July 31, 2014
“Oh, the waning days of July, me building glider planes from apple crates and wire—my father was a produce man. Never mind, glider could not glide. Prop that plane on a limestone ledge of the Ohio River and push it off, and crash into the water, the crates coming apart. I remember lying on a sandbar and looking at the sky. And I knew my destiny. I would fly, like a bird.” “Wild Bill” Thompson, Colonel, the Tuskegee Airmen.
This, morning, there was no breeze—the cotton candy smoke from the coal-fired power plant rose straight up—and the Mississippi was riverglass, and lining the Scotch Jimmy Island shore were thirty pelicans and great egrets and snowy egrets and blue herons— sixty if you counted their reflections in the rivermirror. If you regularly read my essays, you know I count reflections.
My yard has been rivergrass for days, since the last violent storm slammed down from the northwest and lifted my pine tree out of the ground. The walnut tree outside my office window had been listing east, to sunlight, and the storm soaked its root ball, and the tree slowly, balletically fell until it rested on the fence. The tree guy says he’s never been so busy, what with drowning trees. He cut the walnut trunk in half, and water poured from the wound.
We live in a temporary swamp, on flowing, dewy grass, over early morning fog. Mosquitoes bite all day long. Copperhead bites are thirty per cent up from last summer. There can be too much water, even as your country dies of thirst. A hiker needing a drink of water could kneel against my hills and suck the earth and slake his thirst.
On Stroke Hill, cicadas revved their wings, slowly gaining strength and volume, like bagpipes inflating and blaring. Soon the shriek of cicadas’ wings will compete with the croaks of the bullfrogs in my pond. I heard a cicada soloist on July fourth, halfheartedly playing its concerto. Now it has joined a chorale. Now comes autumn, if you but blink your eyes.
And blink I do, for my yard is ablaze with sunlight where fourteen days ago there was cool shade. This is good news—if you hate birdsong. No trees means, no birds.
The trunks of my dead trees lie in piles along the ground. Young boys might lash them together for a raft and Tom Sawyer their way downstream. Old men might see bones in an elephant graveyard.
Now comes autumn, if you but blink your eyes.