Tales from a Misinformed Dictionary – Sudorific

Sudorific: Sudorific evolved from two words, “suds,” meaning the lather one creates from mixing soap with water, and “orifice,” meaning a mouth, or some such bodily cavity, or in layman’s terms, “opening.” Thus, the earliest definition of sudorific was “soap suds in mouth,” occasionally useful as a threat to the wayward child. However, as the centuries passed and the word “terrific” fizzed into popularity, “sudorific” came to mean “truly outstanding suds.” Both definitions continued in use, then gave way as a slang term gained currency in street talk, i.e.: “incredibly cool beer, dude.” German psychologist, Helmut Himmelspachendorfindoppelgangerfenstermacher coined the related term, “pseudorific,” after downing fourteen sudorific beers at the Schweinhund Cafe in Heidelberg. Pseudorific means, loosely translated, “Something one expects to be remarkably good, but is a pale imitation. Like sweet smelling soap with dud suds. Or flat, sudless beer.”

Mickey O’Hara was in trouble. He’d come to work in the mailroom under the influence, although no one could figure out just what influence he came to work under. But one look at his strange, shambling gait as he stumbled into a movable mail bin, sending it careening into his supervisor, Ned Shned, and his condition was obvious. “Oops, sorry, man,” said Mickey.

Ned was immediately aware of the sudorific bubbles leaking out of Mickey’s ears, a sure sign of sudorific imbibing. Ned was about to send Mickey home to sleep it off, when he thought better of it. He was extremely tired of pseudorific sudorific bubbles and pseudorific sudorific beer. The real stuff was unfailingly scarce since the economy went down some tubes or other only to spew out a month later as a confounding morass of political pabulum. Now everything was black market. You couldn’t buy a bar of soap worth its salt (unfortunately the pseudorific types were made of nothing but salt, which irrigated the skin – or was it irritated, Ned could never remember which). You couldn’t buy a beer without gagging on its pseudorific flavor, which always reminded Ned of strained sock juice. He pulled Mickey aside and pretended to be examining the postmarks on a batch of envelopes. Feeling damp around the edges, Mickey whipped out a Kleenex to wipe the suds off his shoulders. They both felt the intensely curious stares of the other workers in the room. Even the mail sorting machines seemed passingly interested. Ned Shned spoke first. “Uh, Mick, uh, where did you, uh, you know…”

“You mean?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, I…”

“O.k.”

“It’s…”

“Uh huh.”

“Or you could…”

“Right.”

Hannah Holepunch, the office manager, known for her ability to slice four hundred pages at a time with the paper cutter, came to the rescue and as always, cut right to the quick. “Stop this dilly-dallying, higgledy-piggledy, wishy-washy, mollycoddling, comme ci comme ca speechifying,” she cried, although no one had the faintest idea what she meant. However, the two men immediately stopped hemming and hawing. “WHERE’S THE SUDS?” Hannah asked. “Tell me right now or I’ll stick you in a padded envelope and mail you to a padded cell where you’ll never see the light of day again.”

Mickey turned nearly as white as one of the envelopes in Ned’s hands, although he was sure that only in fiction does anyone ever actually turn white as a sheet, and of course this wasn’t fiction, but reality…wasn’t it? “On the outskirts of town there’s a little night spot,” he said.

“No there isn’t,” said Hannah. “That’s the beginning of an old song. Don’t you fool with me.”

He tried again. “Out in the west Texas town of El Paso, I fell in love with a…”

“That’s another song! Tell me or else!”

He tried once more. “In a little border town, way down there in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.”

“You’re getting closer, but that’s still a song.”

When Hannah wielded her staple gun, Mickey finally caved in. “O.K. Go left on Central Avenue, down Pleasant two blocks and enter the second green door in the non-descript yellow shack with blue shutters shaped like one of the great pyramids.”

“You call that non-descript?”

Mickey nodded. “You got it. That’s where the suds are, the most sudorific suds ever found in this here land.”

“Music to my ears,” said Hannah, flying out of the room. Letters fluttered, packages fell, and a leaning tower of postcards toppled, as the room emptied, leaving Mickey alone. A strange gleam lit his eye as well as the small silver flask he pulled from his pocket. Was the gleam pseudorific or sudorific? No one ever found out. No one ever saw Mickey again, though rumor has it he’s fallen in love in a little border town in West Texas at a little night spot on the edge of…”

Actual meaning: causing or inducing sweat.

