July 29, 2016

I was walking down my driveway at noon, heading for lunch with my pal Lorenzo Small, when I saw a sunlit monarch butterfly flutter down over the highway. The creature dropped into the path of an oncoming car and was hit and fell to the pavement. But still it fluttered.

More cars and trucks were coming from both directions, so I stepped out into the center lane and put up my hands. Miraculously, the vehicles stopped. I knelt and picked up the monarch, and it clung to my left hand. The drivers gave me thumbs up as I and my yellow friend moved into my yard.

I sat and put the butterfly into the grass. It slowly pumped energy, wings beating faster and faster, until it rose and fluttered like a little helicopter and flew away. How many millions of butterflies are killed by cars? Life and death are always with us.

I walked down Stroke Hill towards the river, stopping twice to play “Name That Tune” with mockingbirds. The forest buzzed with cicadas, the first sign of the inevitable slow march toward winter. Overhead, six turkey vultures tornadoed counter clockwise, rising and falling in the stiff breeze.

At Admire’s Bench, the memorial granite seat etched with a poem by Carol Admire, who was killed last summer as she was riding her bike, huge tiger swallowtail and purple swallowtail and monarch and viceroy, and checkerspot and dog-eye sulfur and purple hairstreak butterflies rose and sank into a morass of blue chicory flowers and brown-eyed Susan and Queen Ann’s lace. Mimosa trees were speckled with sickening sweet, perfumed pink flowers, and orange trumpet vine bent towards the path, and ruby-throated hummingbirds sated themselves with hot nectar.

I plucked a single Queen Ann’s plant from the ground and inhaled the fragrant scent of its root, the wild origin of our domestic carrots. There were puddles along the path, and brown-flowered cattails rose above my head. Their stripped muddy roots taste as sweet as watermelon.

A car drove west, its horn honking, and a woman leaned out the passenger side window and yelled, “Genehouse!” Ah, fame.

Flash the wiener dog greeted me by the river’s edge and licked my pale sweaty legs. Horseflies stung my back and houseflies sucked my blood. You can’t stand still outside the last week of July and avoid biting and sucking.

Back up the three-hundred-foot bluff, I crossed over to Farmer Orville’s and was greeted by Ruby Puppy and Reba and the male barn cat. Orville had picked a hundred pounds of tomatoes, three-quarters of which were gashed by worms. He shook his head in dismay. One in four is not good news on a farm.

We stood and talked under the shade of a hickory tree and watched the big butterflies driven by the wind. There was no need to speak out loud what would come next. Cicadas and butterflies and wooly caterpillars sound the call. So do the stores, with their winter clothing and Christmas wares already coming out.

Quilt Queen was headed out to grocery shop. She said, “Gene, no more cantaloupe. My refrigerator stinks of cantaloupe.” She was referring to my making the rounds at the closing of the fruit and vegetable stand and passing out free ripe fruit to the neighbors. As she drove off, Orville said, “Bring me a cantaloupe. I ain’t afraid of her.”

We watched the monarchs and their evolutionary cousins the admirals fly southwest. Predators avoid them, the monarchs because they are poisonous, the admirals because they developed yellow color and eyespots, mimicking the monarchs and tricking would be diners even as they are tender and juicy.

Orville, who doesn’t believe in evolution, headed inside to watch Fox News. I walked home to Genehouse, my stiffening body bending my spine like a horseshoe. On the highway, smashed bodies of dragonflies and flying beetles and butterflies colored the hot asphalt.

I had saved a monarch butterfly, my one good deed for the day.

About Eugene Jones Baldwin

I am a writer: non-fiction, fiction, journalism (Alton Telegraph), essays (The Genehouse Chronicles) and have a website: eugenebaldwin.com. I've published a couple dozen short stories and had eleven plays produced. Current projects: "Brother of the Stones" (available on Kindle), a book of short stories; "The Faithful Husband of the Rain, short stories"; "A Black Soldier's Letters Home, WWII,;" "There is No Color in Justice," a commentary on racism; "Ratkillers," a new play. I am an avocational archaeologist and I take parts of my collection of several thousand Indian artifacts (personal finds) to schools, nature centers, libraries etc. and talk about the 20,000 year history of The First people in Illinois. (See link to website) I'm also a playwright (eleven plays produced), musician, historian (authority on the Underground Railroad in Illinois, the Tuskegee Airmen) and teacher.
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