Thursday, October 28, 2010

Saturday, October 23, 2010

the castle park was jam packed as i came around the corner from giant city road to no name road and out to a friend's house for a kid's party that promoted superheroes, like batman and iron man. this particular park is full of statues of wizards, ogres, unicorns and dragons, and has become so popular with so many people that not only its own parking lot, and its own road, were full, but also no name road itself which became a one-lane road for the day or at least for much of it. somebody said that having a house whose address is the last left on no name road is quite interesting, it's like describing your house as the one on elm street that has the really dark windows. i said the reason we are talking superheros and spooks is because it's election time and all these media caricatures are foisting themselves on our consciousness, like ghosts in our peripheral vision, with images in our junk mail and all over television though i don't watch television unless they foist it upon me, which happens occasionally.

illinois has a level of corruption that is akin to having a herd of cows outside your bedroom window, only there's no benefit comparable to hamburgers that could accrue from this particular acrid herd. one of the junk mails promised "bow-tie honesty" but i didn't even read it, why would i think that some guy's honest, because his lieutenant governor choice is the daughter of someone who supposedly was? of course i'm voting for this guy anyway, because he's a democrat, and only democrats can beat republicans, and the republicans are really sleazy, even in illinois where at one time a few of them had integrity. the republicans in illinois are like clarence thomas, making ultra-conservative decisions for no good reason, blatantly helping their friends, when meanwhile his wife accepts million-dollar "anonymous" donations for her conservative think-tank (read, cash-cow) and we're not supposed to smell anything here? maybe you were counting on us being downwind?

but back to the spooks and the wizards: halloween is coming, and coming fast, and it's a big deal, if you have kids, and live in a small town, halloween is everything, if not more. in this town halloween had a reputation as a drunken riot time until they closed the bars on that weekend and now the students come out early (namely tonight) in order to get their yayas out before the impending closed-bar dampening-of-the-spirits; meanwhile the decorating fanatics get so wrapped up in it that whole stores are given over to decorating alone, while yards, windows and offices spill over with pumpkin, ghost and witch images in honor of a season that is supposedly for children. and all the hoo-ha merely masks the fact that this holiday clearly sweeps the deck for the holiday of all holidays, the saints-day sadie-hawkins-day day-of-the-dead bonfire-day guy-fawkes-day election-day week, an entire week of solemn and holy holidays (some of which, of course, may not be in the same week at all, some years).....november, the bright leaf-colors fade into brown, the leaves finish dropping, the clear air settles into cool, quiet tones and people become even more absent-minded, being obsessed with cooking and buying stuff and all.

but now, still a few days yet this side of the holidays, i'm pulled to sleep; i'm exhaused, all this soccer and running around; the leaves are at their peak up no name road; other places, trees flash me as i go by, and i get sick of hearing the same music over and over again, and wonder once again, either i keep writing this day-to-day kind of stuff, voluminous as it is, put it elsewhere or wherever, or write the darn novel, which is supposed to start when, right around that holiday. that would be monday, monday?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

it's a big time of year for deer, and the authorities say that's because it's mating season, which may well be true, but i can't help but wonder, it's also because by instinct they know hunting season is coming, and they have to find a place to hide. get out now, cross the road, and then go so deep even the hunters can't find you. i wonder if, year after year, deer don't teach each other about the hunting season and how this one time is a bad time to let people see you.

it was also homecoming here, and that meant apparently that people wrote in chalk all over the campus sidewalks, and all those "so-and-so for king" signs are still there, only faded, because of the general lack of rain. a heavily contested election, apparently, with almost every inch of sidewalk covered up one way or the other, in the central campus. but now another group has got out there: the nanowrimo people, who want us all to write a novel in november, and of course these signs are directed straight at me, who probably could do it if i set my mind to it.

in fact i sit down to this very blog, and write piles of useless junk, just because i don't have the nerve to start one more big long novel, only to lose my spirit (or sense of direction, or possibly purpose) somewhere after chapter two. it's been my lifelong dream, and yet, i just don't have a plan that would sustain me through a few hundred thousand words. i get started, then i fade away, and other things come up, yada yada. a nanowrimo community might really help me get started that way; i'll keep you posted.

