I passed a final exam today, the first of many—I hope. On this, Day 75 since knee surgery, I walked four miles and climbed the formidable Mount Butt Breaker. This is the longest (but not the steepest) bluff hill from Alton to Elsah. I had to stop six times and stretch, each stretch lasting forty seconds, hands on toes, backbends, squats (the dirtiest sounding word in English), foot arch rolls.
I petted a dog who eagerly licked my surgery scar, stopped to watch the golden eagle which lives on Scotch Jimmy Island soar over my head, counted twenty northern pelicans on a sandbar, oohed and ah’d at tens of irises, and I murdered six hundred buffalo gnats attempting to suck my blood.
I also stopped and watched a storm of hummingbirds swarming Hummingbird Man’s house. For you new readers, I met Hummingbird Man five years ago, a lean, muscled, always shirtless fortyish man with a ponytail extending to his butt. He was standing in his front yard and talking to about eight hummingbirds perched on his bare shoulders.
I wrote a Telegraph piece about him, dubbing him Hummingbird Man, and one day he came outside and said, “Gene, I don’t want y’all to think I have a big head or nothing… but the wife read an article in the paper and said, hey Vance that is you. Gene, am I Hummingbird Man?” Yes, I told him, I hoped it was okay. “Okay? Absolutely, man. The wife calls me Hummingbird Man. I like it.”
The next time I saw Vance, he had two baby squirrels on those bare shoulders, nibbling at his earlobes. He was raising them because their mother died when their tree nest collapsed to the ground. I held one of the baby squirrels in my arms and bottle fed it.
Vance is one with the wild things. And he is quirky. He believes that hummingbirds, in the fall, climb under the wings of geese and the geese transport them to Mexico. Who am I to say that is not true? He rides a kid’s bike on the back wheel on the asphalt road and performs whirly tricks. During last year’s catastrophic flood, I came upon Vance sitting in a lawn chair, the flooded road up to his belly. “Hell, Gene,” Hummingbird Man said. “I am a river rat.”
But no Vance today. I hiked on up the bluff road, passing three other houses, the residents of which I had written about, a retired doctor who spent his days picking trash off the road and owned an Alaskan totem pole; Bob, a retired teacher who volunteered at Arizona Indian reservations every summer and now he’s dead from cancer; and Layton’s daughter’s house, Layton, a Korean War veteran who waited fifty years to tell his daughter he had been awarded a Bronze star, now dead, and me writing four pieces about his remarkable life.
On the last leg of the walk, I was on the shoulder of Route 3, and there on my neighbor’s fence, on the side of the house I can’t see, was a huge Trump banner. Bummer.
I limped into Genehouse and was greeted by Scout the cat, who anxiously meowed at me and tried to get me to follow her. She is a hunter, but not a killer. She often leads me to ants on the floor, spiders, one mouse, and snakes. We walked into the bathroom, and there was a panicked bumblebee trapped against the window above the shower. I got a cup and a hummus container lid, and I trapped the bee in the cup and slid the lid over the mouth of the cup, and Scout and I walked to the front door, and she watched me remove the lid and free the bee.
“We just saved a life,” I said to the furball at my feet. “You deserve a treat.” Scout the cat ran into the office and pawed at the second desk drawer on the right, the fishy foul-smelling treat drawer. She is nothing if not agreeable.
And somewhere in our yard, a bumblebee who made a wrong turn but was rescued by a kitty, worked a clover patch, and loaded up with nectar.