September 28, 2013
This morning I saw the first fuzzy black and orange striped caterpillar of autumn, crossing eastbound on Stroke Hill, Stanka Lane. Soon there will be thousands of them, rippling to Wherever Land. Half of them will be run over, and fatty slicks of their flattened bodies will cause skidding and car crashes. I have been fascinated by those beauties since I was a kid. I remember a kid friend swallowing one on a triple dog dare. I remember watching as my dad drove: which of the caterpillars would get squashed under the wheels of our maroon Chevy? (My morose father always bought maroon cars and suits.) I remember plastering my hair with them and laughing at the tickle.
In the Shawnee National Forest, at the southernmost tip of Illinois, there is a road that timber rattlesnakes cross, heading for their winter dens. When I was a kid, rattlers were demonized, so my jackass, testosterone-fueled uncles would join tens of other men in ritual slaughter of the snakes, holding the dead serpents in their hands, shaking the lifeless tube-shaped bodies, slicing off the rattles with Barlow knives (Tom Sawyer and Gene Baldwin had a Barlow) and whooping it up. Was it a test of manhood? It certainly wasn’t hunting.
Times have changed. Now families gather at that same road and marvel at the beauty of this pilgrimage, this rattlesnake ripple. Herpetologists give talks and explain that snakes are important creatures, and the crowd ooh’s and ahh’s.
Which came first: caterpillars and snakes, or roads? Why do they cross the road? Why does a road cross a road? Because it is there. To get to the other side.
Theoretical physics proffers us String Theory. Humans may be forever crossing unseen dimensional roads of the past and future. Jesus could meet Jesus could meet Jesus. I have always liked the image of the lion and the lamb. In dimensional space they and the caterpillar and reptile, the hawk and the mouse, the cat and the spider, the human and the human (ah, irony) . . . commune together.
“How many roads must a man cross . . .”
Bless the commune-ists.