the weather has backed off its utterly clear, blue-sky fresh-air thing and now is looking more changeable, like a cold wind might just rise up over the horizon any day now, and set winter in motion. we started a new term, and i have twenty grueling teaching hours, as well as a marathon of supervisory duties, so i'm looking at a pretty frantic schedule as i try to get my calendar, christmas card & letters, & holiday season-type stuff going. but what bothers me really is that this is such a beautiful time of year, and i really want to get out in it.

orion reappears in the sky, and if you get out in the country, which isn't hard or far rom here, he's got lots of company. he sits there with his arrow pointing at the plaeides (sp?)- possibly because that's where the black hole is. or maybe because it's in taurus, and he wants to pick up a bull to mount on his fireplace. i've got no idea his reasoning, maybe he just wants to shoot those arrows off into space just for the heckuvit, and maybe he was just frozen in place there by someone who just couldn't bear to see a cute little animal die.

i suppose it would be possible to make up a whole set of modern myths, based on the stars as we know them and see them, based partly of course on what is already there, but also keeping in mind that we live in an entirely different world than those greeks did, so we have to find ways to include all the things that are relevant to us today. things like don't ask-don't tell, transgender/nongender, litigiousness, international adoption, the drug war, the idnr's roadkill policy, the northern lights, the second amendment, and clarence thomas. you see, i think about all this stuff, but some days, when i manage to get home without a deer jumping in front of the car and ruining my life, all i want to do is come home, wrap myself up in a ball, and go to bed.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

i don't put enough pictures on here, i realize; i've been using the blog in my desperate attempt to keep from writing altogether, but i fail to bring my camera with me in my everyday life, so i'll have to show with word pictures where i was and what i did.

more stunning weather here, cool, dry, clear, the leaves at their peak, the air fresh and wonderful. had a soccer marathon that was uneventful and then a long stretch at the park, but what capped off the day was a party given by an uruguayan friend who has just become an american citizen. in his pretty house were two cakes, lots of other foods and lots of people, in particular all of the swimmers (i know him through swimming), a motley crew of people from all corners of the university who know each other pretty well in spite of having so little else in common. one of the cakes has a digital picture on top, of him receiving citizenship in a courthouse from a judge; is this digital reconstruction edible? i'm not sure. outside, children run amongst the trees and people stand around drinking wine; it's a well-attended party.

i stroll in with my fiddle, and, in the middle of the main room, next to the piano, i take it out, and play the national anthem. it's a hard song and i'm musically less than perfect. nevertheless everyone is singing by the end, which is good, and then, after saying the pledge of allegiance, he is led to give a speech about how, basically, it took him 32 years to get this, his lifelong dream. the essence of the speech was really that the obstacles were such that only extreme persistence and repeated efforts would have worked. i want my son to hear this as i've had a hard time getting him to register to vote, and he's running out of time; however, he's gotten into a minor fender-bender across town and none of my family is attending. as the one who has just played the anthem i am frozen there as if on center stage, right near him, holding the fiddle, like a dignitary accepting his speech. oddly, most of the swimmers are right there nearby. these are old guys who spend lots of lunch hours in the pool beneath the clocktower, and, to me, it is unusual seeing them in clothes.

the stress and tension of having grown boys out on the road meeting their fate doesn't go away; i worry and keep worrying, and it stays with me even now. there are a lot of these minor accidents around town, enough to keep the police busy all day. my story above has no resolution; i leave partly because i've done my part, and have a busy family to worry about and can't stand around drinking wine and relaxing. but i remember some of his words; they kind of stick with me. as an uruguayan voting has always been very important to him and to be unable to do it in the country he has lived in and chosen, has also been very difficult. he is more than willing to do the next step, which he assumes is jury duty (i tell him, you may not be so pleased at what this system will show you, on the jury box - at the kinds of crimes we here in this small town are occasionally asked to adjudicate), and is also aware that the one right he still does not have, that i have, is the right to become president; he is also aware of many more rules that many of us often forget. it turns out that if you grow up political, in a political envirnoment, you're going to stay that way in any environment, and so, on a clear fall day, with kids rustling in the falling leaves outside, we are talking about the order the states entered the union, or maybe who was president after polk. 'the usa is an unwritten story, one guy says, buy once again it's late; the little letters are swimming across my eyesight as i try to remember what i was going to say. another day, maybe; this one is pretty much taken.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

