Thursday, July 30, 2009

it's hot and humid here, but that doesn't bother me, since hot and humid define late july, and in fact when it's cool and comfortable it makes me feel as if the world is coming undone, much as people feel in seattle where it's 103, or arizona where it's 116, and everyone's wondering if nature is just trying to push them to their limit. here, hot and humid are quite normal, along with juicy fresh homegrown tomatoes, and cobden peaches, sweet, orange, sticky and messy, and everywhere.

there's one more sunset concert, and that would be tomorrow night, and im proud to say, i've seen them all this year, and will very likely see this last one. It's what we've got around here, sunset concerts, fresh peaches, and homegrown tomatoes, and air that feels like a sauna for you to swim home in, or shut yourself off to it by cranking the aircon even as you only drive a half a mile or so to wherever you need to be. on days off I've taken to not wanting to go anywhere, just because it's such a wretched experience adjusting and readjusting to the cranked aircon everywhere- here it's 60, there it's 70, here it's 60 again, and in between it's 99/99, swimmingly saunish. i exaggerate, of course, but the season tends to promote this; one gets used to extremes; a person becomes an extreme kind of character in this small-town environment. people tolerate extremes because there's nothing better to do; who wants to fight in this kind of weather? at the same time they same to have a kind of conspiracy; none of them are working as hard as they might, it seems. it's self protection, survival. i need to take note of it and do like them. i plan on sticking around also.

I'm going to write obama a letter, because i have an idea; he needs to be pushed into putting his presidential library in southern illinois. the main reason for this is that southern illinois needs it far more than chicago does, or hawaii; i would certainly understand if he were to pick one of those places, but we need it more. I'll present my reasons to him, and then hope that, in a moment of transcendence, he'll notice that they'll just fight for eternity up there in chicago, whereas down here he could have a whole river bluff for a song, and really make a difference for an entire region. and beyond that, maybe I could get a new career out of it. maybe I'm grasping at straws, and it's a long shot. but it's the kind of long shot I'd really enjoy if I had a chance to try it.

i have access problems; I'm not online as much as i'd like, due to broken laptop, and this one keeps making everything capitals against my will. nevertheless, it's the writing that's important; on I charge; I can always remove caps later, when I have a few minutes, between classes at work. at work I swim religiously; I check my twitter and facebook briefly; i pull bizarre sources down off the grid faithfully, in hopes of using them at some point. lack of time leaves me breathless and frantic. at one point I grab this big fresh tomato, and take a bite out of it; it explodes and splatters all over my pants in bright red tomato with little white seeds. by late afternoon though it has evaporated; it's only a memory; not even a tint of red anywhere to be seen. makes you wonder, if the sum total of all these tomatoes, these fresh juicy peaches, which I eat directly over the sink, water dripping and sticky juice all over my chin- is it all just water down the drain, so to speak? a son comes home tomorrow from kansas; maybe he'll appreciate the humidity, the greenness, the abundant richness, the back end of mowing season, before the rains stop altogether. it's actually quite reasonable- not quite 99, really; it's been an extended cool spell. but the summer flies. people do their things; they travel a lot, for one. they find themselves in new places. In some cases, they have time to reflect, maybe find a new course. not me; it's all t can do to keep facing my students, and show them where they've gone astray. they've gone astray, if they thought it didn't matter, if their words were like so much tomato splattered around, gone tomorrow, never even noticed. yes, it's true, it's a wet kind of season, and everyone's in a hurry. some people may not care, may not even read it. but I read it, every time; that's how I know it's copied. a guy figures out how to make word finds and put them on a blog. You can read the words going backward, downward, diagonal, whatever; you can put whatever words you want in there, and the computer will take care of it. i however was never convinced that a word find was of much value besides idle pleasure, mostly to people who were hanging around thrift sales and auctions, or manning a booth somewhere. they would be good, though, if you wanted to hide something, for that very reason. they look like idle entertainment. what better place to hide? it would be like hiding a real code within a sudoku. nobody would ever notice, except the people who actually take the time to read. and that's a distinct minority.

