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There was a certain surreal quality to our trip out to Valmayer and beyond onto the American Bottom floodplain yesterday. It wasn't just the flocks of egrets or the long levee road – certainly the longest levee road I've found in this area.

Levees such as this act as a clear demarcation between the land that man claims and that given over to nature, and traveling along such a borderline produces a lot of deep thought about the interplay of the two in my mind.But that's only one level of division. To the edge of the floodplain lie the river bluffs, the natural levees as it were, that act as yet another line of demarcation. Villages built on or leading up these beautiful hills are spared the power of the river, giving them a longevity that far exceeds the floodplain settlements. One of these was Maeystown, an almost Shangri-La like village nestled in the folds of the bluffs leading a little way up from the plain. An old German settlement, dating back to the exodus of 1848 (the forty-eighters) following the failed European revolutions of that year, it is now sleepily reviving itself as a tourist attraction. Ruth and I found a charming old brick building that hed been converted into an antique store and coffee shop. We stayed there a while, enjoying a turkey sandwich and, in my case, a root beer, while the extended family that ran the store introduced themselves in the most amiable of ways.
Afterwards, we walked through the village finding the usual collection of derelict, semi-derelict and restored buildings that mark many of these small hamlets and – charmingly – a large litter of kittens playing in a front yard. The feel of this town was quite different from one just a few yards away, yet down below on the flood plain. This little place, Fults, showed some signs of flood damage, and, although much of it was well-kept and the small church was delightful, there was a sense of distinct impermanence. If Maeystown seemed sleepy – and a wedding yesterday worked against this sentiment – Fults was positively somnambulant, with only the shiny red paint on the newer tractor wheels propped up against a decaying building suggesting recent activity. In the end, though, what astonished us most of all about this wonderful journey was that we had no idea it was here, so very close to St. Louis. I've explored in almost every other direction but for some reason had missed this. Part of this may be that the main river road on the Illinois side, Illinois Route 3, stays well away from the Mississippi at this point and winds through uninteresting developments that tend to speed you away further south. I found yesterday's discoveries by just looking at the map and seeing all this land to which I had never paid any heed. It makes me wonder what else there is to find. 🙂

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