an arrangement with the heartland

Posted by on March 7, 2012


Flying into St. Louis © 2012 Julia Mason Wickes.

Flying into St. Louis © 2012 Julia Mason Wickes.


by Carl Sandburg

In the loam we sleep,
In the cool moist loam,
To the lull of years that pass
And the break of stars,

From the loam, then,
The soft warm loam,
We rise:
To shape of rose leaf,
Of face and shoulder.

We stand, then,
To a whiff of life,
Lifted to the silver of the sun
Over and out of the loam
A day.

* * *
I am in Saint Louis, Missouri, on a two-night trip, by myself. I’ve decided that I like the sound of Missouri. It has a lyrical and earthy quality that is comforting.

Jeff has been offered a tenure-track job at Saint Louis University, and, barring some highly unexpected turn of events, it looks as if this is where we are going to settle down. It will mean things like the end of student life, the end of apartment-living, the possibility of having things like a yard, a garden, a dog, and a basement. It will mean that we can do things like paint walls any color we like, and invest in furniture. I know that I am none too young to be finally embarking on such a phase of life, and, after all, it’s what I’ve anticipated for a long time, but now that it is happening, I must admit that it feels strange.

This is my first time in Saint Louis– ever. I’ve used my two days here to explore its downtown, its urban neighborhoods, and one of the suburbs as well. So far I have not found anything about this city to dislike, and that has been a surprise for me. I have also been surprised at just how much this trip has felt like an experience of discovery.

I told Jeff today that I feel a little bit as if I am facing an arranged marriage. It’s a bewildering prospect to encounter something in one big bundled up entirety knowing that your life is going to be bound to it, possibly forever.

I am not yet in love with Saint Louis, but it is a handsome city, and I can see the potential for falling in love with it. My impressions so far are as follows. It seems to be a very unique blend of urban and small town. It is big and busy and has a lot going on, but it is spacious, and accessible, with lots of breathing room. Everywhere you go, the buildings feel square and solid and old. Some are decaying and neglected while others are impeccably manicured, but all have personality. The architecture here seems more uniformly square and solid than almost anywhere I have ever been.

Everywhere there are signs of the past, literally. There is no lack of the faded, retro sign, and personally, I love that. It is very Midwestern, and very American. Without being able to explain exactly why, I feel as if this might be the most American city I have ever seen. I keep expecting to see some version of a good-natured Buddy Holly on every street corner. It is so near Chicago and in many ways reminiscent of Chicago, but it is most definitely different from Chicago. The culture here feels relaxed and human, in contrast to, say, DC where the culture is very driven and wound as tight as a drum. But this is no backwater. There are a lot of cultural riches here. Today I drove through Forest Park, which is apparently several times bigger than Central Park in New York. It has several museums and a little art deco green house called the Jewel Box, which was very charming. Approaching it in the sun and wind the thought passed through my mind: I want to take my girls here.

So that’s about it. I have a lot of other thoughts surrounding this new and strange experience of settling down. It does not feel romantic, oh no. It feels very pragmatic, and is something that is coaxing from me a renewed internal commitment to everything that my life has been up to this point. I would be lying if I said I didn’t have a mild case of cold feet.

But I feel humbled through my encounter with this place, this city which really is a world unto itself, with its own rich history and character, and its own people who built it and are even now re-birthing it, and who have lived and died here. I feel humbled that all of this is going on here, and has been here all along, long before my small self existed, or my small little mind could presume to have an opinion about it. It feels humbling to look around at all of these old factories and stately neighborhoods, and shops and restaurants, the arch (which, by the way, is quite impressive in person), and several rather distinguished universities and think: I have nothing to do with any of this. And yet, it looks like this city will take me under its wing, receive me as its own, and integrate me into its life, and that, years from now, it is possible that I will have made it mine– a part of my ever-developing identity– in ways that right now I cannot imagine. No one knows how life will unfold, but right now, this is what I have every reason to anticipate, and the feelings that come with it are nothing short of surreal. It brings up all of those nice existential questions about how it is that I came to be here, and why, and so forth.

The Carl Sandburg poem seems so appropriate. He’s such a Midwestern poet, and the poem is such an existential poem. It compliments well the mystery of everything I am feeling right now.

Here are some photos from my trip:

This is the arch and the bank of the Mississippi River.

mississippi & arch

Is it just me, or is Saint Louis as American as America it gets?


more american than america

There is a very interesting blend of old industry
and cultural refinement here, but somehow it doesn’t feel at all contradictory.
The first photo was taken right by the arch; the second
is inside the aforementioned Jewel Box in Forest Park.
two sides to st louis 2

Two sides to St. Louis © 2012 Julia Mason Wickes.

Ah, the retro signs. I love them so.

retro signs St. Louis

Retro signs in St. Louis © 2012 Julia Mason Wickes.

More decay/renewal dichotomy.
The top is a building near the river.
The bottom photo is the urban loft where I rented a room
from a very nice couple. It is in a re-purposed building
that was once a furniture store.

Urban decay and renewal © 2012 Julia Mason Wickes.


This is just another photo of downtown Saint Louis that I like.
Yes, my taste in photography runs more toward the stark than the pretty,
and so my depiction of Saint Louis is imbalanced.
Just take my word for it that there are also many extremely
pretty neighborhoods here which are not pictured.
Outskirts of downtown St. Louis © 2012 Julia Mason Wickes.

Outskirts of downtown St. Louis © 2012 Julia Mason Wickes.

  1. A M B E R
    March 7, 2012

    That sounds like a pleasant little adventure! And I am digging that you got to do it all alone. The photos are especially lovely window into St Louis, and the life awaiting you and your family. Oh, Julia, a basement! A yard!

  2. Evelina
    March 8, 2012

    As lazy as I'm becoming, a basement and a yard would mean too much cleaning for me :). I guess settling down is also for me something long-awaited and somehow scary.

  3. Beth
    March 13, 2012

    St. Louis is really one of my favorite cities; we vacationed there nearly every summer while I was growing up and always the Arch and always a Cardinals game. I have a theory about cities that have the Mississippi River running through them, a genie spirit exists in them (to steal from Walker Percy). Come visit Davenport some time. We are pretty small town, but very Midwestern, and oh that River (plus Sandburg was born just an hour away in Galesburg, quite near where both my parents were born). Peace and goodness to you.