hit a 'possum tonight, out driving home on the back roads, from wal-mart, came over a hill and there he was, right out in the middle of the road, white as a sheet, with big doleful dark eyes staring right at me. no time to swerve or anything; i ran straight over him, and heard a thump; then, i didn't go back, because i know they are nasty little things, with sharp teeth, and besides what would i do with him even if i saw him injured? take him to a shelter? or anywhere else? i was at a loss, so i just kept going home.

i'd been on that road where i'm sure the old town was, not far from that cemetery where the road takes a gentle curve around it, and of course, it's wild and dark out there, lots of stars, and the dry grasses and leaves are changing colors every day. an old friend of mine from the area had stopped by earlier, and he has lived out that way, and does a lot of campaigning in the area, so i'd asked him about the alleged town, that used to be on a railroad bed, and was halfway between carbondale and murphysboro, and was supposedly some kind of resort, and maybe even had a lake. the heck of it is, i can't find a lake, or even a railroad bed, only that little cemetery, and i don't even remember where i got the information, so i don't know where to start looking. so he'd said, look for the power lines, because they would have traced the route of the railroad. and sure enough, i'd seen power lines out there by the golf course, crossing the road at a kind of high spot, maybe high because it had been a railroad bed. but this was away from the cemetery, by maybe a half mile, and though there were houses right there, the golf course itself really kind of dominated the terrain.

so once again i was looking out both windows as well as the front, also noticing that there's a huge moon, and a lot of stars, more really than we have here in town, and i'd only gone a couple of miles out of town. i've been driving on a spare, because we got a flat the other day, and haven't got new tires yet. so i was driving fairly slowly and keeping my hands tight to the wheel; but, even so, this little critter was blinded by the lights, no doubt, and didn't make a move that i could see. then, thump.

it's been extraordinarily dry, so much that they say there are fire warnings off in the forest, and you can feel lots of the grass crackle under your feet as you walk. some say, you only see 'possums when it's real dry, or real wet, and if that's the case, that could be why; the other day, and then again today, it actually sprinkled just a little; but, it was so dry that the ground sucked it up and absorbed it almost immediately. one of the times it rained, i was actually on the ground, taking the flat tire off the car, and putting the spare on; i thought, oh well, one minute out of a thousand i get to sit outside, and it starts to rain. but it was one of those days, fairly common around here, where it looks all blustery and gray and rainy, but it basically just sprinkles if at all. so there i am on the ground, fixing the tire, and these guys come along and offer help; this was really nice; it showed me that i'm not alone in this world. but i passed it up; i figured, it's really better to fix just one tire once in a while, so you don't forget about the process.

so here i am, a day or so later, rattling on about the process, about a multi-weather day, a rain-again, off-again fall evening, stunning colors everywhere, and then, out there somewhere, in the fields, some young 'possum is writhing in pain, maybe even dying. it isn't fair; he's a little feller, comes out when it's dry or wet; didn't know from traffic. for me, on the other hand, it's finals time, grading time; it's busy; now i'm tired, and can't stay up much longer, can't even hardly find my way upstairs. i kind of wish i could have dealt with him though; he was a ghost, a little thing. he'll need that youth, that survival instinct, to get through the cold days ahead.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

spent almost all day with the kids, and that was ok, because it was a beautiful day, and, it's actually one guy's birthday (or at least monday) - his party - which is why we were roller skating earlier, and now i'm typing as four young lads are deep in their sleeping bags making a lot of noise but not getting to sleep. it's a "sleepover" - three are over; a fourth is mine; another still is upstairs; it's been a wild evening, but that's the way it's supposed to be.

