Category Archives: Quincy

Creek-side Encounter

I was running late this morning. I won’t go into the details, which would only be of interest to those who know me, but they included oversleeping and a flat tire.

I was in a hurry, as certain rural folks really do like to get their Sunday papers before noon. I can picture a scene in a farm kitchen:

“That guy in the Ford pickup finally showed up! Here’s the paper, Maude. Look at the obituaries; it seems that Elmer finally kicked the bucket – I’ll bet that Norma is breathing a sigh of relief! Never did like that man.”

At one point I just had to pull over and pee. I stopped at a concrete bridge spanning a creek which had been eating its way through limestone outcroppings ever since the glaciers retreated ten thousand years ago.

During my forced time-out, as golden urine arced over the bridge railing, I saw what looked to be falling leaves fluttering down from the trees which arched over the creek. No, they weren’t leaves, they were birds! A flock of black-capped chickadees was feeding upon red berries of understory trees which still retained their leaves, though the leaves were colored a motley mix of green and yellow, and a winter storm will soon bring them down to join the soft maple and sycamore leaves in the annual compost heap which keeps the creek-side forest nourished. A few of the chickadees in an early-winter tableau:

And here’s a shot of the trees the birds were feeding upon. Best I could do!

I appreciated the way that the young soft maple trunks curve and intertwine!



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Crime Scenes

A couple of scenes of violence I have encountered recently while out on my newspaper route, way back in the hinterlands of Adams County in West-Central Illinois.

It was just after dawn when I pulled up to a mail and paper box near Payson. The boxes and supporting post had been demolished! Evidently somebody, probably a drunken adolescent in a too-fast pickup truck, had run right over the post not long before, leaving a scene of destruction in his (most likely) wake. The residents of the house seemed not to be awake, as I got no response when I knocked on their door. I didn’t want them to suspect that I had done the deed! A shot, a bit blurry, that I got before I left:

The rectangle towards the upper left is the metal mailbox, while the blue plastic newspaper box can be seen still attached to the uprooted post.

The day before I had stopped at a favorite spot to pee and wander around a bit. In my mind I think of the spot, which is about at the halfway point of my route, as either “Mushroom Dell” or “Break-rib Hollow”, the latter cognomen a reference to an unfortunate incident a few weeks ago. I had been looking at a sycamore tree growing on the bank of a dry creek-bed. One of my feet became entangled in a cunningly-created trap, a network of exposed oak roots, and I fell down into the creek-bed, cracking two ribs when my torso encountered a tree trunk. It took a month to recover from that incident! Oh, well, I’m willing to endure such travails in the interest of getting some good photos!

Here’s a scene of slo-mo violence. Willow trees don’t get very old around here. After about forty or fifty years they succumb to wind or fungus attacks. This willow got blown over and a young clump of basswood received the upper part of the willow’s trunk between two healthy young shoots. The two trees are now engaged in a perhaps unwilling relationship:

I liked how the sun was partially blocked by one of the basswood trunks.


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An Odd Stone Building

Now that my rural newspaper delivery route has been inverted and reversed I’m getting some new perspectives on the landscape, my familiar one hundred miles of mid-continent gravel roads.

A couple of days ago I was driving on a hilly blacktop county road, looking for a turn-off which, as it turned out, looked really different from the other direction, when I happened to notice an architectural oddity out in the middle of a field of corn stubble.

I pulled over and parked, then grabbed my camera and walked out into the field to investigate.

So strange! The structure was a small limestone building, about fourteen by twenty feet, with one low and narrow door, a single small window, and a loft accessible via a gable-end door, like a loft door in a barn.

What could this have been built for? I peered in the open doorway; the building was being used as storage for firewood and pallets. It reminded me of a settlement-era jail, with just the one small window.

The door is a classic example of a 19th-century utilitarian rural shed door. The latch and an iron rod used to prop the door open:

A close-up of the latch handle. I loved the strands of spider web!

The stonework was true and plumb, very well-executed, but the mortar looked recent, as if the building had been tuck-pointed not too many years ago.

