September 20, 2014
Halfway down Clifton Terrace Road, I saw legions of shadows moving east to west. Eighty American white pelicans were a hundred feet in the air, floating counterclockwise in their signature tornado shape, across the greengoldorangeleaf bluffs. And as I neared the river, more tornadoes formed and glided in the air currents.
Earth is the cake, of course. There is the outer layer of iridescent white icing, and the middle layer of licorice, the turkey vultures, and the innermost orange layer, monarch butterflies, all gliding on fixed wings.
The river and the sky ran currents and purple wind. Thin ribbons of clouds, like lines of cocaine, moved as waves, and the birds swam upsky. And on the water itself, perhaps five hundred pelicans were massed on the north shore of Scotch JimmyIsland. They rose up in groups for a dress rehearsal, swimming the sky, forming spoke wheels and merry-go-rounds inches above the water.
Today or tomorrow, the pelicans will lift off and form six to ten tornadoes and float down the river to the Gulf of Mexico, joined at each confluence of rivers by other tornadoes, until the sky will be filled with snow.
A man and his wife were a feet away from me. They were watching and pointing. The man said, “I never saw white hawks before. They are beautiful.” “They’re pelicans,” I told him. “Nah, pelicans live in the ocean.” How can a person live here and not be cognizant of the wildlife?
Midwesterners prefer machinery to Nature. They believe in cars because they built the cars. They drive hunched and grim-looking and look neither left nor right. They speed because they are free—at least, in their cars and houses. Their ancestors “tamed” Nature, so don’t tell them about the return of the wild birds, the wolves, the cougars, and the bison. Great Grandpa shot them, goddamnit.
With one exception: the bald eagle. We love our bald eagles. They are America—at least according to the founding father who declared eagles sacred. Do not mess with the bald eagle.
At the top of Stroke Hill, three sycamore trees were filled with hundreds of blackbirds, a massive chattering, and on some signal they would rise up and form undulating black curtains, like a bluff installation by the conceptual artist Christo.
Tomorrow morning at sunrise, a crowd will gather west of Monks Mound at Woodhenge, the wheel of time, at Cahokia Mounds. At equinox, the sun will rise directly over the lower platform of the “king’s” mound and, for a few moments, will appear a star in a cradle.
Autumn icing, of harvest, of uncaparisoned greengoldorangeleaf, of primordial smell, of richness, of longing and remembrance, of spice, of dread . . . is the soul itself.
The cake was studded with decorations: Bud Light cans, Busch bottles—the preferred brands of moron drunks who throw their garbage with impunity—McDonald’s sacks and wrappers, dirty socks, used lighters and empty cigarette packs, a towel with blood on it, Fritos bags, ten plastic water bottles, and a fine lace tatting of used Kleenex.
I can forgive murder. This sin, of throwing trash on one’s mother, on one’s mother’s breast, should be punishable by life in prison without parole. It is arrogant, selfish, violent, antisocial in a “screw you” sense, and sick; we should escort these monsters into ultimate misery.
To all who missed the pelican ballet, it was transcendent. If you didn’t pick the apples, the pumpkins—for you, not for the grandkid—you missed out on unique kisses of life. You cannot be grim and carve a pumpkin, bob for an apple, drink unfiltered apple cider.
Let your last words not be: “I missed it.”