My drive to work takes me south along the Mississippi River, on a bucolic road where cyclists zip along next to you in all seasons, and sometimes people walk little dogs from the expensive townhomes to the park. Lately the sunlight has been gleaming off the dark, frozen water, like the symbol of something, both blinding and beautiful. I could do worse for a drive, because there are stately ruins that have been left that way as a kind of public art statement by the city, and the memorial bridge replacing the one that collapsed a few years ago, and an ugly sign for a lousy beer that has come to be loved simply because it is old and outlasted generations (that can be said of both the sign and the beer).
I think the ruins are there because this is, really, a young city — there are no layers to it, like in New York or Paris or London, where you can dig up another era beneath your own. And yet we have an aching to be old, and let the ruins remind us that at least we weren’t born yesterday. There has been time for industries to fall into disrepair, enough history for there to be an historic district. (You can read vivid descriptions of this area the way it used to be in Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise, and in the Sinclair Lewis novel Babbit, though he calls his bustling metropolis Zenith.)
Yesterday the song “Rhiannon” was playing on the radio as I took this drive, and it suited my mood perfectly. Stevie Nicks, in her prime, had as good a voice as any singer, smokey and nuanced, and while I don’t know what the hell the song is about (Welsh goddess? A breakup?) she could probably sing anything at that time, to the polished and confident music of Lindsey Buckingham, and make it a hit. Remarkably, somehow, I can recall a forty-year-old song from its original radio heyday, and it feels like its been in regular rotation since. “Rhiannon,” like sunshine and prairie grass, is now a part of my landscape. Perhaps not deserving of timelessness, that pop song or that beer sign, but nevertheless permanent.
It’s been a rough year for me, in a lot of ways, though not without everyday joys, and the hardships smaller than those of other people, so it’s comforting to go down this timeless corridor — good to know that the same sun has gleamed off the same river since before humans saw it, and will continue to do so when the city has turned into dust and our descendants (lets be positive) have scattered across the galaxy, and bison have resumed their natural title as the rulers of the prairie, and (I expect) worship the beer sign, which is still there, as some kind of message placed there by Bison God, to mark a sacred watering hole, and somehow, in the background, there will be a radio blaring “Rhiannon.”