Day 465: Little Egypt

Southern Illinois is often called “Little Egypt,” and, indeed, it has many Egyptian associations. It has towns named “Thebes” and “Karnak,” and, although it is consistently mispronounced, one called “Cairo.” There are several stories about how the association between southern Illinois and Egypt came about. One is that food shortages in the north in the early nineteenth century caused northerners to come south to buy grain in the manner of the Old Testament account of the sons of Jacob. A second is that the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers at the southern tip of Illinois somehow resembles the Nile delta. A third is that one of the belly dancers who performed as “Little Egypt” at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition in Chicago was a southern Illinois native.

Laetitia decided to bring her group to Thebes. Thebes, Illinois bears little resemblance to the Egyptian original, except that it is also on the east bank of a river, the Mississippi. It is a town of around 500 people. Abraham Lincoln once practiced law here. Its proximity to the Mississippi River also made it a great area for bird watching. The Mississippi Flyway is a major migratory route for birds because it lacks obstacles, such as mountain ranges, and provides food, water, and cover throughout its entire length.

Laetitia’s group spent most of the day at Horseshoe Lake Nature Preserve. The natural area surrounds an oxbow lake, created when the curvature of the meandering Mississippi River became so pronounced that the water broke through, forming a new straighter and shorter channel. Eventually the ends of the abandoned meander loop filled in so the lake that is no longer part of the river.

At happy hour in an area bar, Laetitia heard some gossip about a local bird-watching group who seemed to get their ideas from stereotypes in British comedy. They went around in tweeds and pith helmets with oversized binoculars and, according to the conversation, “put on airs.” They became the subject of the limerick of the day.

The Bird Watchers’ Circle from Thebes
Who led tours to watch phoebes and grebes
Viewed themselves as elite
But to folks on the street
They were arrogant, tweed-wearing dweebs.

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