Missouri is a pretty big state.
In fact, it’s 284 miles by 308 miles, (that’s 457 km by 496 km for pretty much everyone outside of the US). For the weary traveler going from one end to the other, this distance can seem more like an eternity.
Living in Columbia, however, is ideal, especially for traveling within the state. We’re equal distance from Missouri’s two largest hubs, St Louis and Kansas City, and just bit further from the third largest city, Springfield. However, there’s one thing that bothers me mentally about our central location. Due to the jagged nature of the Missouri river, we almost always have to drive over a bridge to get to anywhere. See, I’m not particularly fond of bridges (it’s that whole being suspended in air thing).
But, then again, I do have a fond memory of one bridge.
When my husband and I were going to school at the University of Missouri (MU), middle to late 70’s, we frequently traveled I-70 as we do today. As the main artery for all east-west travel in this state, I-70 has always been busy. As a result, both sides are littered with gigantic advertisements for everything from restaurant menus to religious viewpoints. In fact, for many Missourians, the signs themselves have become milestones along the way.
“Hon, how fir are we?”
“Well, I reckon we got ’bout an hour or so – just passed the Biffles BBQ sign.” (Worth noting – the Biffles BBQ sign features the face of a smiling pig and cow who obviously don’t understand the meaning of the word “slaughter”).
But back to our college days, when Paul and I traveled I-70, returning to campus following a college break for instance, our approach would be from the west. About 20 miles from Columbia the I-70 bridge over the Missouri River slopes up from the horizontal flood plains I talked about in an earlier blog and climbs in elevation, finally butting up against the rocky bluffs on the other side.
The bluffs themselves are impressive, and really quite beautiful when the deciduous trees are splendidly clothed in their riotous fall foliage. But back in the day, when long hair and bellbottoms were groovy, more travelers were interested in what was located near the top of the bluffs. For standing erect, poised to guide the early settlers (or so we assumed), was Lewis and Clark. With arms out-stretched and index fingers rigidly pointing in the direction they traveled, these life-sized “cut-outs” were pretty far-out from all accounts; but neater still because their heads were missing.
Frankly, I don’t know how long headless Lewis and Clark had been guiding travelers, but I do know that their existence on that hill said something about Missouri in general that is endearing. As a state we don’t tear down everything once it loses its usefulness. And I think this gives the state a comfy, welcoming feeling. Decrepit old barns, ram-shackled homes and discarded farm equipment dot the countryside, giving the weary traveler insight into the people that once worked the land. There’s also a sense of history associated with all the lonely chimneys, rusted cars and broken fences that you don’t find in other states, often removed to make way for new, modern stuff.
In a way, Lewis and Clark standing headless on that bluff pointed toward a philosophy in this state that continues today. One that allows for our ancient history to remain intact. But whether these little reminders of days gone by serve as milestones on our journeys or just interesting things to look at, they give us a sense of identity and peace in a weird sort of way.
Next blog: Bonnie, Bonnie Glasgow