Stained Grass

November 16, 2014

Farmer Orville and the Quilt Queen and I sat in their huge kitchen, eating strawberry shortcake (the biscuit-like cake was homemade) and drinking Earl Grey tea and watching the snow fall. I had just walked six miles and was sweating profusely. Orville allowed as how he walked out to the barn and back and was tired.

Mostly we swore and threatened and gnashed our teeth, as our rural landscape was about to change. A farmer sold his soybean field east of the Melville Diary and a bulldozer was parked on the land and ready to dig the foundation on Monday for a Dollar General Store. The café patrons were twenty-five against, one for, this morning.

God knows nature abhors empty land. And a Dollar General, why that will bring good paying jobs, said the one pro-store patron in the café. Alton has at least three dollar stores, one only three miles away at the corner of State and Delmar. But hey—Capitalism.

Years ago, one of Alton’s richest businessmen built an abomination of a tourist attraction right on top of an archaic-era Indian burial ground, and the state looked the other way, and the Feds ignored it, and the Indians came and protested, but hey—Capitalism.

We live on a round ball and are held to it by gravity. Actually, we live on a patch of earth on the round ball, and the rest is water. The patch is filling up so fast you would think more patches were being created. Nope. So we’re cutting off mountaintops and building suburbs and filling up all the empty spaces, never mind that our grandchildren will have no such option. Coming soon: Grand Canyon Estates. “What’s good for General Bullmoose is good for the USA.”

I had walked east on Route 3 to La Vista Park and down its trail to the river. The fields of the park were filled with a thousand or more robins plucking worms from the still unfrozen ground. The early snow was dainty, droplets of tatted lace settling on the fallen leaves and the sea green of the ivy and holly like a retaining wall of the trailsides, and the deep browns of the naked trees and the reds of burning bush and the olive green of the snowstained grass. Deep in the woods, the silence was broken only by kinglets and jays and tufted titmice.

The river was shrouded in fog and snowlace. I heard a westbound barge chugging up the south side of Scotch Jimmy Island, but I could not see it. The water was grey and the far woods were darker grey and the sky was slate grey. I met not a soul.

The snow was heavier as I turned onto Stanka Lane and began the climb up Stroke Hill. The road was slushy, and I had to walk slowly as my boots slipped on the asphalt slick. My chest and stomach were clotted with snow and my sunglasses were laden with water droplets, and sweat droplets ran down my body, soaking my jeans from the inside.

Three boys and their black Labrador pup walked out of a driveway, and the pup climbed my torso and drank my glasses, pasting tongue slime thick enough that I could barely see. We parted company, the boys going down and me scaling Mt. Buttbreaker.

The stained woods sucked up snowlace and powdered their noses, and the nowind was like a recording studio, quiet and soundproofed and waiting for “Hey Jude,” and I began that hymn in my head and was carried along and pumping my arms, conducting the orchestra.

Two hours later, I was in the Quilt Queen’s kitchen, soaking wet and belly hot from tea. We all allowed as how we had work to do, and we did none. The couple thanked me for writing about Orville in the Alton Telegraph.

I walked home and shed my soaked clothes and showered and dressed and watched Scout the cat, her tail folded around her rump and her legs tucked under her body, on the top of the loveseat, and she watched the snow, watched the snowbirds, her opal-colored eyes slitted against the skylight and the falling lace.

Tonight, the river rats will blow up the bulldozer—to no avail. Joanie Mitchell warned us years ago what would happen.

“I just hope,” said one local trucker, “that they don’t build them a housing project for the ‘brothers and sisters’ behind that there Dollar General.”

Oh yes, black people moving out to the country: now, that’s scary.

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