March 7, 2014

I took my first Genehouse walk of March yesterday. The sun gleamed off the motoring ice floes, the river’s belly swollen, the last of the eagle visitors working the turbulent water. A shadow passed over my head on the River Road trail: a westward heading bald eagle riding the wind. A rock slide, its powdered limestone remnants splayed across the path, revealed fossil slabs of crinoids (stone age people wore necklaces of crinoid beads) and sea worms and stone seashells, a reminder of the ocean that once flowed in this place, three hundred million years ago.

The climb up Stroke Hill on Stanka Lane was accompanied by so much birdsong: robins, redheaded woodpeckers, catbirds, redwing blackbirds, bluebirds, cardinals and goldfinches. I reached the top, the farm of last summer’s fairy ring to my left, its pond melting, inviting, so much so I fantasized about taking an icy plunge. And then I heard it. A bass trill, low and grinding, like trucks with anti-lock brakes on steep hills. Silence. Repeat. It was the first, lonely bullfrog. There was a crash in the woods on the east side of the road and I quickly turned in time to see a sleek and fat groundhog, its fur luxuriant, replete with sun highlights.

The wider world reflects the scene in my yard. The thawed ground snakes with squirrels chasing one another, tails slashing (except for my squirrel which lost its tail in a fight this winter). It reminded me of chasing girls in the third grade, trying to steal kisses. Crow and his mate, their beaks stuffed with grasses and dead leaves, are building a nest in the pine tree in the front yard. Cedar waxwings perch next to the construction site and protest loudly. They quickly lift skyward when Crow calls their bluff. Mrs. Catbird is building her nest on top of the front porch aluminum roof support. Her ironic counterpoint, Scout the Cat sits in the living room window, her teeth grinding with anticipation.

In spring it is hard to accept we have entered the new geological epoch of extinction, the Epocene, in which humans not comets kill Nature. The walk down Clifton Terrace to the river confirms our human indifference: discarded plastic liquor bottles, beer cans, crushed cigarette packs, McDonald’s sacks and hamburger wrappers, pop bottles, used tissues, used-up lighters.

In spring it is hard to contemplate the arrival of the first bullfrog, knowing the last bullfrog likely will expire on our grandchildren’s adult watch. At least we won’t be here, to have to explain the savagery and mess we left behind, to point to historical photographs of aliens called “birds,” when all that the children of the Future have to gaze upon are ants and cockroaches and spiders and chipmunks—all successful dinosaurs, all abiding in the harshest of conditions—and this will be the new “Nature.”

“Lighten up, Gene.” Oh, I am light as a feather. In the winter of my life, my heart palpitates at spring, at the glory and fecundity of colored and song-filled biomass. So much mating going on, among birds and mammals, so many blue and brown speckled eggs being laid, so many great blue herons and snowy egrets arriving, so many pups and kits and childsnakes and honey sippers and squawking babes.

I am pure joy.


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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