St. Louis.
Elaine says, “The bean pot came with the Riley’s over the Allegheny Mountains during the late 1700’s…to Indiana and then on to Illinois….They settled in Fayette County which is now off Route 70 West of Effingham. Grandpa inherited the bean pot; however, he had really wanted the horn that they blew to call the animals and scare off the Indians. But the horn went to some other relative….I don’t know who….We put flowers in the bean pot in the summer…but were careful of it and brought it inside in the winter….and I knew death would be quick if I ever broke the pot…. Giving it to Alan was a choice I made. As he is the oldest grandson, I thought that is where Grandpa would want it to go.”
We were with family for the July 4th celebration. After a barbecue at Val & Chris’, we walked to the St. Charles riverfront to watch spectacular fireworks together.
Although I lived several years in a St. Louis suburb, I’d never been to Cahokia Mounds, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the largest and most complex archaeology site in the U.S. It covers 2,200 acres with 80 remaining mounds. The Cahokia civilization reached its height while Europe struggled during the Middle Ages. In 1250 AD, for instance, Cahokia was larger than London. Especially after reading a National Geographic article on Cahokia, Barry and I wanted to check out the site of this ancient civilization set on the Mississippi River floodplain.
Now at Cahokia Mounds, visitors can walk among the man-made mounds of different sizes and functions and see the excellent museum too.
Also visitors can see Cahokia’s Woodhenge, a circle of wooden posts that marked solstices and equinoxes (like Stonehenge).
Then in the 15th century, this sophisticated Native civilization known for its developments in astronomy, agriculture, and economics — disappeared.
Scholars surmise that environmental factors such as over-hunting and deforestation as well as internal and external conflict may have been involved.
To learn more, go to http://www.cahokiamounds.org/
Another surprise for us was Allerton Park, 1,500 acres including the Sangamon River, lowland and upland forests, a meadow, and a century-old Georgian mansion with formal gardens. Near Montecello, Illinois, Allerton Park was created by Robert Allerton, an artist, art collector, garden landscaper, and an industrialist heir. His adopted son, John Allerton, gave the property to the University of Illinois in 1946. Visitors can wander through the gardens and trails, explore the nature center, or even get married there.
To know more, go to http://allerton.illinois.edu/
Then we were off to Chicago to visit long-time friends. First we stayed with Jeany. She and I taught at inner-city Wells High School and took great skiing vacations and a trip to Greece together. Barry and I went to Chris’. She and I met at the University of Mexico one summer and later traveled all over Europe — on $5.00 a day! (Being a teacher has allowed me to take great vacations).
Next we were off to Madison to visit more friends. Patti, Chris, three other American girls, and I met in Dublin one winter and became fast friends. When I moved to Maui, pet quarantines lasted for months. Patti, the only other person besides me who liked my cat, adopted Sasha for which I’ve always been grateful.
Back on the road, we headed East.
Amish: Around Arthur, Illinois, and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, we got to see Amish. I’ve been interested in their ability to forgive ever since I learned about the 2006 West Nickel Mines school tragedy: 10 Amish girls ages six through 13 were taken hostage in their one-room school and shot. The gunman killed himself. Five of the girls died. The Amish community expressed compassion for their demented neighbor. Several books and articles have been written about the Amish reaction to the horrifying loss. I learned the most from John Ruth’s Forgiveness. The Amish leave judgement to God.
The one-room West Nickel Mine’s school house was torn down and plowed over. Another, much like this Amish school, was built nearby.
The Amish go to school through eighth grade and then work: the youngest boy takes over the farm; the older ones become furniture makers or learn other crafts. The girls marry early.
In Arthur and Lancaster, we were able to shop in Amish grocery stores where we stocked up on such necessities as cashews, oatmeal, tea, and chocolate! We did pass up the five-pound bags of Jello mix.
In many ways, I idealize the Amish way of life. They seem closely knit, hard-working, reliable, and very involved in their families and communities. (Going to school through just the eighth grade and having to use straight pins to hold their dresses together doesn’t seem so ideal). But they have beautiful, well-cared for farms and seemingly full lives.
The irony is that this community that seeks simplicity owns what is now very valuable farmland.