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Birthday Special: Prairie Hill free on Amazon.com July 27-28

To celebrate my birthday, Prairie Hill, is available for free on Amazon.com and its international affiliates on Thursday and Friday, July 27 and July 28!

Prairie Hill

Click on the cover photo or the link above to find reviews, further information, and to purchase the book. Amazon Prime members may also borrow the book for free even after the two-day promotion.

Prairie Hill description:

In 1980, a troubled young stranger arrives in Prairie Hill, a small Wisconsin city. Jimmy Lathrop would like nothing better than to go about his business washing dishes at the popular local eatery, the Pullet Surprize. A fresh start. No questions asked. Then he begins moonlighting as the feathered mascot of the local minor league baseball team and meets someone who will change his life.

Jenny Diggles bides her time serving the locals at the Pullet Surprize, struggling to come to terms with her lonely, eccentric mother, Lila. Should she chuck it all and marry Lance Kilgore, the ambitious general manager of the Cobb Kernels baseball team? Jenny’s passion for prairies and heirloom plants as well as her deepening friendship with Jimmy Lathrop lead to self-discovery.

With its atmospheric backdrop of threatened tall grass prairie and a soon to be abandoned historic baseball stadium and through its cast of colorful, quirky characters, Prairie Hill explores themes of redemption and love.

Prairie Hill – a prequel short story

My novel, Prairie Hill, has its origins in a short story first published in Fan, a baseball literary magazine, in 1992. Although “Jimmy Lathrop” is not an autobiographical tale, the setting and atmosphere come from my own experiences playing high school baseball in the late 1970’s. No doubt the strangest game I ever played took place against a reform school run by monks. We wore old-fashioned flannel uniforms, but the reform school team donned tattered uniforms dating from the 1950’s. Their baseball diamond featured an outfield that no one had mowed yet and a rocky infield with ruts and pits, a non-existent pitcher’s mound and a rusty chain-link backstop.

After publishing “Jimmy Lathrop,” I kept thinking about the central character and I began to take notes about his life, sketching out a character study, meeting his family members, exploring his world. A few years later I passed through a quiet, dusty small town in Wisconsin. Looking out the window, I spotted a forlorn-looking black and white Holstein cow, waving to passersby, inviting them to stop at a local inn for the “best burgers in town.” The image stayed with me and, in time, came together with the mysterious Jimmy Lathrop, only he wore a chicken costume instead…

My brother Jeremy graciously rummaged through my mother’s meticulously kept photograph albums and scanned a few photos of me in my ball playing days, used here to illustrate “Jimmy Lathrop.” As an avid collector since the age of six, I took the opportunity to try out some of my favorite baseball card poses!

Jimmy Lathrop

Pulvey parked on a dirt lot next to a couple of baseball fields. Behind a thin line of trees and up on a hill, I saw a huge, gothic stone building with slate-shingled turrets.

“Come on guys! Get a move on!” yelled Pulvey. “Let’s warm up. The other team ain’t here yet.”

We shook out our travel-weary legs and trotted past the rusted chain link backstop and onto the lifeless ball field. I shagged some fly balls out in right, but grounders were hopeless. The grass grew above my ankles.

“This place sucks!” shouted Snitzer in center, when a grounder stopped short ten feet in front of him.

“Shut up, Bump,” came Pulvey’s voice from home plate. His words, and the next ball he swatted, died with the wind that kicked up dust and candy bar wrappers.

The sun had snuck behind clouds when the St. Boniface team filed down the hill to the filed, followed by a monk in a brown robe. We Emory Friends Schoolers crowded onto a bench, and watched them play pepper. Their ratty flannel uniforms were too big or too small, depending on the player. They seemed unfriendly…and strangely silent.

Pulvey walked over to the monk and said, “I’m Coach Pulvermacher,” and held out his hand. The monk ignored it. “We will play seven innings,” was all he said. They exchanged lineup cards.

Bump nudged me as their pitcher took the mound and fired some in. “Look at this dude. He probably shaved when he was ten.”