roller skating was really a young teenage girl scene, although i myself had brought seven boys including myself. we skated around in circles and finally got kind of tired and you would think they'd be a little more tired now. but mostly i got tired, whereas they just got wound up. and so it goes; they even get injured, and it doesn't slow them down much at all.

at home i look up the haiku stairs and watch youtubes of people jumping off cliffs in gliding balloons off into the haiku valley, off the cliffs overlooking the windward side, or the east side, of oahu island hawaii. it's completely a different world from here; a tropical cliff, with an iron set of steps up and down the ridge of these cliffs overlooking the dense tropical jungle; apparently it rains a lot, and it's very windy, but when the sun's out, it's very hot and steamy, and people occasionally suffer from lack of water, since it's closed, and they have to go in there surreptitiously and often are not well prepared. from way up on its heights you can see cities on the eastward side of the island: kaneohe, its bay, the sea. it's a crowded island. the little jungle parts of it that the stairs traverse are the unoccupied parts, but they are fought over, and you get in trouble if you're caught up there. people go in at about four or five am, before the guard gets there; they watch the sunrise from the cliffs. others dive off, free falling in their balloons or whatever it is they use to jump.

i do this partly because it's just so wild, so far away, from what i experience every day. today, the soccer field was very nice; i was exhausted, and slumped in a lawn chair, but the kids ran around, and provided entertainment; the day was beautiful, the air clean; off in the distance, one could hear high school bands playing in the homecoming parade, downtown. the bands were, as usual, not perfect, not totally in tune or in time. that hardly mattered though; i know from experience, at the parade, the main point is being there and marching, or, being there and watching. this time i kind of lost track of the score altogether, and watched the children carefully. my own chased some butterflies there at the end, but did run around and kick the ball quite a bit; on the older boy's field, people were very aware of the score, but i tried not to mention it or let it concern me. again, i watched people a lot; why not? it was incredibly clear, dry, sunny & pleasant. the dry grass crackled beneath my feet.

on oahu, it often gets very windy on the cliffs, and the fog rises from the haiku valley, which leads people to call the old iron stairway, stairway to heaven. out in the sea one can see what is called manana island; i'd never heard of this until today, and have no idea if it comes from the spanish "tomorrow" (does the irish language have any word that means like the spanish manana, one irish singer was asked once; a word that means, not so much "tomorrow", as "not today"?...i'm afraid, the singer replied, that the irish language has no word that expresses that kind of uuuurrrrrgency...) anyway, they look off at the sea, and this island, and you see some people just free jumping in the background, trusting, i guess, that the wind will take them someplace manageable, someplace where they won't be saddled with a parachute, but jammed with the pricklers of tropical bushes. apparently it's like california only more so; space is at a premium; if you are where they don't want you, people notice it right away.

why do i bring this up...when i don't know these people, have never been there, have nothing to add to the discussion, really. they make good youtubes. anyone can see them; it's kind of the tropical, far western, far southern edge of the usa; the cliffs rise out of the sea like jagged teeth, covered with this tropical growth; on the flat parts below, people have built up the island, but on the tropical mountains, you have only these iron steps, and some parts of the steep pathway which are a bit muddy and awkward; an old abandoned concrete house that was, in its day, used for something or other, and this incredible view back over the ocean, back toward california. it's way out there; someday, i'll go there, i swear; i'll play honolulu, on the fiddle or something, and then i'll tell someone, yes, there is one place out here i've always wanted to see.

virtual reality means, your free time, if you need escapism, you just escape. it's the homework i'm really avoiding; once again, i've brought a stack home for the weekend, and i'm trying not to let it ruin the weekend, while actually, it's mere existence there, in my briefcase, is ruining my weekend. doing it on saturday, or saturday night, is no good, even complaining about it is giving me a small headache; putting it off makes tomorrow long and difficult, but is better, in the long run. the first of the boys, exhaused, is drifting off; another is on his way. the night, dry and cool and beautiful, is reaching that part of it, closer to midnight, when the partiers and the police both get more serious about being out there, a kind of running conflict that i want nothing to do with. from the window, where i sit, though, i can hear it, off in the distance. the last of the boys, slowly, slowly, settles down. they are, after all, away from home; i can't expect them to be as comfortable as i would be, on my own floor; someday, maybe, they'll remember this.

