This past weekend I traveled through southwestern Missouri and northwestern Arkansas, visiting places of historical and recent significance. We moved from the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, AR, to the Walmart Visitors Center, also in Bentonville, to the nearby Pea Ridge National Military Park (a Civil War battlefield), to the Museum of Native American History in Bentonville, to the George Washington Carver National Monument in Diamond, MO, to my father-in-law’s room in the nursing home in central Missouri.
As we moved from place to place, some time segments dragged – the long drive through rural Missouri, the 15 minutes waiting for an informational film at one museum, sitting until the bill came after dinner one evening. Yet other moments I found myself thinking about how time circles around on itself, how people touch each other across the decades, and even across the centuries.
Here are four examples:
- Consider the Paleolithic Era of American Indians, which ended in 8,000 B.C. Many of their settlements are now underwater off the North and South American coasts. But I learned this weekend that new underwater archeological techniques are permitting us to discover how these original settlers lived, and even how they arrived on our continent. Old theories that they all traveled via a land bridge across the Bering Sea are now discounted. Many scientists now believe that most of these early peoples arrived by boat at different points in time, and perhaps from Europe before they came from Asia. And they may have arrived much earlier than we used to think. Twenty years ago, archeologists could not conduct underwater excavations as they do today, and the traces left behind by the Paleolithic people were lost for eons.
Consider the Battle of Pea Ridge during the Civil War, which occurred along Old Wire Road — the main route from St. Louis to Arkansas. Old Wire Road was so named because it carried the first telegraph line permitting near-instantaneous communication across this stretch of the American West. This route began centuries earlier as an Osage Indian trail, and during the 1830s had served as part of the Trail of Tears (the forced migration of Cherokee and other tribes from the Southeast to what is now Oklahoma). In the 1850s, still before the Battle of Pea Ridge, it was part of the Butterfield Overland Mail route, which brought mail east from California.
- Consider George Washington Carver, born a slave in 1864. He lived until 1943, not quite within my lifetime or my husband’s, but well within my mother-in-law’s, who was with us on the journey. There probably were people born slaves who were still alive when I was born in 1956. Just two lifetimes separate us from the days of slavery, an era that seems far distant to most of us most of the time.
- Consider Sam Walton opening his first five and ten store in Bentonville in 1950 (he’d run Ben Franklin stores before then). In 1950, my father’s father managed a five and ten store in Klamath Falls, OR. (Would that my grandfather had expanded like Sam did!) And in 1950, J.C. Hall’s company, Hallmark Cards (where I worked for many years) was already 40 years old and a national success, with the award-winning Hallmark Hall of Fame series beginning in 1951. I couldn’t help comparing the two companies’ histories as I toured the Walmart Visitors Center.
In all these situations, time circled around me, swirling from one point to another, as I thought about the significance of what I was seeing.
And then we ended our trip with a visit to my 93-year-old father-in-law, now incapacitated and frail. This former bank president lies in his bed in a fetal position most days, unable to see or to move himself. Many days he spends in a fog, but sometimes he is able to converse. His life has come almost full circle, and yet this past Sunday he wanted to hear the news on the radio, and then reminded my husband and me of the importance of saving for the future.
The past becomes the present becomes the future, and the future looks back to the past. Someday, when today is the past, what we are doing now will still be impacting the future. The people of tomorrow will look back on today and wonder whatever caused us to act the way we did.
And that is the fluidity of time.