It's been so long since I took Art History class that most of my recollection of European artists has devolved to the following vaguely-remembered factoids:
Leonardo da Vinci: Painted that mystery woman with the smile
Vincent van Gogh: The ear incident
Claude Monet: Water lilies
It's clear that Monet enjoyed the benefits of fantastic marketing, since it's hard to think of water lilies without also thinking of the French painter.
That was my first impression, at any rate, when recently visiting Mermet Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area near Metropolis, Illinois. During the summer, the lake is teeming with lily pads.
The flowers are so plentiful that they look like cotton bolls -- or even snow -- in the distance.
Monet was known for painting the same scenes numerous times, capturing changes in sunlight and seasons. Likewise, Mermet Lake lends itself to the same approach. An access road circles the lake, making it possible to easily find the best sun angle at different times of the day.
Much of the road is signed for one-way traffic, which make it easy to stop and enjoy the lake without worrying about oncoming traffic. Multiple pullouts offer safe places to park for fishing, photography, birdwatching, or painting.
Pontoon docks provide even closer access to the water, but they can be a bit wobbly.
Mermet Lake was constructed in the 1950s from an old cypress swamp. The primary objective: provide duck hunting opportunities during the late fall and early winter. Of course the lake is also attractive to plenty of other wildlife year round.
There's no party like a goose party.
This bird was wrestling with a fish in its mouth.
Deer are also abundant. Mermet Lake is not far from Westview Road, where I've seen massive deer herds in the past.
In 2003, a tornado slashed through the southern portion of the lake, causing a tremendous loss of trees. However, the area seems to have recovered since then. (This was the same storm system that dropped an F3 tornado in Jackson, Missouri.)
The lake was named after the small village of Mermet along the CB&Q Railroad. The village, in turn, was named in honor of Father Jean Mermet (1664-1716), a Jesuit missionary born in France. In 1702, he joined Charles Jucherau de Saint-Denys to establish a "Tannery" near the Ohio River to process buffalo hides into leather. The enterprise was short-lived because an epidemic broke out, killing Jucherau. Mermet later moved to Kaskaskia.
The location of the "Fort Jucherau" tannery is unclear. At one time it was generally believed that the site was at Fort Massac, but more recent research places it in the Mound City area. At any rate, had the venture been successful, it could have led to a permanent French settlement in far southern Illinois, significantly altering regional history.
Father Mermet might be just a footnote in regional history, but he did manage to get a village, a lake, and even a scuba-diving attraction named for him. That's more than many historical figures can claim.
From Cape Girardeau, cross the Emerson Bridge and turn left at the intersection with Highway 3. After entering McClure, turn right on Grapevine Trail. Continue on Grapevine Trail until reaching Highway 127 in Tamms. Turn left on Highway 127 and drive north 4 miles. Then turn right on Ullin Road and continue into Ullin.
Just past the railroad crossing in Ullin, bear right. Then turn right at the T-junction with Old Highway 51. Next make a quick left on Shawnee College Road. Continue straight across Interstate 57. After passing Shawnee College, turn left on Highway 37. At the next intersection, turn right on Highway 169.
Drive through Karnak and continue until the highway ends at US 45. Turn right and drive 1.5 miles. Look for the sign for "Mermet Lake Conservation Area" and turn right, immediately crossing the railroad tracks. A short distance later, look for the entrance road on the left.
Alternate route: For a longer but less complicated route, take Highway 146 through Ware, Jonesboro, and Vienna. At the four-way stop in Vienna, turn right on US 45 and drive south 11 miles to reach Mermet Lake.