I was driving back from a party in Elsah last night. All along the river, the trees were fogbound, mist-kissed, and a thousand spring peepers trilled. I parked and walked several miles in the dark. I couldn’t see in front of my face; sense memory led me down the river road trail.
I heard scurrying, scratching claws grabbing the pavement. The thick air dripped and smelled of fish and skunks. Before long I was pleasantly soaked. The searchlight of an eastbound barge cast its rays along the shoreline. The river’s surface was glass.
The fog felt like a close-fitting suit, poking every bare crevice, fog flowing into my ears and up my nostrils, and I exhaled watersmoke. I started up Stroke Hill, but every house had its dogs, and every dog became a sentinel. I walked back to the river, and the din died. From the woods came the lone cry of a whippoorwill.
Honks and squawks emanated from Scotch Jimmy Island, nesting birds, restless geese, warning herons in the treetops.
And then I heard footsteps. I wasn’t the only romantic out for a walk. I flattened my body against a limestone outcrop and watched as a hunched over man in a long coat went by. He had ear buds; I could hear strident music echoing. Who walks in fog and blasts music, when the still music of the night is so seductive?
There was a cracking noise above me and I ducked. A sliver of cliff had separated two hundred feet above and was knifing down, and I couldn’t see it. It crashed and burst across the path.
With a quarter mile to go, the fog now obliterating all sight, I heard rapid, tapping steps. Some four-footed critter was coming toward me. So I became a tree and waited. The coyote sluiced through the thick curtains of the air, stopped and sniffed and grunted. And it went on its way.
Genehouse was wrapped in white, like a present. I sat on the porch step and listened to dogwood buds snore. And I thought of life, how my words are mere hitchhikers, how they would disperse, how I would be forgotten. The first man to stand upright a million and a half years ago is forgotten. His guttural sounds and my words are weak attempts to understand something which defies knowledge.
I was happy to be, contemplatively depressed. Knowledge evolved and became a burden to the one specie which, ironically, discovered knowledge. Last night, there were no existential herons, no coyotes thinking about death, no fog singing a funeral dirge. But I was, and I bet the man in the long coat was.
All along the river, the trees were fogbound, mist-kissed, and a thousand spring peepers trilled.