The landscape encodes memories that always threaten to escape, to disappear. Perhaps people like us, who lack a strong oral tradition, have no other means to store our inchoate memories, and so the landscape takes on a power it may not have for other people in other times or places. Each barn that collapses, every century-old house that burns down, and each bend of the road that is straightened removes a piece of our collective identity, feels like a personal loss, and threatens to undo us even as it is undone.
— Jane Adams, The Transformation of Rural Life: Southern Illinois
Illinois is known for Chicago, and the things Chicago is known for; it's known for its endless flat nothing, its soybean and corn and pig farms, brown laid out to the horizon. Further south, where the glacier stopped scraping and the hills and rocks twist and roll down into a different landscape, is an invisible Illinois. It does not wait to be noticed. It lies there while the world moves on.
The Shawnee is a spiritual sister to the Ozarks of Missouri and Arkansas, linked inextricably with the rolling coal fields of Kentucky and the river towns of Indiana on the banks of the Ohio. It is a confluence of the South and Appalachia without being allowed the identity of either—the rivers deposited wanderers, immigrants, pioneers, and refugees from Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee into its hills, and they dug their roots deep. This is a region of one-book families, hillfolk dynasties, bluegrass, blood feuds, staging grounds, coal mines, and desperate poverty.
The people here are quiet and have always been, a thing so consistent over the centuries that it may be an imprint of the land on the blood and not the blood on the land. From the Mississippian tribes who vanished from their urban metropolis in Cahokia, to the Peoria and Tamaroa tribes who left little more than arrowheads and campfire circles, to the cursed French and Métis of Kaskaskia, to the right-lipped miners and farmers who settled here much later: their stories do not survive this place. No one's do. Folk songs vanish as if never sung; conversations and events slip out of memory, never recorded. Shared experiences are erased as soon as the next harvest comes. Family history is written into the buildings, the way the homesteads sprawl. And when the build landscape shifts and changes, no one remembers how it was before.
But the land remembers. It can't do anything but.