Friday, October 08, 2010

it's clear & beautiful, almost every minute; nights are cool, and mornings even have a touch of fog, almost ready to frost sometimes. days are very sunny, very clear, a little hot sometimes though you always have too many jackets, especially if you're up early or ride a bike like i do. actually, it's world series weather, but they've changed the world series; now they don't play it until much later, when it's already sleeting and miserable; now, they're just getting started with the playoffs, which is actually the best baseball usually, but who has time to even watch it, when it's this beautiful.

lots of driving around these days, and in the good weather i might open up the window and watch the town go by as i do. i spend a lot of time on the main east-west road, called thirteen, which has three lanes and is one way all the way through town; lights are rigged so they are usually green; but a train occasionally stops you for a minute or two; this is what goes for a traffic jam. it's not bad; i stick to the outside lanes, because the middle crowds me. there's a woman in town; she's on a wheelchair, and she comes toward me ion the sidewalk or on the street, usually with enough room, but not always. she has an uncanny knack for lurching at me unpredictably as if she's going to take that extra foot and drive me into the center lane. it could be my imagination of course; she may have no more awareness that it's me out there, or she may do that anyway, just as a matter of trying to negotiate crooked sidewalks. she's out there a lot. i don't begrudge her the room. the lurch is unsettling. it's like it's directed at my subconscious. and it's right on target; it gets me every time.

i like to call october show your colors month because i figure, the earth is in that business, and so is everyone else. it's a little showy for me, the bright oranges, they yellows, the changes every day here in the green country; i actually like november better, because the muted browns are a little more subtle, and they also change every day, and the air is still fresh and beautiful then, just a little less parched. but anyway, it brings people out here. maybe it's the long hot summer, maybe it's the oversupply of young students, all at the beginning of the semester, but whatever it is, they're all over the place. traffic, accidents, rowdiness, you name it. this is a town where halloween caused street riots for many years running; it was then outlawed, and the bars closed over that weekend, so people just generally moved up the celebrations to last the entire month, though they have held off on the violence, thankfully, for a while anyway. it's homecoming also, and that means there's lots of extra traffic, and a parade in addition, but we take that all in stride; the parade, anyway, runs on the north-south road, fifty-one, and doesn't affect those of us on the east-west much. i have two soccer games and a birthday party in the morning; i might miss that parade this year.

it's a tenuous balance, living in such a small town, with such a busy life; my older boys have cars, drive all the same roads i do, only much less carefully. everyone works and then tears around in our free time, going here or there, often going somewhere for dinner; often going back and forth to soccer or to some place over there on the east side like the home improvement/gardening place which my wife is favoring these days. i've become somewhat obsessed by the traffic itself though; the three lines of cars, southern illinois passing through town; the places where the lanes don't match evenly and everyone has to edge over a bit; the sunset on the illinois license plates. it's a slice of life, but it's a large slice of mine, these days.

this town now has two stores devoted entirely to halloween only. i'm not sure how that happened. it doesn't seem to me you could make money selling that kind of plastic costume, or window decoration, or whatever they might sell, but, i guess, nobody makes that stuff anymore. i assume they'd have the business, or they wouldn't even try opening. this, however, is not my kind of store. it's one i may never set foot in at all. we have homemade pumpkin, i think maybe it's pink, and it dangles from our tree, but i'm not sure people even see it; we don't get much traffic on my street. anyway, decoration is big in a small town such as this; you often see whole yard displays, big balloon santas, turkeys, balloon pumpkins, you name it, you'll be seeing it straight through until about january and maybe beyond. but, the town being full of young punks and all, there is a lot of decoration-theft going on too, to the point that i wouldn't even try putting a pink flamingo out there. it would be like saying, steal me, i dare ya.