at the sunset concert, the bands' singers note disconcertingly that nobody actually listens to their words; after they start, people get caught up in whatever, talking to friends, small-town social life, and they could sing almost anything, and nobody would notice. In this case, I sometimes hear the words; but, in general, i almost never hear words to songs anyway. when it comes to music versus words, to me it's no contest. here i sit, cranking them out, making something for whoever to read, and at the same time, i think, if i could be standing there playing, i'd rather. one thing about music is, you never mistakenly believe that it's all blather. you never have someone tracking you down, pinning you into admitting you spoke too quickly, or said something you knew nothing about. if you're out of tune, you just quit, blame it on the weather, move on; try it again another time. but believe me, they heard it. and it never, never goes backward, downward, or diagonal...

Monday, July 27, 2009

My first full esl class was at Iowa, in graduate school, when I was given small diverse classes of international students, and told to teach grammar, or listening-speaking, or maybe something else; I can't remember exactly. I was taken with what seemed like an infinite opportunity- both to know interesting and diverse people, and to explore the art or skill of language learning in all its complexity. How was one to do it, best? How could I help people sort out the complexities of my own native language?

In high school I had always been attracted to the language classroom; although in junior high I had one poor teacher who couldn't control her class, in high school I had Mrs. Leal, a Cuban Spanish teacher, unflappable, steady in her efforts; the best thing about her was the lilt to her voice. In fact, as I was to find out, you can't learn enough Spanish in two or three years of high school to really get you far in a place like Mexico, but at that time, all I knew was, it was my favorite class. In college I don't remember studying languages in Boston, but when I first got to Iowa I took German for a couple of semesters, and then a little Chinese; finally, I took two years of Russian, and even a semester of French. In graduate school I finally had an elective, and should have taken History of English, as I recall, but took Sanskrit instead, based on advice I'd received, and the feeling that a true education would include some knowledge of Sanskrit and that whole field of study. Studying a language was getting a window into the soul of a culture, and I soaked it up, in every case, except that of German; German seemed cold to me, and when I had a somewhat strict teacher, I got a bad association, or more accurately, chills up my spine, though they could have been triggered by old war movies that associated the accent with everything bad. The best of the teachers that I experienced was actually the French teacher, who was animated and lively, and always used our time well. I carefully studied their methods and remembered how deadly dull a language classroom can be when things don't go well.

Back to Iowa, and a classroom in which I was given rein, here I was facing a diverse crowd: an old Iraqi woman, who pestered me endlessly because I couldn't explain grammar well; two Thai students, one a young man and the other a young woman; both were exceedingly friendly, but one got an A and the other an F, and never broke their stride, or changed a bit from their intense and generous friendliness. Finally, there was an Iranian woman, perhaps the only Iranian I've ever taught, who put her vowels either way above her line, or way below it, when she wrote, and couldn't explain this habit except to say that they did it that way in Farsi. They may in fact do that in Farsi, I'm sure they do, yet I've never seen handwriting like that in all my years since, and I've wondered about that, also, and whether that was unique to her, or a problem more frequently encountered anywhere.

I also noticed at Iowa the phenomenon of two students from countries at war, being close friends, or at least not letting their countries' political problems interfere with their learning. I can't remember if it was an Israeli and Palestinian, Greek and Turk, or who, but I have seen that many times since, and have been grateful. The classroom is a unique opportunity, as I've said, to study how adults, with time, ability and desire, who apply themselves regularly with all they have, try to learn a language and become fluent in it. They usually succeed, and it's often harder than they'd anticipated; it's often a frustrating tangent on their road. They often arrive in the class not happy to be there, not happy to be taking any more time learning the language than they already have taken. Yet, it can often be demonstrated to them that they haven't gotten their fluency yet- and they can't dispute that. They are wondering- how does one do it? What is the secret?

