On the Genehouse walk, I saw thirteen great egrets and some blue herons, all fishing along the north bank of Scotch Jimmy Island. One egret was perched in a tree above their heads. They rocked their necks up and down, bobbing for fish. The treed egret swayed and balanced like it was tipsy.
The Mississippi River was glasslike, still enough that a small sailboat was being rowed to shore. Boaters were getting in their last cruises for the season, motorboats and pontoon boats and cigarette boats all making their way around the barges. For once, Alton Lake looked like a lake.
A long ribbon of American white pelicans undulated up and down, their bodies nearly touching the water as they flew west. The sky was filled with chattering cliff swallows, and mergansers, and Canada geese performed test flights.
The air was as clean and refreshing as drinking water, and I sipped it and spit it back out in counts of three, meditating as I walked along and hearing “Ode to Joy” performed by a jazz quartet, in my head. The greenery was slowly fading to orange and red, and in the forest it rained leaves and nuts and twigs. Stroke Hill was littered with green Osage oranges, some split open to seed, some squashed by car tires, and others rolling downhill. The old folks say that an Osage orange in your basement repels spiders.
Over the last month, my soon to be ex-landlord had cut down one hundred, eighty-six trees around my once forested house, leaving dirt scabs. Why did you do it, I asked her. “None of your fucking business,” she sneered. She had all the trees burned, the tree cutters pouring gasoline on the piles and setting my back yard ablaze. For me, it was a message from the universe: Get out.
No amount of walking can erase memories like that. No amount of mourning will do, and there can be no explanations to the mourning doves and jays and black-capped sparrows and goldfinches. They lost their homes; they moved on. And finch-like, I am moving on.
I stopped by Farmer Orville and his wife Quilt Queen’s house this afternoon, always a sure cure for the blues. We drank coffee on the porch and talked and petted Reba the dog, who was licking my bare leg after eating four field mice whole. A mutual friend of ours is in Las Vegas.
“We went to Vegas once,” Quilt Queen said. “Remember, Orville? We had one of those mirrored ceiling rooms and that circular bed?” “Oh yeah,” Orville said. “I could see parts of me I never wanted to see.” “And then we went to a magic show,” his wife said, “there was an airplane on the stage, and these dancing women walked to the front of the plane, and it vanished.” “Boobies,” Orville said. His wife laughed. “Those women were topless. We couldn’t take our eyes off them.”
I know the feeling. I can’t take my eyes off the tree scabs. It feels to me like a murder has taken place. My three hundred pound landlady, who looks like a very large toad, surveys the raped land and nods. Dr. Yung could tell her why she did it. Her deceased father planted all those trees; lots of boys had their way with her in high school—some of them sit at the café today and boast about using her. She is estranged from her brother. They nearly came to blows in front of me. And now she has her hillbilly revenge.
And now I count the days and hours. Even Scout the Cat is depressed; she misses Crow and the Carolina wrens.
And I listen to the songless silence of my yard.