Sunday, October 4, 2009

Day 17: Bird that is born of an egg

Reynolds to Battle Ground. 17.5 miles/232.9 total

I am leaving Reynolds, heading south toward Lafayette, to finish up today near a place called Battle Ground, just north of Lafayette, which is named that because it’s the site of the Battle of Tippecanoe, in which William Henry Harrison became famous as an Indian fighter. I won’t see the battlefield today because it’s a little out of the way of my walk, but I will visit it tomorrow, on my day off.

This is where I finally leave U.S. 421, although I continue straight south, as if I were still on it. But it's now Indiana 43, as 421 shoots off to the southeast toward Indianapolis. What I’ve got today is more walking along the old Monon Line for much of the walk. Just outside Reynolds, another long freight train goes by, heading north, with about 80 cars, pulled by two CSX engines.

I'm gradually approaching West Lafayette, Indiana, home of Purdue University, and the birthplace of Billie Bob. (I thought you were born in Honolulu. Where’d I get that idea?) Anyway, if you’re reading this and you can tell me what hospital you were born in, I’ll pay homage.

Today is the fifth anniversary of the death of my mother, so I dedicate today’s walk to her, although I don’t think she would have been at ease with this enterprise, being too worried for my safety.

Over in the distance to the west of 43 is a collection of those huge, modern wind turbines, 70 or 80 feet high, with the three enormous blades. It spreads out over several miles. I’d say this is a good place for them. It sure as hell has been windy since I’ve been in this state. I count 65 of them, and there are no doubt more beyond the horizon.

The first place I come to, about two and a half miles into the walk, is called Smithson. Nothing but a sign, and a couple of old buildings east of the railroad tracks that look like they used to be stores. One of them is bricked up and the other is empty.

I see a small bird, killed on the highway. I see relatively few of them, compared to small mammals and reptiles. Birds have advantages the terrestrial animals don’t. They have to do something stupid, from a bird perspective, to get killed by a car. This is only the second one I have seen so far in Indiana. Seeing the dead bird puts me in mind of a scene from Evelyn Waugh’s satirical short novel about southern California, The Loved One. In it the protagonist, a young English expatriate, is working at an animal mortuary in L.A. At one point he’s improvising a funeral service for a parakeet, and he starts to adapt the service for the burial of the dead from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, specifically the line that begins, “Man that is born of a woman.…” So he’s standing in front of this little box, reciting, “Bird that is born of an egg hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up, and is cut down, like a flower.”

They made a so-so movie of the novel, starring Robert Morse as the young Englishman, and Jonathan Winters as Mr. Joyboy.

In the midst of life we are in death. Inspired by that moment in that novel, I have conducted many a funeral for a family pet. Hamster that is born of a hamster. Cat that is born of a cat. For fish we would use the service for burial at sea, saying, as the fish goes into the toilet, “We therefore commit his body to the deep, to be turned into corruption, looking for the resurrection of the body, when the Sea shall give up her dead....”

That Book of Common prayer is a beautifully written thing, by the way. One of the jewels of English literature. Its initial completion is one of the accomplishments of Edward VI, the boy king, son of Henry VIII, who was actively involved in some of the writing of the book, along with Thomas Cranmer, in 1547. Its beautiful Elizabethan language still resonates. We usually don’t give much credit to Edward VI, since he didn’t live long, and was succeeded by his half-sisters Mary and Elizabeth, but he deserves a place in history just for having shepherded The Book of Common Prayer into print.

Smithson to Chalmers is the same familiar formula. Corn, soybeans, railroad tracks.

I am in mourning today for the loss by the Maize and Blue to the Spartans yesterday, in overtime, 26-20. However the Boilermaker fans hereabouts are in even greater mourning, having seen their team blow a 21-3 lead to lose to Northwestern by a score of 27-21.

At about 6 miles into the walk, the sign says “Welcome to Chalmers. ‘Your low-cost, reliable municipal electric utility.’” Weird. The sign is like an ad for the power company. I guess these windmills are contributing to low-cost energy. Another sign under the speed limit says, “Meth Watch Community.” Yet another sign says, “Peddlers and solicitors licensed at town hall.” In other words, keep moving, we ain't buying.

Not much to Chalmers. Post office, bank, bar, American Legion. I’m going to guess that Chalmers was laid out in 1853, and named after a friend or business partner of James Brooks, president of the New Albany and Salem (later Monon) Railroad. I’ll bet Reynolds was another such associate.

A half mile south of Chalmers I come to a cemetery, just over the railroad tracks from the road, to the east. It’s about two acres, with another couple of acres for future growth. The stones are large and clean. The names are mostly English, with a few German ones—Hughes, Chamberlain, Brookshire, Ward, Rogers, Shortz, Raub. Most of the graves are newer, since the mid-twentieth century, but some date back to the early 1900s. In the middle is a gazebo with a couple of chairs. I take a little rest.

I don’t know how these things happen, but this dead bird thing is becoming a theme. I said before that I rarely see them, and that is--or was--true. But I’m sure seeing them today. A cardinal, a bluejay, a woodpecker, something that I think might have been a chicken, and a couple of others. The birds are falling right and left down here on Indiana 43.

At 10 miles the sign says “Welcome to Brookston,” with that thing about the electric utility. I guess I don’t need to tell you after whom Brookston was named. You guessed it, James Brooks. And the year? You got it, 1853. On 43, called Prairie street, are a pair of late 19th century mansions, almost identical, but on opposite sides of the street. Red brick with nice chiseled white lintels, sills, and coin courses. Curved glass windowpanes on the cupolas. Expensive stuff.

Below Brookston I cross from White County into Tippecanoe County, named for the Battle of Tippecanoe, and in honor of Old Tippecanoe, William Henry Harrison, who later became the ninth president of the U.S. Harrison is greatly celebrated hereabouts, because of his victory, and because he was the first (only?) president considered to be from Indiana, although he was born in Virginia. Just like Michigan claims Gerald Ford, even though he was born in Omaha, Nebraska. And like Texas claims George W. Bush, even though he was born in New Haven, Connecticut, while the old man was at Yale. Connecticut doesn’t want to claim him, though he is the only president ever to have been born there.

I’ve come to another fork in the road. Literally, a fork. You’d be amazed how many times I see pieces of silverware by the side of the road. And not just plastic stuff from fast food joints. Real stainless steel, use-at-home stuff. Forks, knives, spoons. Makes you wonder.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Billy Bob was born at Purdue University Hospital, then moved shortly afterward to Hawaii. How lucky I could have been! What am I talking about? I would not trade the great state of Michigan for anything, nor will I ever give up on “her”. I have been following your blog ever since "Billy Bob" has informed me of your endeavor and, I must say, I now know why you have remained friends for so long. You may remember me as the youth who ate all your "snacks" when you lived in Connecticut, as well as that same youth who stayed in your pool all day long. That must be the reason I worked up such an appetite! However, I did get an "ear-full"! I just wanted to say that I envy you and wish that I can do something similar when I win the lottery, since I will, in no way, be able to ever “retire”. Maybe Obama will get his way (single payer system) and I can to get a rest by age 70. By the way, the word endeavor is defined as “to exert oneself” or as a transitive verb “to attempt (as the fulfillment of an obligation) by exertion of effort”. You are most defiantly a transitive verb.