The St. Boniface pitcher was well over six feet and dark-faced, pockmarked. He threw one hard that got past the catcher and lodged in the backstop. “Be glad that’s not your baby face,” said Butterfield, our second baseman.

The umpire, whose blue shirt strained over his immense belly, shouted “Play ball!” I was the first batter up and stepped into the box. I felt the sweaty presence of the catcher next to me, and behind the cage, the monk. I nearly fell on my butt when he growled, “Hum it in there, Jimmy!” The first pitch was a called strike. The monk kept up a steady patter, “He’s no hitter; Swing! batter batter Swing! You got a strikeout Jimmy, hum it.” I swung hard at the next pitch, which hit the dirt in front of the catcher, and knocked him back. I dug in.

Pulvey was dancing around in front of our bench. Our players struggled to see past him. “Good eye, Kimball, good eye. This guy’s wild. Take your time.” I took the next pitch for a ball. Jimmy shrugged his shoulders up and down in a way that looked familiar to me. He kicked high and the next one came in fast and low. I swung, missed, heard the monk cheer, but not a word from the players perched on the St. Boniface bench. I gazed at the mound and saw a look of intensity on Jimmy’s face that was damn familiar.

Pulvey ignored me as I plopped down. He was already shouting at Bump. “Get your ass in there, Snitzer. He ain’t gonna knock you down!”

I asked this little eighth grade kid, Tony Lopello, our “manager,” to pass me the scorebook a second. I looked down their lineup. Batting fourth and pitching, Jimmy Lathrop. Jesus, the last time I saw him he was my height and sunny-faced. Sixth grade. Five years ago. “Hey Coach.” I jogged up to him.

“What?” He didn’t look at me. “Jesus Christ, Bump. Keep your eye on the g.d. ball! What do you want, Kimball?

“What are these kids in here for?” I asked.

He glanced at me quick, raising up one of his railroad track eyebrows. “Shit, I don’t know. All kinds of stuff. They mess up at school. They steal cars. They beat people up. You know. Delinquents.”

“Thanks Pulvey.” I sat down again. The Jimmy Lathrop I knew was a gentle farm kid. Apple orchards – I remembered climbing up the mountain of sweet-smelling apple crates to a tunnel that led to his hideout. We’d talk about girls and whether the Phillies would finally reach the World Series again. Baseball. He was always good at that.

We went down in our half of the first. I grabbed my glove and crossed the hard-packed infield. I passed by Lathrop. “Hey Jimmy,” I said. “Pete Kimball.” His head jerked a little, but he kept right on for their bench.

Our team made no progress against them. We misplayed grounders hopping off infield pebbles, threw to the wrong cutoff men, under threw, over threw. Once a heavy kid pounded a ball into the outfield. I was sure he was too much of a snail to get very far, so I ran it down. Snitzer had the same idea. “Outa my way you fucker!” he yelled. His blue cap flew off and his curly hair bounced around like it was trying to hold on. We nearly crashed, then watched the ball drop. We stomped around the tall grass, looking for it. The umpire was all ready to call it a ground rule double, when Snitzer (the bozo) came up with the ball and a fistful of grass. “Here it is! I found it!” The fat kid made it home, no problem.

Back at the bench again, Snitzer tapped “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” on his teeth – teeth tapping is one of his few talents. “Bump, next time you run for a ball, leave your ego at home,” said Pulvey.

Butterfield picked up his bat. “I wish he’d leave his teeth at home.”

Bump kicked at a dried out patch of grass. “Hey, this team is really gruesome. The pitcher’s psycho.”

“What you need Snitzer, is a muzzle,” said Pulvey walking away.

I faced Jimmy again in the top of the fourth inning. We hadn’t hit a lick off him, but he walked a couple of us. It was either a walk or a strikeout. “The bastard throws about ninety miles an hour,” said Pulvey. “I don’t know why the hell he isn’t on their varsity.”

I wanted to say something to Jimmy. Ask him how his sister Molly was. Ask him if his Dad still rigged up the tap so apple cider’d trickle out. Ask him if he still spent hours in his homemade darkroom. I still have the photo of me in a field holding up a gourd shaped like a girl’s breast…His first pitch slammed into my butt and I limped to first base. I watched those shoulders shrug up and down again.

