January 20, 2015

There are days in one’s life where, psychologically, time seems to creep like viscous mud. And then there are days of serendipity, where what was supposed to happen suddenly felt meaningless, and what couldn’t have been anticipated overwhelmed the senses. That was my yesterday.

I sat down to write, the sky azure and clean and the sun heating the sleeping cat and birds calling madly, and in the yard a new resident made an appearance, perhaps in honor of Martin Luther King Day: a black squirrel—we’ll call him Ebon. Day set, day on.

Until my neighbor Irene called and asked if I wanted parmesan cheese on my “zucchini spaghetti.” I was in mid-sentence creation, so I said no parmesan and really didn’t think more about it, and I went back to work. At midday, Irene knocked—I had forgotten about the food—and I opened the door and received a hot Tupperware container. “Lunch,” Irene said.

The smell emanating from the container was tomato-y and inviting. I took off the lid and—no zucchini, just stewed tomatoes and pasta and spices. I fetched a spoon and dug in, and—the pasta crunched. The pasta was long, curly strings of zucchini. Irene had bought a machine that shredded squash into noodles: zuchghetti. I ate the entire contents of the bowl.

I had one chore yesterday: visit Grafton and look at a house for rent—just looking around. And my pal Sheila S. volunteered to come along and be an extra pair of eyes. I would pick her up in her town, Elsah, and on we’d go.

And here I have to interject about eagles. Between Genehouse and Elsah were bald eagles in trees, soaring over the islands, people watching . . . well, carloads of folks were parked at eagle sites and pointing and dancing. Who watched whom may be open to interpretation.

Driving on the Great River Road in eagle season, can be hazardous. People cruise at twenty-five miles an hour and crane their necks to watch the bluff tops. Cars cross lanes then reel back in and angry river rats, who think the eagle is a nuisance, speed along in the passing lane and give birdwatchers the finger. It is a conundrum.

I made my way west and watched eagles and met Sheila S. in Elsah, and we exclaimed over eagles all the way to Grafton. The rental was a bust, but the drive was splendid. And Shelia S., a conceptual artist if there ever was one, suggested we drive up to the Aerie Winery and take in the view—code for drink wine.

We spent a couple of hours sitting 253 feet above the Illinois River (Grafton tourism says the town is on the Mississippi—it isn’t) on the outdoor patio—60 degrees on January 19!—and sunned ourselves and sipped Aerie’s own Conundrum Confluence, a dry red wine so-so-so good. Below us, barges plied their way along the snaking river, and eagles soared and the yonder fields of Calhoun County gleamed with autumn colors, and the Mark Twain National Wildlife Refuge sprawled across the river to the west.

“Smell,” Sheila S. said, inhaling the scents of wine and pine and wood smoke and juniper. We were like a couple of English city folks in the country, taking in the fresh air and a view. We sunbaked and sipped. We listened to the inane chatter of fellow wine imbibers.

I thought of the aeries of New Hampshire where I hiked for twenty summers and watched peregrine falcons hold in flight on mountaintops, and bears eating blueberries and porcupines waddling along the trails and moose blundering their way through underbrush.

Sheila S. got dreamy-eyed and told me of her plans to visit the Old Country, Ireland. The recent death of her good friend Karen made her think about the fragility of life, and how we should follow dreams, and I said that was a good thing.

Back home, Scout the Cat and I watched the sunset. I was high on wine and life—the latter rare indeed. Ebon the black squirrel sat up below the bird feeder and ate thistle seed, and chickadees scolded.

I don’t get the hate and bigotry of the world—never have. I am as naive as they come. I didn’t get my mother innocently asking how I could tell one black kid from another; they all looked alike. I don’t get the downtrodden river rats with their insatiable need to be superior to something, to black folk. I didn’t get the impulse of James Earl Ray. I don’t get martyrs. Why must we always have martyrs, to show us the way?

It is a conundrum.

About Eugene Jones Baldwin

I am a writer: non-fiction, fiction, journalism (Alton Telegraph), essays (The Genehouse Chronicles) and have a website: 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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