A teacher, a dispenser of secrets, might be able to tell them more, but I could only draw upon my own experiences, and in spite of having seen and heard a nice wide variety, I hadn't become really, truly fluent in anything. My Spanish was limited to traveling Spanish, though I did pretty well by the time I'd left Mexico. I'd pulled together what I'd learned in high school and what I'd picked up on the road, and had a reasonable functionality in it. But I couldn't write a paper, or talk about a classroom situation; there were many areas in which I couldn't even describe the things that filled my room. Russian was the same way. Even after two years- four semesters- I was still quite limited, as I found out when I was talking to a real Russian guy, who came over to the US for some reason, but who became my friend, sometime in my senior year at Cornell, when I was about to graduate as a Russian major.

So I noticed the first law of the language classroom: there is always way more to do than a single person can do in a single hour; to play, or to pretend that one has accomplished the appropriate degree of fluency in a given time, is almost impossible. Students have way more work to do than they can reasonably expect to achieve; it's a miracle they ever make it at all. To get to the step beyond us is harder still, given the intolerance of ambiguity or opaqueness in the academic world, coupled with the rigid rejection of all plagiarism. What are they to do? I'm not sure, but I've planted myself in that in-between threshold, between halting language and fluency, for over twenty years now, and it hasn't really become boring, even now. I have not kept in touch with any of those students from the Iowa days; and, in fact, have lost touch with most of the thousands I've had over the years. But there's no question I've had influence, just as Mrs. Leal did. You hear a language, you get drawn into that world; you want to use it for everything it can be used for, in that exotic and different culture. And it pushes you to the edge of human experience, in its own kind of way, over and over again.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

It’s always when you roll over for one more little piece of sleep that the deepest, darkest, sharpest dreams hit you, and why exactly those dreams choose that time, when a little sliver of sun slips through the blinds and lands on you, I have no idea. After all, you’re half awake; you woke up once already; you know it’s almost over. So what’s the big idea, going so deep, way into the jungle, the deepest recesses of your mind and your fears?

On this particular morning I was dreaming about losing something- at first it was one of my children, but then, it seemed like I’d lost my entire identity; my wallet for sure, maybe my car, my clothes, any clue of who I was or where I was from. I was in a crowded city, and people were impassive as I begged them over and over to help me find what I was looking for. But, I kept forgetting even that- what was I looking for? My words fell on deaf ears. Cars sped up on the street and made it impossible for me to cross; young beggars came around me with wide-eyed stares offering to shine my shoes for a few pennies. But I’d lost my shoes, and my pennies; also, though the street sign seemed to flash regularly on the “walk” sign, the cars would only ease up on the “don’t walk,” and nobody else seemed to want to brave the crosswalk at all.

Now at this point I should warn my readers: this is about my deepest fears, those which have been with me for years, that stuck in my mind, and they may do that to you, also, at least if you are the slightest bit like me. I am not as much afraid of the usual stuff- being beaten up in an alley, having my credit cards stolen, having a piano dropped on my head from fifteen stories up. As a teenager, I stood at the railing right at the top of Niagara Falls, watched thousands of gallons of water roaring over the cliff edge to the huge jagged rocks below, and imagined jumping the twenty yards or so to join it in a spectacular death- but, I don’t dream about that; in fact, I’m ok with that, it rests somewhere in my subconscious, along with the gratitude that I never did it, of course. Life has been good to me, and now, Saturday morning, able to sleep in, a sleeping family all around me, even the puppies and the cat, I have no reason to be dredging up these horrible memories in my sleep.

But, to start with the lost identity, there it is; you read it on the news, the guy who falls from the back of a pickup truck or something, and forgets absolutely and completely who he is, where he came from, what he’d done, where he lived or anything. Some helpful soul takes him to the nearest city, which is usually in Texas, but, he has no papers, no id, no nothing that gives anyone a clue. And he’s not angry, or happy, or anything that you can tell from the story, just lost. So I glean what I can from the story and imagine…there he is at a street corner, watching the traffic go by, and thinking, what am I doing here? I have thought the same thing myself, in New York, in London, in Seoul. In fact I was cleaning an old picture of Seoul just last night, maybe that’s where this memory came up. On a street corner in Seoul, where of course I even have trouble with “walk” and “don’t walk,” let alone any warning someone might say quickly under their breath, and in fact, I should point out, in real life there were no beggars; perhaps I picked up that memory somewhere else, but my dream has no problem altering that. On the “walk” sign two young boys dash out into the street, and of course the cars closest to us have stopped. But, alas, it’s an eight-lane road and, further out into it, the boys aren’t so lucky; I hardly even see it, but the feeling of sudden, enormous tragedy is all over the air and everyone freezes up imagining the horror that has descended on the lives of all involved. I, of course, being a total stranger, foreigner in a foreign land, can go on living my life, if only I could forget.

