Bellies

Stillness, Saturday afternoon, the river was still and the sky. Even the creeks were still, and a lone old man sitting on a bench, paunch-bellied and bald and sporting a Santa Claus beard, glared at me wordlessly when I wished him a good afternoon, his angry stillness like a mask. It might have been something he ate—or something he voted for.

I hadn’t walked for five days. My right knee has deteriorated to the point that I have to take breaks. A year ago this very day, in Atascadero, California, I was playing pickle ball with my friend Dave and his pals, and I stepped back to make a shot, and my foot planted, my right shin hyperextending at the knee, and I fell and yelped. It’s been downhill—no pun intended—ever since.

The temperature was in the mid-40s, just low enough that the packs of motorcycles which deafen hikers along the river trail weren’t out and about. Perhaps distended Thanksgiving bellies relegated the noisy to stillness and multiple naps.

Flocks of robins chatted in the tree and bluff tops (the biggest bird myth I know is about robins flying south), and a pileated woodpecker worked a high dead tree trunk and granted me permission to stand and watch. Chickadees and nuthatches held court and a blue jay called around for relatives, but none answered, perhaps burdened with pie bellies.

Me, I have cookie belly from eating a thousand peanut butter cookies over three days. I considered but declined, to take my weekly Shadow picture because the Shadow is fatso.

Two young couples walked ahead of me, the women annoyed with their men, who tossed the old pigskin up and down the trail and whooped like they were Green Bay Packers, only the men had gravy bellies—and maybe wouldn’t have girlfriends by the end of their walk. Young men believe they shouldn’t be still under any circumstance, which makes them boring as a class of people. Young women, even the worst boors among them, have glorious, god-given derrieres. This is their saving grace.

A man with a walking stick, his belly showing no sign of excess, passed by me. His name is Tom, Alton High Class of 69, though he looks much older, wearier. He walked these woods when he was a kid, before there was an asphalt path. Before him came escaping slaves and before them Indians forged the first path about six thousand years ago, long before Cahokia Mounds was settled. Their stone artifacts lie under the surface of the farm fields on the north side of Route 3, Rocky Fork Creek the northern boundary.

The stillness on the return hike was broken by leaf blowers. It had warmed up enough that gadget people were compelled to bring out their gadgets and annoy the hell out of everyone else. One man, facing the bluff above him, leaf blower at the ready, had to balance his ginormous belly forward, to keep from rolling backwards into the Mississippi River. I was rooting for the river.

The motorcycles were sure to follow.

 

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