Sunday, July 20, 2008

At Morton Arboretum

Late yesterday afternoon J. and I finally made it to the Morton Arboretum—finally, because he has wanted to go for a couple of months. After a morning of solid rain, the weather brightened but remained humid.

On the way, I noticed several electronic signs that read, “State police enforcing motorcycle reckless driving,” which of course implies that reckless motorcycle driving is required by a law that state police enforce. I imagined the scene for J.: A state trooper pulls over a motorcyclist and says, “I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to ticket you. You could have weaved in and out of traffic in that jam a mile back, but you stayed in your lane and, even worse, you rode at a safe speed for conditions. Next time, drive recklessly, okay?”

A car in the parking lot was sporting a "Cthulhu for President" bumper sticker, complete with a red, white, and blue, stylized, round-headed octopus. Later, we spoke to a priest or minister whose bumper sticker advertised, "Rev for hire."

He was there because, like the Chicago Botanic Garden, Morton Arboretum hosts weddings, receptions, and other events, This day's events imposed some restrictions (no conifer way), but we managed to get into the visitor center just before it closed to the public. A man at the counter helpfully lent J. a pair of scissors so he could open an over-packaged camera card. We also raided the gift shop before it closed (in J.'s case, also after it closed because he's hard to budge from any store or spending opportunity no matter the hours).

The “Big Bug” exhibit by David Rogers closes today, so we saw the welcoming praying mantis as well as the ants, grasshopper, daddy longlegs, and dragonfly, all crafted from various woods. While we were admiring the dragonfly and the scenery around Meadow Lake, I heard a boy, probably 11 or 12 years old, complain repeatedly about the exhibit. "What kind of gratification are we supposed to get out of wooden bugs?" Clearly, he is one of those sadly cynical children who have much and appreciate little. One of the two girls with him, probably a sister, replied disgustedly, "Why are you being such a p . . . p . . . pe . . . pessimist?" After all my observations of poorly behaved or out-of-control children who seem alien to my own experience, it was a relief to see that sibling relationships haven't changed. Charlie Brown's Lucy lives.

Even better than giant insects are the real thing. I spotted a monarch flitting among the trees on its remarkably rich orange-and-black wings. Then we found a patch of prairie flowers buzzing with bumblebees of all sizes—some almost as small as the few honeybees among them, and a few robust giants whose wings even I could hear with my better ear. They scrambled quickly and deftly over the purple flowers, their pollen baskets loaded and their legs busily rubbing. Tomorrow when the destructive vortex of human ego threatens to suck me into its evil core, I must fight to remember the lovely, poetic toil of dozens of beautiful bumblebees.

Closer to Crowley Marsh, we encountered real dragonflies darting about like insect helicopters. Like butterflies and hummingbirds, dragonflies move so quickly and erratically that the beauty of their colors can be seen only in painfully brief flashes that leave you longing for move. I attribute this to Nature's sadistic sense of humor—the same sense of humor that makes the stationery and easy-to-observe fly unappealing in appearance.

The other insect in abundance made itself felt when J. tried to take a photo of me with the "tree of the day" along one of the hiking trails. He had no idea why I was hopping from foot to foot, twisting, and squirming; he couldn't see (or feel) the mosquitoes that were attacking my face, hands,legs, and rear. It will be interesting to see how those photos turn out—and I meant to be cooperative for a change.

Although we didn't observe any birds of note—we saw mainly healthy-looking robins, including a young one posing on a sign—we did witness a turf battle between two male red-winged blackbirds. I imagine the secretive, demure females were watching the skirmish from hidden branches and saying apologetically to one another, "Boys will be boys . . ."

At about 7:45 p.m., an employee discovered us resting on a bench and let us know that closing time was nigh. I told J. that he'd found us so directly that I wondered, somewhat seriously, if there are strategically placed cameras. Even in a peaceful arboretum, I feel surrounded by the prying eyes of civilization.

Confusing construction threw us off our route, so we were at O'Hare before we knew it. The plan was to go to the Silver Palm, which J. had gotten into his head was near North Avenue and which I thought was closer to Chicago Avenue (judging by the address). During our rambles, we noticed Exit Chicago, a windowless punk and rock club painted black and sporting studs around its forbidding door. I envisioned a tough, intimidating, scary crowd. Look up their Web site and judge for yourself.

After a lot of driving around and a little tension fed by growing hunger, frustration, and, in my case, pain (Ignatius and fibroid friends were making their constricting presence felt), we finally found it—only to learn that the server he knows there had changed shifts and had the night off.

The dining part of the Silver Palm is an old rail car, which seems to me to be the place's main attraction (the food being average). Nearly everyone, however, had opted to dine al fresco, which in Chicago is usually not as charming as it may sound. The Silver Palm's outdoor clientele were seated on a cracked, uneven sidewalk just feet from busy, noisy Milwaukee Avenue. At least I could imagine the glorious days of train travel and service—or try to.

After J. left me with a pile of gifts (T shirts, note cards, postcards, a wooden spoon, etc.), I stripped and lay down, feeling tired but very relaxed despite pain and discomfort. Just as a feeling of well being and peace was threatening to take over, I heard an explosive sound and wondered if the end were nigh and whether I should get up to be sure. More followed, and then the lightning arrived—a 1:30 a.m. thunderstorm. At last it put me to sleep.

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