At the very southernmost tip of Illinois, the pancake flat cornfields give way to the rolling, forested hills of the Delta.
Here, at the windy confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, it feels more southern than Midwest when you arrive at the old river port and factory town of Cairo, once made famous in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
But Twain might not recognize Cairo today. In the past three decades, his hometown lost half its population. Alexander County is not only the poorest county in Illinois; it’s also one of the fastest depopulating counties in the United States.
Minnesota, they say, is the land of 10,000 lakes. If we’re being honest (which I suppose we must be), there are 11,842. Divided amongst Minnesota’s 5.457 million people, each citizen gets two ten-thousandths of a percent of a lake. 0.0002%. I imagine that they carry the lakewater around with them in a pitcher, or perhaps a small vial around their necks. On the first day of kindergarten, the children whip out their droplets of lake for show and tell, explaining which lake it comes from — Lake Superior, Beckendorf Pond, Lake Eleventh Crow Wing. I imagine as well that this is why Minnesotans are at the forefront of progressive environmental efforts. They are more attached to their land than I will ever be.