I was walking in LaVista Park, swiping biting black flies as I went. At the park’s lower entrance, I relocated an eastern brown snake. It was stretched out, the size of a nightcrawler, and someone was going to step on it or a biker would ride over it. Off it slithered, into the creek bed.
At the top of the park, a little crewcut boy, a third grader maybe, was bent over and pointing in the grass and exclaiming to his mom. He had spotted a box turtle. He picked it up upside down, and I hurried over, explaining that the turtle shouldn’t be handled—humans have germs—and it was headed somewhere in its life. The boy put the turtle down, and we determined where its head had been pointing (west) and off he and mom went, down the bluff path.
I walked another half mile then I turned and went back to the turtle. It was still inside its shell. The little boy was going to come back, I knew. I picked the turtle up and walked west a hundred yards or so and put it in some tall grass, where it could carry on without other people stressing it.
I walked back the way I came, descending the bluff trail into the woods. An old man with a long white beard caught up, and we stayed distant and chatted all the way down the half-mile hill. His name was Lennox, and he hunted Indian artifacts back in the day, and he told me about how his whole collection had been stolen because he didn’t lock his door at night, and well, you know we had quite the chat. When he heard my name, he asked if I was the writer—yes. He had read my old Genehouse Chronicles from The Telegraph.
“You speak in my voice, man.”
As we reached the bottom section of trail, there stood the little boy and his mom, standing by a wooden fence over a bridge across a creek.
“Mom,” the little boy shouted, “Snakes! Lots of them!”
Lennox and I looked at each other and smiled. Little boys exaggerate. When we got to the fence, we looked down the creek bank were the boy was pointing. An eastern fox snake (they look like copperheads, good evolutionary survival technique), almost five feet long, was giving birth. Four-inch-long babies covered in glistening afterbirth were emerging from the opening below her tail, perhaps twenty or more, and as they emerged, they wound themselves like ribbons around the mother’s body, a mound of them, and soon we could only see the mother’s head. We were witnessing a miracle. The little boy might have thought this was an everyday event. This was my second time.
I told the boy about fox snakes, a specie of rat snake, and the good they did in nature. And like the turtle, the snakes were wild and we shouldn’t disturb them. I told him he was witnessing something most people would never see. His mom asked how I knew so much.
Lennox told them who I was, and he said I was an archaeologist-writer-naturalist, and I would never have said such a thing. The boy’s name was Judah, and he was cute, as little boys are. And then he spotted, in short order, two red-tail skinks and a bullfrog and a tiger swallowtail butterfly. He had discovered over thirty wild animals in the space of five minutes. And with each spotting, he jumped up and down and yelped excitedly.
And then we walked farther down the path, and I showed the boy the high tree set back from the path, the one with the hole below its crown, inside of which lives a barred owl. I taught the boy the barred owl song, and we sang it. I told him I once saw the owl catch a snake and dangle its body from tree branch, catch a squirrel off the path and hang its body from that same branch.
Lennox walked on. I gave the mom my card. Judah, when the virus crisis has settled, will be coming to my house. He will be receiving gifts of fossils and Indian artifacts. His mother said her son was always seeing what other people didn’t. I understand. Judah has the rare gift of what archeologists call “the eye.”
Years ago, I showed several hundred of my Indian artifacts to a Northwestern University professor of archeology. He looked them over and said most of his graduate students would never find an arrowhead or a stone axe—seeing, what to most people is the unseen, was a talent. “You have the eye,” the professor told me.
And this I understand now, after the long morning, after my long life and writing it all down—for whom? The little boy I saw. See. The little boy hopping and jumping. The little boy watching the births beyond twins, triplets, nonuplets. The little boy learning the song of the barred owl. The saw the sea the see the birth the earth the tentacles of stars ever suns lasting:
I was the little boy.
The little boy was me.