Thursday, September 8, 2011
A sliver of place and time
Last weekend, Greenturtle and I went to Saint Charles, MO, for the day, as I am very interested in the Lewis and Clark expedition, and Saint Charles has a museum dedicated to the explorers. Overall, the trip was a bit of a letdown; perhaps I was just expecting too much. Or perhaps it was me: I have been more restless than usual lately, so that even when I am seeing one bird, or enjoying one trail, I automatically start feeling impatient for the next.
After wandering through the shops and having lunch, I wanted to check out the "Eco Park," which is part of a larger park along the Missouri River, the Jean Baptiste Point DuSable park.
It looked nice on the map...woods and wetlands, along the river. But in reality, as soon Greenturtle and I embarked on the trail, we were commenting how spoiled we are with living in central Illinois. Yes, the middle of the agricultural wasteland, so flat and unscenic, and I was feeling grateful! Because when I go for a walk here...it's largely quiet. The people are few and far between, the traffic at a distance.
At the Saint Charles park, the vicinity to Interstate, train tracks, and flyway were all too apparent, not to mention the number of other people trying to enjoy the park. It was noisy and crowded, and made me grateful to be a "rural birder." (Which makes me think of the episode of the TV show 30 Rock where no one can figure out the name of the movie one of the characters is in -- The "Rural Juror." But what else is the opposite of Urban Birder?)
Before leaving, we drove to the edge of the park, where the off leash dog areas are, and the whole area was, not only noisy with the eternal traffic of the Interstate, but nauseating from the smell of the even-closer sewage plant. And the saddest thing is (or is it the most hopeful?), in with the noise and the stench, I saw chickadees, resilient and engaging little creatures.
I'm sure this is exactly how Lewis and Clark embarked on their expedition.... And yes, I do take my binoculars everywhere!
On the way home, construction on I-55 forced us onto the back roads around the town of New Douglas, which, on such a beautiful day, turned out to be fortuitous.
We passed through many small towns, tiny collections of houses on a street or two, surrounding a central grain elevator, and then back to fields and the most gentle rolling nature of the land. No one could call central Illinois anything but flat; but further south, perhaps the glaciers lingered longer over the moraines.
Most of the towns seemed almost deserted; in at least one, I did not see one single other person or even a passing car: the slow sad death of small town America.
Midway through Christian county, we passed a cemetery. As Greenturtle stopped to take a photo of the large crucifix over the grave of a priest who passed sometime in the 1940s, I watched the wind blowing ceaselessly over the bean fields, making it ripple and shimmer, mesmerizing as the sea.
It made me think of how I have wanted to explore and bird every county in Illinois, spending a good few days in each; how I would like to travel the Mississippi from its source to the delta; how badly I want to see the prairie chickens dancing on their leks in the springtime.
Since all around me was so peaceful, why do I get so melancholy in the fall, a time of year that used to mean new beginnings? Is it a symptom of my middle years or something that happened since I learned to love birds? Suddenly, just as spring represents new life and possibilities, it seems that the autumn means...death. There, I said it. The death of the season, the twilight of the year. Next comes extinct species, cold weather...and the eventual demise of everything I hold dear. Including, sooner or later, myself. I know that in our death-averse culture, early forties is nothing, but nothing lasts forever. Eventually, the jig is up! Strangely enough, winter is OK by me...it's just the end of summer that symbolizes all this depressing stuff.
Thoughts dancing with the wind -- the expansive dreams of constricted lives -- just a moment in time at a place I didn't expect to be, and that is always a dangerous sort of moment, because it almost feels like freedom. But then of course not, there is work, bills, duty: the routine.
And every once in a while, too, I am taken by surprise, a thought that, ten years ago when I moved here, I never expected:
Central Illinois is so beautiful. And I am grateful to live here.