First there was a planet that boiled, and the melted rock from that boiling pushed up between “plates” that were solid islands, so that they floated around. These supported earthy ground in a kind of rind that also shifted around on the backs of plates, which sometimes pulled these “continents” into separate islands and other times smashed them together.
One of those later continents was called “North America” which doesn’t mean anything at all, except the “north” part. The Pacific Ocean was opened up between China and North America because of more lava welling up between plates, pushing them into what we call the volcanic “ring of fire.” That’s only descriptive. Somewhere under this ring is more upwelling of some kind that causes weather swings. We call one extreme “El Nino” because it often coincides with a festival that formed on the Eurasian continent a few thousand years ago where a culture developed “science” which is a way of thinking about the world based on experiment and observation. “La Nina” is named that only to contrast it with El Nino. These names are only markers for something we cannot see.
As the Pacific Ocean tectonic plate pushed hard against the North American continent, which supported a shallow inland sea almost from Pacific Sea to Atlantic Sea, the continent resting on the pushing plate crumpled up into mountain ranges which always went from north to south, and whose rising up “cracked” the middle of North America into a V which drained out that shallow sea through the Mississippi River so that one edge was the Coast Range and the Rockies and the other was the eastboard coast.
All is cycle and reciprocity. At some points the northern part of the continent became so cold that glacier ice-sheets scraped down across the continent. The weight of this pushed the northern plains a little lower, so when they melted, the water stayed here and there in small lakes and streams. The farthest south this puddley environment went was the Great Lakes.
An ecology gives rise to creatures — ecology is always reacting and creating and evolving, even within the bodies of the creatures — and because this scattered water was a cold wet environment, the ecology responded with beavers, otters, mink, marten, fisher and then the creatures who consumed them, both canids and felines. These were all creatures bearing marvelous fur, plush and warm, as sure a marker of wealth as silk was.
Across the Atlantic were people who had been taught by the Silk Roads that the discovery of new lands meant new trade goods, so they were always seeking and exploring. They were thinking in terms of gold and silver, which had been a response to the wealth of China which was the invention of coinage. It was code for wealth. Like book keeping.
When those busy people pursuing wealth had invented investment capital, possibly because of book keeping, they gathered into business collaborations that sent ships to North America, where they discovered this wide land dappled with water. The Hudson’s Bay company created an empire of fur-traders with remnants that still exist in material goods, stores, and fur-trappers and buyers. Because the traders were men, young and vigorous, they took indigenous wives, thereby creating a new “people”— the Metis or mixed people. This culture became so distinctive that they tried to form their own nation but were quashed by Canada, so fled in part to the northern tier states of America.
Shortly after the Revolutionary War, the area of lakes on the US side was The Northwest Territory, or Old Northwest, the area that became the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and a portion of Minnesota. Early settlers from northern Europe had to bushwhack their way through tall timber, but as the rainfall amounts diminished in the higher lands to the West, the trees were replaced by grass and the travel became easier. The horizon moved back by miles and miles to the limits of human eyesight. A little to the south, the severe dry land gave way to transcendence and visions.
Two wars later, after the industrial revolution, the Old Northwest supported centers of machinery development, machines necessary for managing harvests (the combine) and for traveling long distances (the automobile and locomotive). Each of these manufacturing centers gave rise to a culture, often one based on army assumptions: many obedient men managed by a few seeking profit. The sacred became profane.
Impact on the cultures of the continent was profound is still developing, throwing God under the bus. Thick populations who can move quickly over long distances so that they are anonymous. Covert transportation of materials and people that escape the law. Long parallel webworks of tracks, pipes-and-wires, transmission towers and satellites. Molecular changes like “the Pill” which counterbalanced the many fertility opportunities of automobiles, both easing and shattering families.
Some new factor would hit the culture so that the small, self-contained lives of scattered towns or even complex cities full of neighborhoods were challenged to join a larger culture that was joined by materialism/profit/wealth (disguised as religions) and then transcended by music and images of film and video.
Always there were people (artists, musicians, rabble-rousers for justice) who bushwhacked their way through the complexity, who could not be pressed onto the Life Paths the culture, the family wanted. Often they were exceptional — high energy, high performing — and the extended family made plans for them. They would become famous (which meant becoming rich) and create wide, smooth roads suitable for easy travel. But bushwhackers escape from families.
They were carriers, visionaries, like Johnny Appleseed, and they traveled in a cloud of ideas, practices, microtomes, and hookups that evolved themselves even as they changed the world. It was painful. It was often death. They felt they had no choice.
Many trail-leavers had been indigenous, the people of one place who had learned and developed into a specific sort of person which could go to another place where their secrets were still unknown and be able to transform cultures who had no idea at all.
In the old cultures of the prairie, where the horizon was far and walking or riding preceded the wheel and was not dependent on prepared pathways, people kept on their belts a “possibles kit”— a little bag of fire-flints, medicines, thimbles and needles, and maybe a small reminder of what was most vital, like an iniskum to stand for buffalo. And then, the first and most welcome example of metal for trade: the butcher knife.
This is only the main spine of a long unfinished tale.