I need a researcher to follow along behind me and look into the history of such finds! A candidate should be competent in botany, mycology, and local history, and should also have a familiarity with vernacular architecture. The pay is non-existent. Interested applicants can contact me here on the blog!



Filed under Essays and Articles, Photos, Quincy

Shaggy Birch Pyramid

I love to photograph trees, but in general they aren’t easy subjects. While they do stay still, unlike a young dog, trees are so large that it’s difficult to get a pleasing composition.

Sometimes I enjoy snuggling right up to a tree, hoping nobody is watching. I’ll point the camera up the trunk and try to get some foreshortened shots, creating a visual illusion that the tree is a pyramidal vegetative structure, a towering cone of lignin coated by bark.

Here are some shots of a creek-side river birch (Betula nigra), our only local representative of that mainly northern genus.

River birch isn’t as beautiful as the northern white and yellow birches, but the curling bark does have a nice palette of colors.

Here’s a close-up of that bark. I don’t know what the red tones are — its either a fungus or vines, most likely Virginia Creeper or poison ivy. I’ll take a look today, as the tree is at one of my favorite stopping points.


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The Buckboard

As I mentioned in a previous post, I ran my delivery route backwards yesterday, which meant that I approached many farm-houses from the opposite direction. Perhaps this was why I noticed some sort of antique wagon in an elderly woman’s front yard — I’d never noticed it before.

I delivered the newspaper and shut off the truck. The November sunlight was coming in low and nicely illuminated the wagon. It had a spring-mounted seat suspended above the wagon’s bed. What an interesting find! An old buckboard which probably was used long ago for trips to town. I could imagine the wagon holding cans of cream and boxes of eggs to trade for provisions at a general store in Payson, once upon a time.

A scenario developed in my ever-fertile mind:

[A sorrel mare pulls a blue-painted buckboard down a rutted dirt road on a sunny and splendid early-summer morning. A flock of prairie chickens hustles out of the way, disappearing into a field of timothy grass which was destined to feed that horse the following winter. A farmer and his rosy-cheeked wife sit companiably on the seat of the buckboard, bouncing up and down as the wagon crosses potholes in the road. The farmer wears a straw hat and holds a switch in one hand, gently encouraging the horse onward from time to time.]

Farmer: “Won’t it be nice to have coffee beans again! I think the delivery from Quincy came in the other day, or so folks say.”

Wife: “Such a morning! Look over there; that buffalo wallow is still pooled from that rain last week. Look at those ducks feeding!”

Farmer: “I’m so glad we got away from Ireland! Our own land and plenty of it!”

My reverie was interrupted by a car pulling into the driveway behind me. A white-haired woman in her eighties looked at me rather suspiciously. I walked over to explain my presence; she probably didn’t see strange men out in her yard very often!

“Hi! I’m here to deliver your newspaper. I saw that buckboard in your yard and I’m taking some photos of it. It’s a real beauty!”

“Oh, so that’s what you’re doing. Yeah, I love that buckboard. My sister and her husband bought that right after they got married. When my sister died her husband brought it over to me, and there it sits.”

I really enjoy getting some back-story to accompany photographs! I thanked the woman and took a few photos. Here are two of them. I used two different exposure settings to bring out details in two ways:

As I drove off I came up with the above scenario, among others.



Filed under Essays and Articles, Photos, Quincy

Through The Looking Glass: Death Throes!

I’ve always liked Lewis Carroll’s idea of the world seen in a mirror being another world entirely, one with, shall we say, relaxed laws of physics and probability. The world turned upside down and inside-out!

I passed into a milder mirror-version of my world yesterday. I arrived at the loading dock to pick up my bundles of newspapers and my boss took me aside:

“Larry, that woman at 1049 has been complaining again. She said you were late with the Sunday paper, and once again she called my boss rather than me! I know that occasionally there are unavoidable delays, but we need to keep that woman happy somehow!”

I explained to him why I had been running late, a story involving a 30 MPH wind gust and a bundle of slippery and glossy advertising inserts.