my colors are: steady at the wheel. make it 'til the next november. this is a good place, this time of year; it's not a city, doesn't even have a river, but it has a couple of creeks in it that overflow when it rains hard. it has a train, even an amtrak. about every tenth car has someone i know in it. i probably know quite a few more than that too, if i really thought about it, but i don't. the train brings old coal cars that have lively graffiti on them; they must be painted up there in chicago, or somewhere where they have a lively imagination, certainly not here, where we're all too busy just trying to keep body and soul together, and barely have time to rest. the train stops traffic, and i sit there, sometimes watching the cars, on a beautiful day like this, and wonder why i don't stop and watch a little more, quick while the weather's good. the freight train doesn't even stop here; it slows down; it makes a little noise, it shows us its graffiti; it stops traffic for a minute or two - then, off it goes, up to the city, and i'm back to my errands. it happens a lot. it's what i call "rush minute" - but that's actually tongue-in-cheek, because in many ways, it's the one minute i rest & take a breather out there, and it doesn't really happen all that much, only when i'm lucky.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

so i ran into this place, you can find it yourself, while i was out google-imaging haiku road signs and haiku church signs. there are actually quite a few of both, and it's fairly interesting google-imaging such things, but along comes this place i'd never imagined existed. it's called the haiku stairs, and it's a steep set of stairs that climbers can use to cross a steep valley on the island of oahu, hawai'i. it's near what is called haiku road (there is also a haiku valley), which is where it gets its name, but it's also known as the stairway to heaven, because it's so steep, and it gets so cloudy there, that sometimes the stairs disappear in the clouds beneath a hiker.

now the problem is that the stairs are closed, and have been for some time; they were vandalized in the 80's, and though they repaired them, the entrance way is a point of contention, and the locals don't like all the crowds they generate and aren't crazy about people just gathering at that spot. the city (this is not honolulu, but near honolulu, a town called Kaneohae) has offered to give it to the state which could better run it as a hiking trail, but that hasn't happened; it's still closed pending negotiations, and well guarded; they don't want you on it.

as you climb on these steep steps you find that some steps are crooked, and sometimes the railing is a little questionable. i think some people believe that it's not quite totally safe for a public hiking trail, especially since it became a little famous (from magnum p.i.?) so it attracted a few too many non-hikers, who might go a little to far out onto them, only to find out they weren't really made for such things. then of course it's too late.

now of course i'm attracted to such a place, though there's no way at this point i could get out to oahu in early october; the leaves are changing here; people are extremely busy; all of the various (8) children have crises, and my wife too, who is in a painting frenzy but also way overextended at work as i am. on the soccer field, both boys played today, and did well; the older one played in a driving rain; it was well after noon before we got out of there and then almost forgot our balls and water; at the fields i continued my discussions with people about the differences between the youngest, and the older players, and which ones go to the private leagues, and why, exactly, they would have an all-girl league, and a mixed league, which is about 1/10 girls, but no all-boy league. it just worked out that way; apparently about the same number of girls and boys sign up, but some girls want to be in with the boys, and many don't...and the girls who are with the boys are generally at least as good if not better, so it doesn't really matter to the boys, and so it goes. someone asked if i was complaining but i said, no, i never complain, since i don't run the place, but am just curious what's going on and why.

later in the day, a long ride out no name road, or more properly east no name road, which is actually only a short road, about a mile, but goes through all kinds of countryside before it gets to a friend's house, way back up against the county line and up against some dense woods that seem like the end of nowhere. this road becomes very narrow and hilly, so it would be somewhat dangerous on a day-to-day basis, especially if one's kids were to do it with a bicycle, but it comes around these curves, and funky old houses line it where people obviously have more to do than worry about decoration. some people had trouble believing this was my actual address, the woman who lived there said, after i commented on what a cool name for a road, and what a cool place to live, right up against the woods, yet not too far from town, maybe only a couple miles. the day was clear, again, blue sky and grasses going to seed around us; the road comes out at the castle park where the sculpture wizards, dragons, and lions reign, and where cars now line up on both roads; they're getting a lot of business these days. you get some open space, some trees, a place to sit for a while, and people like it; on a good day, they'll come, and be outside for a while, knowing full well that most of the time around here it's summer, and you can't.

