Thursday, October 22, 2009

Day 27: The persistence of ladybugs

Union Center to Montrose. 18 miles/389 total

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Day 27. Wednesday, October 21, 2009.

This morning as I was driving back from Terre Haute with my computer (for the last time, I hope), I saw a sign when I got off the interstate at the Casey exit. It said that Casey (through which I walked yesterday) is the hometown of David Hanners, 1989 Pulitzer Prize winner. All I can find out about him is that he is a journalist who won the prize while working for the Dallas Morning Star. Maybe someone out there in blog-land knows more.

It’s 11:40 a.m. I'm departing from the parking lot of the Pleasant Valley Methodist Church, in or near Union Center. It's a late start, and I'll be lucky to get to my destination by sunset. Increasingly, that's going to be a consideration. In a couple of weeks the clocks will go back, and it'll be getting dark by about 5:00 p.m. around here. So no more leisurely mornings in the motor home. All business. The business of walking.

By far the preponderance of road kill in Illinois has been snakes, and not just the little ones. Looks like St. Patrick didn't get here in time. I guess they’re heading for their hibernation grounds, or something, and are determined to cross the road, for better or worse. Running second so far are possums. Very few raccoons.

Here’s an abandoned motel for sale, along with a small house and some acreage. It’s a foreclosure sale. Looks a little like the Bates Motel. Same story, what with the interstate going in. Lonely place along a lonely road. Well, a boy's best friend is his mother.

As I did yesterday, I am walking on a piece of the abandoned version of U.S. 40, about 50 feet from the main road, with grass and weeds and even some small bushes growing up through the fissures in the concrete, creating a patchwork effect. But it’s still great for walking, and a relief from having to watch the approaching cars and constantly look over my shoulder to see if any cars are coming from behind me, or if the oncoming cars can move over a little when they pass, or if I have to get off the shoulder and onto the gravel or the grass.

Walking on this ruined road reminds me of that TV show “Life After Humans.” This is about what all roads would look like 20 or so years after humans disappeared from the earth. I know that I’m taking myself away from the road kill action here, but it’s well worth it. If I saw a dead animal on this piece of road, I’d have serious doubts about the mental capacity of the wildlife around here.

About an hour and a half into the walk I enter the town of Greenup, population 1600. Here in Illinois they give you the population in nice round numbers, knowing it’ll be ten years before they update them. The water tower says, “Historic Greenup, Established 1834.” The town is named after William C. Greenup, a surveyor of the National Road, who plotted the town in 1834. It was the Cumberland County seat, but only for a few years in the 1850s.

Like Casey, the smaller Greenup has a nice clean bunch of houses leading into the downtown from the east. Mostly post war houses. It looks as if someone came through and offered everyone free aluminum or vinyl siding. They are all remarkably clean and newly sided.

At a corner, there’s a sign for the Independent Bible Believers Church, down a side street. There’s a lot of emphasis in conservative Protestantism on independent study of the bible. I guess it comes from the strain of pietism that emphasizes scripture study and the Calvinistic idea of the priesthood of all believers. They’re saying, in effect, “We don’t need no stinkin’ organized church to tell us what the bible means.” Having sown those seeds, the Calvinists and Baptists and other larger denominations effectively deprived themselves of quite a few adherents.

The old downtown has two-story porches on most of its storefronts. I read yesterday in the Casey library that Greenup restored these porches to their former glory just a few years ago. It’s a good idea generally, because it covers up the otherwise drab old storefronts, and gives the town something to hang its hat on. Now they call it The Town With the Porches. About half the stores are empty, anyway. Down the street they’ve spiffed up the old train depot and made it into a museum. Next door is another old building, also a museum. They're both closed now, I guess for the season.

A stone says that the Barbour Inn was here on the old National Trail in 1831, and that the town was established in 1836 by William Greenup. The water tower says 1834, so there’s a discrepancy.

The Greenuppians have been doing their best to enhance whatever historical value the town might have. But what Greenup might have to offer the visitor by way of historic blandishments isn’t enough to make the town dazzle. Still, you have to give them a B+ for effort.

Past the modest fairgrounds to the west is a covered bridge, which, if you're a covered bridge fan, is enough to bring you to Greenup, even absent any assurance that Lincoln peed off the bridge, or whatever. The bridge goes over the Embarras River, which is a tributary of the Wabash. The name comes from the early French explorers, who used the term embarras for obstacles in a river, such as logjams. In spite of the much-vaunted covered bridge festival in Indiana, I didn’t cross one until I got to Illinois. Now I’ve been over two of them in as many days.

Today this covered bridge is covered with ladybugs. Thousands and thousands of ladybugs, which from a distance I thought were worm holes in the wooden structure. They're swarming, and I now have ladybugs all over me--in my jacket, on my pants, on my shoes, on the back of my neck. You may not know this, but they sometimes bite. Not a fierce venomous bite, to be sure, but a pinch nevertheless. This is the time of year they like to come inside, and do whatever they do. I have a few in the motor home.