When Jimmy hit the next two batters, Pulvey’s face turned red and he kept wiping his brow and mussing up his brillow-pad hair. He didn’t like his batters knocked down, but he wanted the run. Maybe the only one we’d get that day? The monk strolled out to the mound, and Jimmy stepped off the rubber, which was actually a wood plank with the paint rubbed off. The monk slung his arm around Jimmy, turned his head and spat, just like a big league manager. “Is he always like that?” I asked their third baseman. He ignored me and took a pinch of Skoal from the can in his back pocket.

I was positive the monk would trip over his robes as he jogged off the field, but he didn’t, and sure enough Jimmy settled down. Three strikeouts and he was out of the inning.

“Nice going,” I said to Jimmy as I passed him. He didn’t even look up.

The score was eight-zip by the top of the seventh inning. Jimmy’d walked a few, hit a few, struck twelve of us out. He had a no hitter going. Pulvey paced back and forth in front of us. “He’s tiring,” he said. “I can tell he’s getting tired. You gotta take advantage. Get in there, Kimball.”

My last time up probably. I stepped in again. Jimmy took his time out on the mound, inspecting his cap, the ball, hiking up his stirrups, scraping up some clay. We used to play something we called “Great Catch.” You’d throw the ball in a hard to get place, and the other guy would dive for it, leap or jump at a weird angle, then roll over, twisting and turning, at last coming up with the ball, smiling and filthy. We’d play past dusk. Did Jimmy remember? “Come on, Play Ball!” hollered the ump. Old fart probably wanted to get home.

Jimmy finally let one go and I tipped it back into the cage. “That’s the way, Kimball. Good eye. Good eye!” yelled Pulvey. Jimmy’s next pitch was so slow I missed it by a mile. I peered at him. No, he didn’t look tired. Just fidgety. He threw the next pitch as fast and wild as ever. “Ball!”

I heard the monk again. “Lay it in, Jimmy. He’s no batter!” Jimmy kicked up and threw another slow one. I’m positive I heard the monk mutter “Jesus Christ.” I hit a weak grounder that just got by the third baseman, who must have been in shock. I raced to first and beat out a single.

Pulvey clapped his hand on my back. “Way to go!” He stepped back away from the bag and their first baseman elbowed me. “Quaker prep shit,” he said. I looked over at Jimmy. He was smiling.

After I stole second base, Jimmy struck out Snitzer and our catcher. When Butterfield popped up, the game was over. Our team huddled together, fists in the center for a desultory post-game cheer. “Hurrah Res, Hurrah Res, Hurrah Hurrah E.F.S., Yay St. Boniface!” After an incomprehensible cheer from them, we stood in line to shake hands and mumble “good game” a couple dozen times. When I got to Jimmy he looked straight at me and shook my hand hard. He held on just a little longer than he had to, but when I started to speak, he moved on to the next guys. From the bus I watched him climb the hill, the last in line.

Tales from a Misinformed Dictionary – Guanaco

Guanaco: Guanaco is the name of a small European city located near the famous Phosphatorium caves. Originally “settled” by itinerant fertilizer salesmen, the city took off when the Guanaco Company moved in and began mining a millennium’s worth of bat guano. Boom went bust when scientist Ignatio Mausoleum created synthetic fertilizer which was cheaper, although the very idea insulted every right-minded bat, plus its explosive qualities made it much more dangerous, if lots of fun in the backyard. The city dwindled to town size and then village size and then hamlet size and then…..a member of a new breed of scientists, Kyle Kintematsu (an African-Japanese-American), began on-site experimenting. If all went well, it would be boom-time for Guanaco once again.

Kyle had a PhD in ethical polynomial bio-fuel (a new degree), and had produced a widely discussed thesis, Computational and Analytical Parameter Estimation of Discontinuous Connectivity in Marginalized Bifurcating Tropes. The budding genius’s evil thesis adviser arranged for the shadowy, high-tech employer, “Stochastic Algorithms and Co.” to send him to Guanaco, which by that time seemed more Western-style ghost town than haven for aristocratic guano magnates. He booked a room at the decrepit “Batwing Hotel,” quaffed milkshakes at the earthquake ravaged “Quantum Shake Cafe,” and spent his remaining free time playing billiards by himself at the “Echolating Cue Ball.”

