Monday, July 29, 2013

God's Little Jewels

Long horizons are hypnotic: the ocean, the sagebrush steppe in Southeastern Oregon, and the farmlands of Central Illinois.

It’s been decades since I’d cruised heartland roads.  An old barn here or a farmhouse there punctuates the golden tassels blowing in the breeze under big clouds.  The clouds catch the last colors of the setting sun.  These were scenes from my youth, except for soybeans rotated into the mix and, of course, the massive wind turbines, which add movement and perspective miles away.

Whood-a thunk after this drive through the flat fields, past Peoria, past Pekin, and past Canton, I’d share the sunrise with a Great Blue Heron and Cedar Waxwings along the wooded shores of Lake Wee-Ma-Tuk.

Lois White has some 43 hummingbird feeders on her farm down the road in Smithfield, a couple miles from Spoon River.  "Hummingbird Haven," she calls it on the handwritten sign.  We sat in  four of the dozen or so chairs along her ranch house and watched the ruby-throated hummers buzz around.

Pat has developed a fond relationship with Lois, and she was very generous with her time, showing us the nests and answering my questions.

Lois must be well into her seventies.  She developed her interest in hummingbirds from her Grandma, who called them, "God's little jewels."

When Lois's one-room schoolhouse finally got the Encyclopedia Britannica, little Lois begged and begged her teacher to borrow the volume that had a picture of a hummingbird.  “Hummingbird!” she instructed her grandma. 

“Well, they’re still 'God’s little jewels.'” 

Back at the lake, we piled into the pontoon boat with Jim, a gem of a man, and Karen.  Jim is responsible for the O’Flahertys’ association with the area.  (A story for another day.)

Jim graciously educated me on the history of the area.

High-sulfur coal and International Harvester fueled the boom times, back when the mascot for Pekin High School was the “chinks.”  High-sulfur coal went out of fashion, as did insulting ethnic mascots.  Now, Dragons is the Pekin mascot, and discarded holes of mining companies have become a mini Land-o-Lakes.

Kendall and Cheryl made it dinner for eight.  Camo gear makes sense if you are a dog trainer, including for hunting and field trials.  He was one of the thousand people who tried for the 30 hunting blinds for a nearby area. Good people; full-time residents in the land of characters immortalized in Spoon River Anthology nearly 100 years ago.  

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