I already know something of the persistence of ladybugs. When I worked in Hartford, on the 19th floor of a building overlooking the city, they would gather on the outside of the sliding glass door on the little balcony I had outside my office. They would work their way inside through the tiny spaces in the tracks of the doors until they got inside. Then they would just hang out on the walls, waiting to die, I guess. Obviously there are some gaps in my knowledge here.

As I walk through these towns along the old National Road, I can’t help thinking that this is where a few of my ancestors on my maternal grandmother's side might have traveled. They came out from the east in covered wagons, into Indiana, where they stayed for a time, then over into Illinois, and down south of here to Cisne, Illinois.

I pass a ruined farm. Two old unpainted barns, a falling down garage, and a late 19th century brick house, hip-roofed, whose lintels are sagging. There’s a door on the second floor, intended to let out onto a roof over the main door, now long gone. This would have been a handsome place in its time. A little later I pass another abandoned building which I discover was a schoolhouse, from 1902. Someone was in the process of converting it into a residence, finishing out the inside with framing and drywall, before they abandoned that project and left the whole thing to rot. It’s appropriate that both these places are on a piece of the abandoned road.

I take a little detour south of U.S. 40 into the village of Jewett, population 250. In the middle of Jewett, in what was once a store, is Grandpa’s Place, an antique store, which is locked, with no indication of when it might ever be open. As far as I can tell, this is the only commercial establishment in town. There ought to be a sign outside the town that says “Welcome to Jewett. It ain’t much, but it’s all we’ve got.” Then again, that sign would suffice for quite a few places I’ve been through.

On the main street, someone is attempting to take down the remnants of a telephone pole, about ten feet high, by burning it. They have a little hole burned at the base, and the whole pole is blackened, but still standing. The fire smolders as I pass by. I guess they’re in this project for the long haul.

At the western edge of Jewett is the cemetery, where it occurs to me that there are a lot more dead people that there are living ones in the town. The places where the dead reside are far neater, on the whole, than the homes of the Jewett living. The surnames on the stones are mostly English, with a smattering of Dutch ones.

At 13 miles I pass a sign on the road that says Woodbury. The alleged Woodbury isn’t anywhere that I can see. But I guess all it takes is a couple of houses. I am glad for what little diversion I can find from the monotony of the country road, with its nonstop corn and soybean fields.

A freight train just passed, coming from the west, carrying 145 cars full of coal. I saw one yesterday just like it. Wonder where the coal came from?

With just a mile to go to the motor home, I say goodbye to Cumberland County and enter Effingham County. At twilight I enter Montrose, population 300. All I know about Montrose so far is that it was founded in 1870. I'll try to find out a bit more, although the internet details about these little places are usually sparse. The best thing is to stop in to the local library and rummage through the stuff they have, usually in their genealogy sections. But that's hit or miss, too, and a town of this size is lucky to have a library.

It's 5:53 p.m. when I get to the motor home, parked in a vacant lot by the railroad tracks, next to a grain elevator. This is about as late in the evening as I would like to be walking, but considering the late start I got, it’s not bad. Eighteen miles in just a few minutes over 6 hours, including a rest stops and going in to two antique stores in Greenup. Think I'm finally hitting my stride.


Anonymous said...

Reading this in Stockholm today, I'm glad you're back on the blog. (I have a long list of things that I consider addictive!) I had been wondering whether you were walking in the same direction as the traffic. In Europe, where people walk on roads more, the basic recommendation is that people walk facing traffic, ( on the left side of the road ) which enables you see the cars coming from a distance without having to look over your shoulder all the time.

Peter Teeuwissen said...

Oh yes, always on the left, facing traffic. It's mandatory in most places (unless you're hitchhiking). Still, when the shoulder is narrow on a two-lane road with fast-moving traffic, you must know whether the oncoming cars will be able to veer over the line a little as they approach, or whether they must stay right because of oncoming traffic (behind the walker). Hence, frequent looking over the right shoulder. Also, sometimes one car is passing another behind you, causing a car to suddenly rush past from behind in the left lane. One solution would be always to stay as far over on the shoulder as possible, except that some shoulders are so narrow, grassy, rocky, or sloping that they're hard to walk on.

Randy said...

Not that I am an expert but I suspect those were not ladybugs, but the look alike but nastier Asian Beetle. At least thats what they call them in Minnesota. They swarm in large groups in the fall and do have a bite that I think would never occur to the gentle ladybug. In some building projects in recent years I have found pockets of these little creeps, sometimes in piles of thousands. A new house had stained paint from them and I bet it wasn't spit.

Peter Teeuwissen said...

Just read an article about them in the Effingham newspaper today, because they're particularly pervalent this year in Illinois and Missouri. They eat a soybean aphid, which has been abundant lately. The terms Asian beetle and ladybug are used interchangably. Maybe you guys just have a more aggressive strain up there than we had in Michigan. They give off a smell to ward off birds and other predators.