Every piece of ground is a series of occupations. As my camera and I roam, I see with a history major’s eye as well as a photographer’s. I can’t help but give the ghosts their due. Chasing a pair of bald eagles at the southern tip of Illinois recently, I stopped my car just in time before the black mud sucked me in. This land had long ago been the Mississippi River, perhaps even the Ohio. Now there was a high earthen levee with century-old farms beyond it. The muddy fields had been soybean rows just a few weeks earlier and patches of dried sunflower stalks still nodded beneath the blackbirds. In the field beyond the county road in
front of me rose an earthen mound worn down by a century of plows but still stubbornly there, testament to a teeming culture that had abandoned it centuries before Europeans dipped their oars into the rivers. One farmer on the road had sold a parcel of his black alluvium for a warehouse and block of metal storage units, the warehouse already abandoned and rusted by some failed small business loan dream. The pair of bald eagles finally alighted talons first in the naked walnut tree beside my car, unfazed by me, like the predators they are. This mental activity of mine took place on a bend in a road many would consider the most boring place in the world. But every piece of ground is a series of occupations. I call this photo American Bottomland for the current occupants of the vast alluvium from Minnesota to the Gulf.