Closer to home, a small town provides lots of wildlife sounds, birds chirping out the window as the sun comes up, the sounds of animals in the house who know it’s daybreak and are ready to get on with it. I lived in a town once that was one tenth the size of this, if you can imagine, a hill of a town for those who know me well, and there, two boys, one of them the son of a teacher of mine, waited for a long train, a very long train, had to be ten times as long to young boys as it would have been to me. When it was done they ran across. But another train was coming the other way; they couldn’t have seen. I didn’t see this, fortunately; I can’t get it out of my mind, anyway. Obviously, it’s something I carry not too deeply in me, as my children occasionally make wayward dashes toward the street and it’s up to me to play defense.

Niagara Falls was gray, gloomy, with polluted air and a mist all over it, all of the time, but especially in the winter, when it would freeze and make an icy glaze all over. These small towns on the other hand, often have fresh air, clear blue sky, and summers are hot, so that early mornings are about the best time. Evenings are pleasant but I’m often exhausted from long and busy days. You often see the same landmarks over and over. Life has been good to me; I have no problem waking up, when it comes down to it. But if tragedy were to befall, I would certainly move to the city, someplace where it would be easier to forget the past.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

there's a steady rain here, that started earlier today; it was a drizzle, but has gotten stronger and steadier. it's also a cool spell, unusually cool for july, when you can actually go outside, stand out there without feeling the heat pressing against you and making you squirm looking for an aircon button to crank. it's cool enough to actually open up the windows at night, and let the cool air find the bottoms of the floor beneath the bed while we tuck up under blankets. It feels like fall, or maybe august in minnesota, but it's a trick; the trees might be fooled and change their color, but we know we're probably in for a few more months of heat. the dogs have been barking; maybe they want out now while they still have a chance, or maybe they're barking because they want to hear their own voice; they're comfortable in their new home, they know we'll jump, they're jerking our chain. we built a small dog fence out back, but didn't quite finish it when my mom arrived from new mexico; every time we'd have two people on it, doing something useful, the young boys would yell out or demand attention in some way. everyone's a bit spoiled around here; if it was the olden days, the dogs would have even helped make the fence- that or wait around for the dog days, and take a long nap.

we got squash out of the garden this year, squash, cherry tomatoes and basil; this is a big improvement over the last few years, in which we got nothing. we're still not so good at it, but we found that if you put the garden right up against your door and window, it makes the deer a little hesitant, at least in the crucial months. at work the secretary brought in huge home-grown tomatoes, but said no zucchini this year, since they learned how to cook them with onions; at her home, they're eating all the zucchini before there's any extra. I have to find these onions, i guess- maybe it's those green kinds that you can pick right out of the yard, and which give your mouth a taste for quite a while after you eat them. i've never had them cooked, much less with yellow squash.

mom had a good visit; she saw so much green, she could hardly stand it. i guess in new mexico if you even see a green license plate, that's your quota for a year, but here, there are trees and grass lawns all over the place, people like us have them even if we don't water, which we don't. it's a green place with green things shooting up and greening all over the place, and though she also saw an enormous amount of upturned tree-stumps, most of which have just become part of the background for us by now, what really impressed her was the rain forest, a massive wet jungle moving in on us from all directions at all times. and it's not even mowing season; it's let up a little, though this rain tonight will surely get the ball rolling a little. all weekend, at the castle park, at the local park, at the state park, you could stand outside; you could feel a breeze; you could experience summer as it's supposed to be. if global warming could only manage to keep it this way, i'd have no complaint.

