Today the footprint of the Webner family gets a bit broader. For the first time, one of the members of my immediate family crosses over the mighty Mississippi to establish a toehold in the traditional west.
Richard will move to Columbia, Missouri, to begin work at the graduate school of journalism at the University of Missouri. He’ll be relocating to the land of prairie and prairie dogs, where herds of buffalo thundered across the open plain and huge flocks of passenger pigeons darkened the skies, where grass grew waist-high and rippled in the wind like the waves of the sea, where the Dakota, Kickapoo, and Shawnee once roamed, trappers plied their trade, settlers built cabins and broke the sod.
The residents of Webner House have lived and worked and gone to school at various locations in the eastern half of the country but have never lived in the western states. I’ve always had a romantic notion of the American West, where so many of the themes running through American culture — the fearless and hardy pioneer, the rugged cowboy on the lonesome prairie, the self-made individuals looking for opportunity and success in new towns — were first written. I’m looking forward to visits to Missouri to see whether those deep chords of Americana still are sounded where the West began.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s Navy Week in New Orleans. One of the stolid, gray Navy ships docked at the pier on the Mississippi River is the U.S.S Mitscher. As one of the polite, crisp, white-clad Navy officers who are everywhere around town patiently explained to me, the Mitscher is a guided missile destroyer that is bristling with weaponry. “It’s a great ship,” he said. It’s named after World War II hero Admiral Marc Andrew Mitscher, and its motto is “Seize the Day.”
There is something remarkably appealing about large sailing ships, with their masts towering far above, furled sails, and flags snapping in the breeze, all shined and polished and painted for display. When you have the opportunity to see them on the mighty Mississippi, it’s an even bigger treat.
We all remember Dr. Ian Malcolm, the annoyingly egotistical mathematician and chaos theorist from the Jurassic Park books and movies. Malcolm confidently predicted that, for all of its technology, Jurassic Park was a fundamentally unstable creation that would inevitably fail because “life finds a way.” He was right, of course.
His statement has proven to be equally true as it applies to the relentless advance of the dreaded Asian carp. An “electric barrier” was created to keep the carp from moving up the Mississippi River and into the Great Lakes. Now the carp have been caught past the barrier, only six miles from Lake Michigan. The Great Lakes communities are tremendously concerned that the destructive fish will ruin the sports fishing and recreational boating industries on the Great Lakes, and Members of Congress from the surrounding states have now proposed legislation to permanently separate the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes in order to keep invasive species out.
Let’s hope that any action gets taken in time, but I think Ian Malcolm would point out that six miles is not a very long distance. He might predict that if a fish was caught only six miles away, there is a good chance that other members of that species have already traversed the six-mile distance — and if they haven’t, they could jump, crawl, sprint, or be carried past whatever barrier is erected in their path. Asian carp, he might suggest, will somehow find a way.