My boss looked pensive. He said, “Why don’t you try running the route backwards? That way that woman would be near the beginning of the route rather than the end.”

I thought this over. It would make for a weird day, but what the heck, I said I’d give it a try.

It was so strange trying to mentally reverse a spatial pattern which was so well-entrenched in my mind. I learned that houses and landmarks can look very different when approached from another direction! I had to stop and explain to a few customers who were accustomed to getting the paper at a certain time.

“Larry, what are you doing here so early! It’s only 12:30!”

I wrote recently about encountering a raccoon which behaved oddly and nearly running the creature over with my truck. Yesterday I drove by the area where I had encountered that ‘coon and saw a furry lump by the side of the road. It wasn’t moving and I assumed the beast had died during the night. A few minutes later I returned after a delivery and saw that the ‘coon was writhing, looking as if it was in its death throes. I stopped the truck and regarded the suffering animal through the open window. I couldn’t see its head:

I got out of the truck and walked around to the other side of the writhing ‘coon. I squatted down and watched for a while. I felt so sorry for that ‘coon! It was trying to cover its eyes with its hands as if the sunlight was painful. The ‘coon’s mouth was twisted in that rictus common to all mammals when death and pain make an unwelcome visit:

Rarely have I witnessed a wild animal or bird in the process of dying. Normally they try to find a secluded spot out of sight. I considered killing the animal, following that time-honored custom: “putting it out of its misery”. With what, though? A tire iron as bludgeon? The heel of my boot? My pocket knife?

I decided against it, as there existed a possibility that the ‘coon was just having a really bad day and would recover. I really don’t enjoy killing animals.

I also didn’t want to be late with my deliveries. An imaginary scenario, my boss again confronting me:

“So what happened yesterday, Larry? We had three calls about you being late!”

“Well, there was this raccoon I had to kill, and it wasn’t easy!”



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Night Dogs

Early this morning a waning gibbous moon faintly illuminated the landscape as I drove down winding rural roads. I had a near encounter with an atypical raccoon. It appeared in the middle of the road right after I had rounded a curve, looking at the approaching truck impassively. I braked suddenly and the animal disappeared under the truck. I backed up, hoping I wouldn’t see an agonized animal dying before me, bleeding and gaping at me as its innards spilled out. I peered over the truck’s hood; the ‘coon peered back at me, seemingly uninjured.

I carefully steered around the raccoon, which oddly enough didn’t attempt to flee into the darkness.

At the end of the road I delivered a Sunday paper at a friend’s farm, the newspaper bulging with shiny ads printed on flimsy glazed paper. On the way back up the lane I almost hit the same raccoon, which was still lingering in the road. It looked up at me with a dull expression as I attempted to ease by it. I stopped and rolled down the truck window. What was wrong with this animal? I could have easily gotten out of the truck and picked it up. But it might have been rabid… I imagined the crazed beast leaping up with diseased energy and fastening its teeth in my throat as it uttered a demented squeal. I rolled the window back up and drove on.

Thinking about this encounter I rounded yet another curve. I saw a group of mid-sized animals in the road before me. The smallest one was pale and its four companions were jet-black with contrasting ruddy mouths and tongues. What now?

I slowed down and saw that I had come across a pack of dogs out on an early-morning prowl. They looked up at me and I gazed down at them. They made no effort to run away, so I slowly followed them down the road. I got out my camera and managed to get some blurred shots before the dogs took off through the woods which bordered the road. The pack’s leader seemed to be a beagle, while the others were perhaps some hound mix, all-black dogs which probably came from the same litter. I’ve seen this before; I think roaming rural dog packs recruit a sharp-nosed beagle as a scout, a useful division of labor.

Here are the photos, rather blurred due to the long exposures and the motions of both the truck and dogs, but better than none at all. I was leaning out of the window as I drove:

I wonder how much territory such a pack of farm dogs covers in a night of hunting. Do they eat carrion, or perhaps prey on weak, young, or diseased animals? I wonder if they came across the ‘coon I nearly hit. Perhaps the dogs are all rabid now!



Filed under Photos, Quincy