in international news, a friend turned 45 in tucson; two are moving to doha qatar; two more to the uae; one coming out of the hospital; a daughter got published; various people are traveling who knows where. i know this from facebook, but i keep forgetting to check google, or keep up in any way with international news. with my four classes, twenty hours, more when i'm well and home; rowdy boys & work on house, etc., i just forget. I go days without checking my e-mail; I forget many of the irons i have in the fire.

so, maybe i should write them down. here goes a list; in the spirit of my wife, who says: tell everyone; that will create the obligation. publicize the band; it's getting bigger, and changing. do something useful with the parsley sagebrush site. make posters and pop art. get the castle park calendar organized and approach the owner of the park; maybe they'll agree to a promotion or at least a nice product. put pile of leaves, the newest collection of stories, on kindle. put the walmart stories on there too. remind my readers that faithful fans can keep reading most of this stuff at the writing blog even though that blog may become a little more hidden, accessible mostly from here, while a general advertisement goes up for any of the work i manage to market successfully. these two sets are a good place to start; what i need, first, is a site which will show all of what i have currently, and which will hopefully collect traffic & look beautiful.

finally, i have an idea for the autobiography, the one that's linked below, on the template, you can find it if you look. just passing through, it's called; right now, every other one is a traveling story; the others are autobiographical, organized by place. it's been dormant for a while, as has been my poetry blog, and even the pop art, but, here goes: i'm thinking of writing about teaching as a personal thing. what about it caught my fancy, way back in graduate school; why i stick with it, even now, as i'm over twenty hours; as i'm drained, as i get a little desperate to show all of myself, teach as much as i can, milk it for what it's worth. i'm teaching a lot of toefl these days; got cornered a time or two; had to explain why we do what we do. it's like explaining why we drive the way we do. you wanted a reason? i get down into the center of my mind, watch it, and show my students what's happening. wish i could do the same with a car engine. but it's not necessary, as long as i can walk to work.

the poetry, the poetry, well there is some, this from the d.r., believe it or not i still write it, mostly when i'm traveling, or stuck in some line at the pharmacy or the dentist. makes 'em jump, when i write haiku, because they assume i'm taking notes about how long the wait is; but, in fact, if i get haiku in my brain as i'm getting my teeth drilled, it all comes out better,

as for the pop art, i'm coming to the realization that my photo-hosting site really does not want me linking from there...this calls for another plan. a slight reorganization. a self-analysis. i'm gonna give myself a good talking-to, as dylan would say. but, after i go to bed. it's too late, and i'm too tired. chou.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

i've gone mute on facebook; have almost 300 friends, and nothing to say to them...fortunately i still have this blog, with its lonely 4 or 5 visitors a day, a little backwater of the internet that has nevertheless been containing my thoughts & ideas for years. tonight i'm thinking about a colleague, in the hospital for a tumor, but what can i do? besides pray, and, maybe, worry. or, there's twitter. lots of stuff there, more than i can handle, so i sit here, too tired, or maybe too drained, to actually interact...the papers aren't so bad, at the moment; it's more the swimming, the bike-riding, and the fence-making (for the puppies), all in the same day, dishes, kids, cleanup, etc. and then oh yes the grading. been messing a little with my pop art (if only to organize), but would really like to take a few more pictures; some things, around town, are dying to have pictures shot of them. but, i don't grab the camera; in some ways, i'm stuck.

a lightning storm came through the other night; gave us two kinds of lightning, heat lightning, and the usual kind, which crashes down out of the sky and scares the kids & the puppies. the international students are a bit fazed too, kind of like i was when i first got to iowa: it's not that they have weather like this, it's more that they have this stuff, and then life goes on as usual. in iowa i saw lightning and snow at the same time once, and life went on as usual. in yonkers there was an ice storm the other day, and that kind of rattled my sister, but here, floods, lightning, and even a derecho (inland hurricane), and i still have no doubt that the fall will come eventually, and so will another winter.

