Saturday, December 11, 2010
A Monochrome Frame of Mind
We visit monuments honoring two young men, gone from us now.
First, a stone bench with a carved inscription,
"Good friends, good books & a sleepy conscience. This is the ideal life." Practical words from our own Mark Twain. This resting place is dedicated to a friend of my son Jason and his name was Tim Miller. He was a gentle sort of fellow, a clever man who was a librarian and a musician. My parents were frequent visitors to the library and they liked Tim. He was witty in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way and he was respectful to this quaint little couple and he charmed my mother. Tim and Jason were rebels in arms, pierced ears and tattoos, lovers of alternative music and alternative lifestyles, torn jeans and Gothic emotions, forced to suffer their teens through the idiotic late 80's and early 90's. They were 18 years of age at the start of the Persian Gulf war and after endless nightly discussions they decided to leave the country should the draft be reinstated. They would not kill.
The bench is next to the Julien Dubuque monument, a small turret-like building constructed in memory of another young adventurer, an 18th-century French Canadian who explored and mined these hills. The Native Americans trusted him, deeded their land to him and burnt his property after his death so scavengers would not benefit. The fair city I now inhabit would be named in his honor.
It is a cold and grey day. a monochrome day, my father says. All is soft and muted, gray and white, the stark black branches, patches of frozen soil upon the snow. It is a dead world now and it is difficult remembering the brilliantly hued Indian summer just a few weeks ago. April's soft song is far, far away. Jason is quiet, somber, difficult memories circling him. This is a magical place with much history and legend. Far below us on the southern side we see the mouth of the Catfish Creek and this was the site of a Mesquaki village during Julien's time. Historians say 500-800 Native Americans lived here and I can hear the drums, smell the cooking fires and imagine voices of young and old. I know if I would dig below the surface of this land I would find arrowheads, beads, piece of crockery.
I am in love with the history of this place. The early miners, the colors and poetry of the Native American nations, the Irish and German families that eventually settled the land. I study the books of Dubuque history and drive past the old elegant homes knowing the stories of the wealthy families that inhabited them. I roam the old cemeteries, study the river from the bluffs, watch the eagles circling above me. Oh, to go back for a day or two and walk the wooden sidewalks, ride the trolley car, walk across the Mississippi when it was shallow and possessed many islands, before the system of lock and dams was introduced.