One day, while chalking his cue stick, wondering how on earth he ever ended up in small town nowhere deep in the heart of the backwater wasteland of some godforsaken spot in an obscure corner of the world, when he – Kyle Kintematsu – had been so sure of his post-graduate projection-based prediction of his future Nobel Prize-winning success, he lost track of his sentence and had an absolutely brilliant idea. He snapped the stick in two and immediately left for one of the famous caves, which twisted and turned until it became lost, deep in the ice-topped mountains. Kyle, too, found himself utterly lost, but fortunately still had his sticks and was able to beat off the indignant bats who were attempting to catch up on centuries of lost sleep due to incessant mining. The bats were in for a rude awakening, however, since Kyle’s idea might potentially bring a new boom to tranquil and inactive Guanaco.

After collecting a quantity of guano and fighting his way out of the maze, Kyle spent long hours in his grant-funded laboratory, creating a new kind of bio fuel. He was confident that his results would ensure a new frontier where engines no longer need guzzle oil or gas or ethanol. Farmers would no longer need to grow endless fields of corn or sugarcane or switchgrass or lima beans (not only poor for fuel, but with the gag-producing consistency and flavor of mildewed blanket). Fuel meticulously extracted from properly aged guano, however, not only ran cars and airplanes and other motorized vehicles (such as electric shavers) but actually grew those vehicles! People would no longer drive tiny compact models, Kyle thought, because the models would grow and grow…and grow. A tiny VW Beetle might expand to the size of a monster SUV. His only fear was that there was no cutoff point, that cars would grow so large they would begin to inflict too great a weight on the planet. Instead of fears of global warming, everyone would worry about global obesity.

While pondering these and other matters one day, Kyle found himself deep in one of the caves, lost in thought and lost in the cave, far from town, far from anyone hearing his desperate shouts for help as his thesis adviser, hanging upside down along with rows and rows of similarly inclined bats, caught Kyle in a carefully wrought trap.

Next thing Kyle knew, he was living the life of a laundromat accountant for a chain of dry cleaners in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, thousands and thousands of miles from Guanaco, in a place where no one had ever heard of bifurcation and even old bats slept soundly and dreamed sweetly.

Actual meaning: South American mammal with a soft thick fawn-colored coat. Although related to the camel, the guanaco lacks a dorsal hump.

Prairie Hill – Free on Amazon 6/21-6/22

My novel, Prairie Hill, is available for free on Amazon.com Thursday and Friday, June 21 and June 22.

Prairie Hill

Click on the cover photo or the link above to find reviews, further information, and to purchase the book. Amazon Prime members may also borrow the book for free even after the two-day promotion.

The excellent website Free Kindle Books and Tips featured this week’s promotion of Prairie Hill:

Free Kindle Books and Tips

Prairie Hill description:

In 1980, a troubled young stranger arrives in Prairie Hill, a small Wisconsin city. Jimmy Lathrop would like nothing better than to go about his business washing dishes at the popular local eatery, the Pullet Surprize. A fresh start. No questions asked. Then he begins moonlighting as the feathered mascot of the local minor league baseball team and meets someone who will change his life.

Jenny Diggles bides her time serving the locals at the Pullet Surprize, struggling to come to terms with her lonely, eccentric mother, Lila. Should she chuck it all and marry Lance Kilgore, the ambitious general manager of the Cobb Kernels baseball team? Jenny’s passion for prairies and heirloom plants as well as her deepening friendship with Jimmy Lathrop lead to self-discovery.

With its atmospheric backdrop of threatened tall grass prairie and a soon to be abandoned historic baseball stadium and through its cast of colorful, quirky characters, Prairie Hill explores themes of redemption and love.