the roof of faner hall stinks these days, and gas/oil/tar/polywhatever smell runs through the hall; then it rains, and we can see that they didn't really fix the problem. if they did, the rain would have somewhere to go. my physical exhaustion helps me take everything in stride better; i teach; i swim; i ride my bike. now, late at night, i have a hard time getting back to my papers. the assault on my building reminds me: we love that place, ugly as it is; i have embraced the gray splotched concrete squareness; i take it in as my own, in my own kind of way. i work deep in its interior these days, no windows, just computers; the concrete walls are my only reminder of the solid matter that makes up earth.

fireworks coming down from within a very cloudy sky. a high-strung puppy, barking. a dove, on the backstop wire, way above the catcher, watching the game. a baby, reminding me to watch things as god meant you to, eyes wide open. a bicycle, that runs with great effort, on very hot streets. a fan, that turns off occasionally, of its own accord. these are the signs of mid-july, dog days come early, dog days got a jump on us. i'll be back though. a new school year starts in august, when they paint those dawg paws out on the hot streets, to welcome the new students, i'll have my camera angling, and then, maybe, i'll have a status. chao...

Monday, July 13, 2009

more from the derecho...

thanks to JunBum Kim for the photos!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

the road from carbondale to peoria goes up through farm country, over toward east saint louis, and up through more farm country into springfield; then it really goes through farm country, and it's illinois all the way. springfield has lincoln signs and the state capitol; there's corn on both sides of the road but this year, on the fourth of july weekend, the corn was all sizes. some was barely knee high, while some was higher than me. this reflects how wet the spring was and how hard it was for some people to plant.

we had the chance to go up to peoria for the fourth, and of course this was a good time to get away from the heat a little, and reflect on the u.s.a., and all these beautiful old barns, and wildflowers growing, beyond the shoulders of the interstate. actually it rained and was cool on the fourth itself, and we were actually in peoria when this happened, so we got the best of all kinds of things: cool weather, first of all, but also, a minor-league baseball game, and great fireworks by the illinois river. the game was a sea of cub jerseys and cubbie-blue combined with red; the visitors, though, who were in gray, won the game. it didn't matter much. it was a good time to be outside, watch people, and reflect on everything.

back home things had gotten hot again, and it was hard even going to sunset concerts, bringing one or two children who got bored easily; finally at one point i brought them home and left them there with their mom, and went back myself. some of these concerts are on the college campus, so i don't really feel the joy of letting go entirely; this particular one featured a band from l.a., called the nk band, which played kind of difficult rhythms which people danced hard to anyway. at one point i leaned against the delyte morris statue and just watched people; there were quite a few that i knew, including one old friend who regaled me with stories of hard times. it was home; there was the usual crowd, and a pretty good band, but, of course, not that sense of perfect harmony or anything.

i take my patriotism pretty seriously; it's a weekend i might have had to work, but didn't; i love the country, i represent it every day in front of visitors, and today, for example, i had to explain why we never use much in positive sentences anymore, such as, i have much money, or some such sentence. maybe it's because, if you live here, you never have much of these things. but, getting away, i got to really study the wildflowers, the rolling hills, the green corn of all sizes, the lowland creeks and rivers passing under the road. back home, we'd stopped for turtle rescue at our home creek, several times, many times; saved turtles that were trying to cross a busy road for whatever reason, and put them back in the creek. found out later that what they were after was mulberries; that explains why this happened through the month of june, but pretty much stopped now. it was someone i know, who has the mulberry tree; my two favorite trees were both reduced drastically by the storm. we'd stop the car, get out, pick up these turtles, which would get in their shells; we'd save them, and off we'd go. it was like a moment spent with a prehistoric creature, left over from the dinosaurs, who still thought he could lumber across sunset boulevard (sunset avenue) at any time of day...what was he thinking?

back at the sunset concert, the nk band played a song dedicated to its home town of los angeles. i liked this; my one and only song is also dedicated, and about, my home town. this song, as usual difficult in its rhythms and melody, was nonetheless danceable, so i did, and got right up there with the usual crowd of people, some of whom i recognized. i could hear los angeles in the music, even though i was virtually right in my own backyard, the shryock steps.

