Sunday, August 8, 2010
While I researched the route Lincoln's inaugural train took, I thought at first, I must visit every city exactly on the path. Well, I was surprised when I discovered a list of every marker that every town along the way has displayed,- there are literaly hundreds of plaques in small towns acoss the country. Some were on the inauguration route and some were on the funeral train route and some were on both. Sometimes the train just stopped briefly to service the locomotive and sometimes a town's claim was to just have had the train merely pass through. I decided my journey would be the inauguration route to focus on the rise of Lincoln. Also, there was something that seemed a bit ironic, geographically speaking. Let me explain. From the time of Daniel Boone forward, as Americans, we saw ourselves moving westward. This always symbolically stood for opportunity in the American psyche and to the Hudson River painters as well,- the horizon line in their landscapes metaphorically was the west. Lincoln however, was a person from the west who went east as he rose to national importance. The way he challenged slavery proponents was to logically demonstrate that it was labor that generated wealth, not just status and inheritance. He can be identified with having defined a contemporary notion of the 'American Dream' and yet his geographic path runs the opposite direction of our mythical path of Manifest Destiny (the 18th & 19th century vision of a country between two Oceans). As I myself have been moving east and now south, I am struck by how the notion of the 'west' is actually east for some people. The landscape in the east can be just as wild, dangerous and beautiful as our expectations of our 'wild west'. Moving along my path I have seen an abundance of wildlife and natural beauty along a thin narrow corridor (Delaware Water Gap) between New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Today I was in an approach through a mountain gap that I could have sworn was the Big Thompson River in Colorado. Traveling by bicycle has slowed me down not only academically (in order to study a 19th century person) but also mentally. I am not so fast to judge the merit of a regional location. I have moved along historic paths and natural paths and yet I am always humbled by an exhausting climb or an empty water bottle or a low food supply. These are items I know I have taken for granted when I'm in my normal day to day routines. They seem to be in an inexhaustible supply to my modern eyes. I saw a letter in a museum case not too long ago that appeared to be 150 years old and had been written on in one direction and then turned ninety degrees and written on in the other direction in order to save paper. To me this seemed amazing and equally so that Lincoln came from a time that did these sort of things. Being able to identify my own limitations and make do with what I have at the moment has been the gift and lesson of my journey so far, especially when climbing a hill today that felt like Pike's Peak in the Rocky Mountains.