Tales from a Misinformed Dictionary – Falciform

Falciform: A falciform was briefly in vogue during the 1420’s in Europe during an unexpected shortage of falcons used for hunting. Any captive bird, from hummingbird to great auk was a candidate for the falciform, a cast-iron contraption designed to convert them into fierce hunting falcons. Falcon masters in on the secret process boasted that the scientific discovery was a miracle of avian alchemy. Kings, Queens, Jacks and Knaves, all vied for the finest in falciformic creations, only to find that the newly created falcons lacked something essential, namely, feathers. We know that a bald eagle proudly, vehemently accepts its baldness as a badge of honor. Not so a bald falcon. The poor monstrosities shivered in the cold and burrowed under tapestries and chain mail and cautiously inched into the depths of seemingly available holes. Burrowing owls resented the intrusion and cast the falcons out. Eventually lone and lorn bald falcons flapped away to tropical climes and disappeared, never seen again except as figments of their own imaginations.

On April 1st 1421, the European stock of usable hunting falcons suddenly plummeted, victim to an unexpected plague which sent the birds into dreamlike euphoria. The happy birds were completely useless as hunters and only good for breeding euphoric offspring. Hunters everywhere cried into their mugs of ale and then turned to priests and monks, sages and philosophers (basically, any old coot wearing a robe) for solutions. None of them had the slightest idea what to do about the dilemma aside from a Franciscan named Don Pedro Cinco de Mayo, who agreed to present his answer by May 5th. What he came up with, however, failed to satisfy the hunters, who angrily swung heavy maces and beat on the feathered effigies the dotty monk created, spilling their contents, which proved to be a lot of hard sweets wrapped in waxed paper – thus the piñata, but not a viable falcon.

Finally, in despair, King Rufous Sided Towhee of Tarragon (a tiny speck of a kingdom located somewhere or other in Central Europe), turned (in desperation) desperately to the resident mad scientist, who lived in a remote mountainous district covered in haunted woods and topped by a perpetually mist-wreathed castle. King Towhee had great faith in this particular wizardly scientist, Hawkston Falcone, a renowned specialist in the enigmatic thaumaturgy of name changing. For decades King Towhee had suffered under the unpronounceable weight of his given name, Pipilo Erythrophthalmus, and then one day Falcone concocted the feathery light and mellifluous “Rufous Sided Towhee,” and all was well. Falcone was of mixed Transylvanian and Persian heritage but preferred himself not to go by his original name, Count Lazlo Daavoooodi-Zaaadeeeh, because of constant run-ins with the vowel constabulary.

Hawkston took to Towhee’s falciformic challenge immediately, as hawks and falcons were his favorite birds, although naturally he hoarded a stock of the requisite midnight black ravens and wise-looking owls about the castle as a matter of course. He set to work in his combination laboratory and smithy, welding this piece of rare metal to that piece of even rarer metal, steeping them in various experimental chemical concoctions, one of which turned the metal into plastic which he immediately threw out, not recognizing its value. Finally, after many tries, he succeeded in transforming a sparrow into a crow and a crow into something not even a pterodactyl would eat.

He tried again.

At once he succeeded in turning a crow into a sea gull, which consequently pooped all over the laboratory and on Hawkston Falcone’s head. He kept trying, anyway – he was mad after all. At last he succeeded in creating a falcon, but like so many before him, could not see his way around the lack of feathers. Since he had a lot of gold as well as his mad scientist reputation riding on this, he raided the storage bin in his third sub-basement for his stash of thousands of feathers (useful in all kinds of deranged experiments), climbed up the dank stairwell to his seventh floor lab and artfully glued the feathers onto a flock of bald falcons. In the dead of night he stole to King Towhee’s palace, crossed the moat, and left them at the barred gateway, where the poor creatures clustered together for warmth.

Alas, King Towhee also needed to maintain his reputation as a double-dealer. He peddled the falciformed birds throughout Europe at outrageous prices. Monarchs and falconers alike pretended that everything was hunky-dory since they too needed to prop up their prestige, even in the Middle Ages, just a few years before Gallup Polls.

Meanwhile, Hawkston Falcone, high in his mist-wreathed castle, continued his diabolical experiments, wreaking havoc while cultivating an even madder expression on his face, later transferred to one of his most famous and monstrous creations…..

Actual meaning: curved, sickle-shaped

Prairie Hill – the Prairie Blooms – novel excerpt with photos

A Prairie In Bloom

A few months ago I featured several beautiful wildflower photographs taken by naturalist Rob Baller. Now, as flowers begin to carpet the Wisconsin prairie, I thought I would share some further gems, alongside an excerpt from my novel, Prairie Hill.