up past carlinville, the road passes a town called benld, and mount olive, where they advertise some kind of mother jones monument, and they've renamed this the paul simon highway, which is kind of nice, especially with the bow tie on the green state road sign. a place sells antique cars of all varieties by the side of the road; these are all colors and kinds, and appear to be in good condition. in peoria a neighbor comes over to the house where we are, and tells stories, fo bobcats, cougar, coyote, rabbits, fox, wolves; bobcats, especially, are in kickapoo bottoms, they say, referring to a lowland near a river nearby. i finally decide to write some haiku which i'll share as soon as i record it. that, the baseball game, and wildflowers, was enough. i felt rested, ready to come home.

back home, before we'd left, we were out on tower road, a place where the fancier suburbs rub right up against totally wild country, an open field that stretches out to the open lands. another turtle crossing the road; we send the seventeen-year-old out to rescue it, stopping the van with its flashers right out on the road. now in a small town like this, people stop on these roads all the time, to talk on their phones, to do all kinds of stuff. but what happens here is that this turtle turns out to be a huge snapper; somehow we hadn't seen this; it lashes out at the boy with huge and sharp claws and he has to drop it suddenly and run back to the van, somewhat traumatized. i rummage through the van and can find only a large dog-crate which i get behind, and push this enormous fellow back toward the edge of the road where there is a kind of curb which he refuses to jump over. finally he just climbs into the crate. i pick it up and deposit him in the ditch, but a carpet from the crate goes out too, and i look at them, turtle and carpet, thinking maybe i can salvage the carpet. the early july sun beats down on us all. there's no way i can get that carpet. he stares back at me with his beady prehistoric eyes; he has turtle adrenaline going. but he's still alive. we can get the carpet later, and we do. it appears, to passing cars, as if we are abandoning pets at the side of the road; far from it though. who cares what they think. you don't see so many enormous snappers these days.

back on the road, on the way home, we're playing the alphabet game, but also i'm reading license plates, an old travel activity. i've long ago seen the usual nearby ones, ky, tn, tx, ks, co, al, ms, mo, ia, mn, wi, in, oh, pa, mi, ga, fl, a maine-truck and an ontario-truck. finally i see some harder-to-get ones; az, md, va, sd, ok, ca, la, ma, ne. the cornfields are flying by; a deer, off in the valley beyond; i remember the dove, on the wire screen at the ballgame, perhaps enjoying the sold-out fourth kind of crowd, little kids with faces painted in cubby blue and red. central illinois seemed to have its racial divisions, with all the spectators white, all the vendors black, and some people giving us looks for carrying around a young black guy; this could just be that we were traveling, whereas at home, more than half the people we see know us, or at least have seen us before. in the hotel room, we ended up seeing fireworks over the river, right from the hotel-room window, with quite a view, though indirect. on the road, i find a moral dilemma; i see both a washington state, and an alaska, both hard to find, but i see them a little indistinctly, and have to convince myself that i had actually seen them for sure. but who cares; i don't really keep score, and it doesn't really matter. it's like the truck plates, they don't quite count fully, but nevertheless they are plates; most plates, of course by far the vast majority, are illinois, especially on the roads in the center of the state, up by use, and bloomington. so do i count these two- or, who keeps score anyway? it's just a kind of daydreaming point, a way of taking in the whole country, when in fact you never got out of your own state.

and in fact, back in the hilly part, where the shawnee forests start, and the glaciated cornfields recede to the north, it's warm again, july-warm, steamy, the kind of weather where you don't want to forget and leave some windows closed, or all the crayons will melt. the turtles are gone; so are the mulberries. tiger-lilies are out, and so are a host of other flowers. a person could get bored on the endless roads of this state, which supposedly has more than its share of roads, and, god knows, i've done my time on all of them. you could get bored, that is, until you really know what you're looking at, and then, you could see all kinds of stuff you'd never seen before. and you could look at it all, and say, thank god for peacetime, for the wild country, for the full moon over the shawnee that hung there upon our return; it was just a weekend, but it was a holiday weekend, time to take a moment off, maybe, and reflect, watch the cars going by, many of whom are in much more of a hurry. guess i was, too, the first couple hundred times i passed through the state. slowly, i'm coming to appreciate it.