sometimes i imagine that it would be interesting to put one's life on an address according to the address that seemed the coolest to have; for example, live on haiku road, just for the sake of living in such a place. in this area, if you buy enough land, and create a lane, and wait a while, the county will decide that every lane needs a name, just for fire prevention purposes, and you'll be required to name it anyway, so this is the best way to accomplish that end, though it takes a number of years, and some of us don't have that long to wait. i lived in this one town which really needed all of its streets to be renamed; they had very systematically named them with such letters as N, W, S and E even though the streets were all at angles, and the angles were not related, in any good way, to the true N, W, S, & E they'd have this street, N 32nd St. W, and it would be neither N or W, since it ran at a perfect angle right through town, then after it got out of town it would go straight E, or maybe S. so here's a place you need names like haiku road, or maybe grammar road, or grammar boulevard even.

which reminds me of my last thing. i was at a party tonight; the kids were outside shrieking and tearing around which in fact is a good wrapup of my entire day, starting with the soccer game, but i got into a conversation about the amish, who recently bough a local place called grammer orchard, owned for many years by a family by that name, spelled with that e i believe; their trucks used to catch my eye, understanably, as they drove through the center of town. now the amish have a community already, in the county, maybe about twenty-five miles north of here, but their arrival at a place more like five or six miles southwest of here means they've really moved into the area, and locals confirm they are interested in buying lots of the rural property that has come upf for sale in the last year or so. and this sets folks to talking, about how they take care of their land, but they have a lot of children, so their steady taking over land puts upward pressure on land prices and makes it much more common to encounter horse-and-buggy operations on, say, a road to wal-mart. i dragged out my story about the english river, the day i was out there with a friend, and a banjo, and lent the banjo to an amish guy for all of about five seconds; to me, i was way out in the country, and it didn't occur to me that those amish farms way off in the distance had people in them, with very clear eyesight, who could see from mile away what this guy was doing. nor did i know that, at the time, in that community, whether a guy could pick up an instrument or not was a political issue, so this guy was making a fairly strong political statement about which side he was on, and he was doing it more or less in public, with the help, of course of an English like myself, actually providing the banjo. i often miss that banjo, it was what is called a mountain banjo, and though the one i have now is in some ways better, it is different, and will never be a mountain banjo.

but to get back to the amish of that story, the fact of the matter is, when you put yourself in the middle of a community that you really don't know well, you find yourself in the middle of these social disputes which are also foreign; it takes you a while to really orient yourself to a new culture and the imaginary line they've drawn at which to fight amongst themselves. in the same way our students have trouble figuring out how and why we fight over gay marriage, we in the 'english' community had trouble figuring out how the amish in our area could divide themselves over the issue of whether it was ok to have lace curtains, or to be able to pick up an instrument. that place, the english river bridge, will always represent that to me, a spot where cultures come together in such a way that we can hardly figure out each other's language; where even our interpretation of what kind of 'place' it was was so radically different; where whole sets of cultural assumptions become suspended, more or less like the bridge itself, while we agree, mutually, to a temporary friendship.

i found myself explaining my life, as i often do, at that same party; having taught internationals for years, and now seeing southern illinois from their point of view, as a wild jungle, squirrels and large colorful birds everywhere, no public transportation to speak of, all kinds of things foreign and threatening, yet i manage to make friends with them, suspended in a classroom, so to speak; many of them, perhaps most, go on to master the environment, get what they want, and go home to use it successfully, and carry the memories of their time here home with them. others leave faster, unsuccessful perhaps due to basic failure to adjust culturally to a foreign place. in my mind, i relive my own journeys, countless times at which, as a traveler, i'd intrude on someone's carefully structured existence, just passing through, and, in the course of actually getting to know their world, come to find out how far exactly i was, from ever hoping to even understand it. we live in our own heads, and the distance between any given pair of them can be measured in a kind of light years, which themselves could barely be converted into a kind of mental distance that we both could understand. yet, we manage to function in this world, to occupy the same space, if only temporarily, and even be civil to each other, to reach out a little, to make steps to understand what the other is thinking, and why, of all the issues that are available to us, we might get stuck on the ones we do.