Prairie Hill unfolds from multiple viewpoints, but its two main characters, Jimmy Lathrop and Jenny Diggles, relate much of the tale. Nineteen-year-old Jenny, who works as a waitress at popular local inn, the Pullet Surprize, is passionate about wildflowers and heirloom gardening. Jimmy, a loner and a stranger in town, works at the Pullet as a dishwasher, while also serving as Cock-a-doodle-do, the feathered mascot of the local minor league baseball team. The following scenes take place at the remnant prairie they’ve discovered. The undisturbed virgin prairie faces destruction as part of the expansion of the local Prairie Hill Industrial Park.

For those interested in reading more, Prairie Hill is available as an eBook at Amazon.com. See Prairie Hill tab above for further information.

Purple Coneflowers and Wisconsin Farmland

Jenny

…Where to find Jimmy? I knew he liked to walk, but there could be a hundred places he’d go. I wandered the neighborhood nearby, since I remembered he’d explored it once before. No luck. I practically galloped down the railroad tracks, every minute thinking I’d spot his tall form loping along up ahead, or maybe hear the clanging sound of a far-tossed rock nicking the rails. I walked at least two miles and saw nothing livelier than a stalking cat on the hunt. So I mulled it over, tried to calm myself down, and backtracked all the way home, where I pulled out my bike and rolled away to try some country routes. If I hadn’t been in such a darned hurry I might have enjoyed the beautiful May afternoon, with baby corn plants pushing up in the fields, red-winged blackbirds calling and swallows darting after insects. But I kept my eye peeled for pedestrians and bikers and only chanced on a lone, puffing, sweaty middle-aged jogger. I crossed the creek and realized that I was nearing Hulda’s house. I felt my pulse quicken, knowing I’d see that awful sign in a couple of minutes. Would I feel the rumble and hear the roar of big diggers churning up unplowed earth? Would the hill and sloping field still be there?

Gentian

Jimmy

I wound my way through woods and fields and found myself on the hill overlooking Jenny’s prairie, where I sat down. I call it Jenny’s prairie because when I’m there I think of her excitement and joy at finding untouched land with its rare plants and flowers. It’s a peaceful spot if you keep your eyes on the view straight ahead. Beyond the prairie and the road below, you see old farm fields cut through by lines of trees and a meandering creek. But I couldn’t avoid the constant whine and drone from the interstate a mile to my left and the noise of trucks stopping, starting, loading and unloading at one of the warehouses nearby. Nothing’s changed since workmen installed the sign way down below. The song sparrows and indigo buntings and monarch butterflies have no idea that their field of tall grass and sunflowers and milkweed is about to disappear forever. I told myself not to feel anything. Land grabs happen everywhere and the second you get emotionally involved, you’re thinking about it all the time and then it gnaws at your heart. I’ve had enough of that pushing and pulling of emotions over the last few years, maybe enough to last a lifetime. But there I sat anyway. Apparently, my feet didn’t agree with my mind. I watched the occasional truck or car zip by and finally a jogger who ran slower than he could probably walk it. Even that was more civilization than I wanted today. Just soak in a little more sun and then in a minute I’d look for an even remoter spot.

Prairie Grasses, including Big Bluestem

Jenny

I forced myself to pass the thin stand of trees and looked left at the prairie, up the slope to the hill. There was a man up there sitting in the grass and I could tell it was Jimmy by his red checkered flannel shirt. It didn’t take him long to spot me. He stood up and turned as if he was about to head away, but he changed his mind and stood his ground. I dumped my bike and followed an animal trail up the hill. I couldn’t help noticing the long-stemmed blooming Shooting Stars and felt a quick flash of delight when I spied coneflowers and sunflowers and Black-eyed Susans coming up, though it would be awhile before they’d bloom. I wish I knew the names of the grasses – those at the prairie don’t look like anything you’d see on your standard lawn or baseball field, not even crabgrass.

Purple Coneflower

When I reached Jimmy he stood with his hands in his pockets, looking tight and uncomfortable and with an unreadable expression on his face. “You’re a hard man to find,” I said. “I’ve searched all over town, every spot I think a Jimmy Lathrop might hang out.”

