My move to Iowa was my first foray into the Midwest. While I’ve seen quite of bit of eastern Iowa and have traveled to Missouri and Nebraska, I still haven’t been to the industrial heartland around the Great Lakes. This week’s training course brought me to Ohio for the first time. On the drive back, I got to see a little more of Indiana and Illinois.
From time to time I’ve heard it said that Ohio is not in the Midwest, but the Northeast. Garrison Keillor might agree. What’s not urban and sprawling is either eastern deciduous forest or small farms. There is definitely more New York and Pennsylvania in the land than Iowa and Kansas.
After class let out we took a short jaunt to James A. Garfield National Historic Site in nearby Mentor. Garfield’s house, like his biography, is much distorted by his assassination. Substantial donations to his widow expanded the already large Victorian farm mansion. The addition is mostly a spacious library for the late president’s book collection. Garfield himself slouched over a small armchair–custom designed for hanging his legs over one of the arms–in his study on the other side of the house.
We stayed Friday night in Indiana and dropped in on Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, which abuts the grungy industrial city of Gary. Having lived and worked along Atlantic and Gulf coasts, I am not easily impressed with beaches. The lake beaches lack something that the ocean beaches have even in the dead of winter. Maybe it’s the crashing waves and the salt air.
We went to Mount Baldy, a massive dune bare of vegetation that is an environmental disaster: thousands of people climbing it and trampling its plants have turned the dune into a roving blob of sand. Driven by the lake wind, it is creeping at a glacial rate southward. In my imagination it will slowly roll across Indiana, devouring everything in its path. In fact it is so gradual that right now it only threatens to bury the parking lot behind it. The park is trying to stabilize it by planting dune grasses, but this effort appears puny. Beware!
From there we drove back to Iowa via Chicago. The corridor along Lake Michigan between Gary and Chicago is the landscape of industrial might. People sneer at Gary as a living museum of urban blight, but they at least they make useful things. Ought the gleaming financial centers that produce nothing but worthless paperwork assets be the new objects of disgust?
Speaking of gleaming financial centers, we made a quick detour along Lakeshore Drive in Chicago. From the impressive museum campus, I snapped some photos of the city’s office towers. The Sears Tower, now known as Willis, appears undiminished by the renaming.