“You thought wrong about a lot of places, then,” he said, voice low and thick.

“I should have realized you’d be here.”

“Why?”

“It’s where I’d want to be.”

I sat down and he joined me, sitting about two feet away. “Jimmy, you said you’d found something out about the Extru-ThermaTec Corporation.”

It took him a long minute to say anything. “I was concerned for Hulda,” he said and I only half believed him. “She’s lived near here for a long time and it seems as if one by one the surrounding fields are going and she’ll have prefab on all sides.”

“Hemmed in,” I said. “She doesn’t want to sell her land, but the offers keep getting more and more attractive.”

“At some point, she may have no choice. Somebody might persuade the city to try eminent domain.” His hands tore at a stem of grass. “Anyway, I looked through about six months worth of papers at the public library, searching for anything to do with this property. All I found was a lot of hype about the industrial park and how pleased the city fathers are that the park’s stimulated new growth, including sale of property to the extrusion company. They gave them a whole lot of incentives to build here, too. Tax breaks, that kind of stuff. Buried way deep in the article they announce plans to break ground by mid summer with their facility opening by early December. Other than that, not a word. The paper obviously boosts this sort of thing – growth and expansion is necessary, they say. I thought there might at least be a letter to the editor from some concerned resident or other.”

“Not too surprising. Most of the farms are gone and the few country people around here are old.”

Shooting Star

We sat in silence for awhile. I kept expecting him to say more but he didn’t or wouldn’t. I blocked out the man-made sounds and tried to concentrate on the sounds of a prairie in May, imagining myself back in time to when there were fields and fields for miles, no sounds from cars or airplanes or lawn mowers, no industrial hum or roar. A flash of blue startled me, and a bird settled on a bit of brush off to our left. Jimmy swore softly. “Bluebird,” he said. “See that reddish orange on its breast, a little bit like a robin. Same family. My father said he used to see them all the time when he was a kid and then they became incredibly rare. Supposedly they’re on their way back now.”

“I’ve never seen one. I guess they don’t visit backyards.”

“No, they’re field birds. They like open spaces. They used to nest in old wooden fence poles as well as tree hollows.”

“But now the fences are metal and everyone cuts down trees that aren’t perfectly healthy.”

“You got it.”

“So how come they’re reviving?”

“Well, they may not be coming back everywhere. I don’t know. But a lot of birders have set up bluebird houses, mostly wooden boxes, along fences out in the country. My dad liked to build them and I liked helping him set them up. We had boxes all around the perimeter of our property. Tree swallows liked nesting in them, too, but we’d see one or two bluebirds every year when I was younger.”

“You lived in the country?”

“Yeah.”

I waited, but he didn’t say anything else.

Spiderwort

A few more cars had passed below. Now a brown car with county sheriff insignia on its door crept by, pulled to the side of the road and stopped. A man in uniform stepped out and peered up at us. He must not have had anything pressing to do because he hitched up his pants and began to trudge up the trail toward us. I stood up and after a moment Jimmy did too. “We could make a run for it,” I joked, but glancing at him, I was surprised by how serious Jimmy looked, concerned and troubled. He took a few steps toward the officer and I followed.

He was middle-aged and pudgy around the middle and the climb had broken him out in a sweat and he was breathing heavily. “Folks,” he said, though he addressed Jimmy. “Are you aware this is private property?”

“We’re just admiring the view,” said Jimmy.

“Well, we’ve got parks for that, you know. You don’t have permission to be here, you got to go. Sorry.”

“Isn’t it a lovely place, though?” I said.

The officer looked back down the hill and across the flowering and grassy field and nodded. “My wife would call this one big hellacious patch of weeds, but I see what you mean.” He pulled out a pad from his pocket, stared at it a moment and then put it back. “I should take down your ID’s, but we’ll let it ride for now. Just scram and don’t let me catch you up here again. There’s been vandalism in the industrial park, graffiti and so on.” He eyed Jimmy again. You wouldn’t know anything about that would you?”

“No sir,” he replied. “Alright, we’re out of here.”

We followed the officer down to the road. I picked up my bike and we headed back to town…

Common Milkweed Seeding – make a wish

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