Category Archives: Geneva, Ill.

Spring watch

We’re staying in a Cambridge apartment today, and signs of spring are everywhere: purple and yellow croci blooming down the street, forsythia about to bloom, a sprig of pussy willow with big fat gray catkins that someone place in a vase in the entryway to this floor.

Astute reader Craig pointed out a recent article in the Kane County Chronicle: the owls are back nesting in a larch tree outside the old courthouse in Geneva, Illinois. [Link] Last year, I was living in Geneva and wrote about the owls as a sign of spring [Link]. Good to know that spring is indeed coming in Geneva as well as here in Massachusetts.

Why craigslist is more than classified ads

Carol and I decided to get rid of our couch (which we got for ten bucks), so we put it on Craigslist for free. I heard from a few people who didn’t really want it, then a fellow named Gary who lives here in Geneva emailed and said he’d like to look at it. He came over with a friend, took one look, and said, “What a great couch, I’ll take it.” His friend, who was pretty quiet, said they were moving out to Sycamore, to a bigger apartment, and they liked the couch.

It is a great couch, comfy and friendly. “I’ll have a truck late Saturday, can I pick it then?” But I hope to start driving on Saturday, so he said he’d find a friend with a van.

Phone call next afternoon. “Dan, it’s Gary, I’ve got the van, can I come over now?” Fifteen minutes later a 10 year old Dodge Caravan pulls up. The driver is a woman named Sunny, who’s wearing a tie-dye tank top.

Gary and his friend wrestle with the couch, while Sunny and I move things out of the way. They’re trying to get it through the door, it won’t quite fit, and Sunny reaches over and unscrews the legs on the bottom of the couch. She’s the kind of person who knows to do things like that, and does them at just the right time. Her personality matches her name, too.

“Need rope to tie it in?” I ask. But no, of course Sunny has bungee cords.

As she’s bungee-ing the couch into the van, the three of us chat (the quiet friend leaves as soon as the couch is in the van). “Hey, if you’re not doing anything on Friday night, come on over to Sycamore Speedway,” she says. “I’m driving in the Demolition Derby.”

“What a blast,” I say, “what are you driving?”

“A mint-green Ford LTD,” she says, one from the mid-70’s. What a great car to do a demolition derby in. “I’m racing as the Menopausal Maiden from [and then she gave the name of her cleaning company, which I promptly forgot].”

Then the conversation turns to the Rainbow Family of Living Light. Do I know about them? Yes, I say, my cousin the Deadhead got involved with them for a while.

“People say, what’s the difference between the Deadheads and the Rainbow Family,” says Sunny, “They both wear tie-dye, right? –but I say, just look at the parking lot after a gathering of the Deadheads, and then look at our site after we leave. Trash everywhere with the Deadheads, but with ours, you wouldn’t even know we’d been there.”

She has pictures of this year’s gathering, and she shows them to us. “Hey, that guy’s naked,” says Gary, laughing.

“Peace, pot, and microdots, that’s our slogan,” says Sunny. “This one’s my husband. And this picture, you can’t really see it but this is looking across the meadow and that’s part of a circle of ten thousand people holding hands. I took like a panorama of pictures, one after the other, but the others are on another roll of film. And this couple got married at the gathering, on the Fourth of July.” I say, his shirt must be handmade. “Yes, and her dress is too.”

Sunny says a famous novelist often attends the Rainbow Family gatherings, which I didn’t know. I happen to know this writer’s daughter, and I ask Sunny if she has met the daughter, but she says no. She goes on: “I always say there are two most important jobs at the gathering: the shit diggers…” she pause, and Gary and I nod, of course they would be very important — “and the pocket trash people. I like the little kids who go around saying, pocket trash, and we all come out with our pocket trash.” Gary asks, what about the rest of the trash, but Sunny says, “What we pack in, we pack out. We all take our own trash out with us.”

“It’s all about healing the earth, and healing each other,” she says, “and having a good time.” We’ve been talking for a long time now, and Gary is clearly getting a little anxious, which I point out, and he says, yes he’s got a lot to do before he moves. So we all say good-bye. And maybe I’ll head up to Sycamore tomorrow, and look for a mint-green Ford LTD in the Demolition Derby driven by one of the nicest people I’ve met in a long time.

Mournful moment

A slow gentle rain has settled in, accompanied by cooler air. There won’t be enough rain to break the drought, but this weather is a welcome change.

I spent today doing the last of the packing — boxing up everything that’s in the kitchen. It’s a mournful moment, when you pack away the last few things, for then there is nothing left of your stay in that place.

But that feeling is mixed in with excitement, too, a wanting to get on to the next thing, the next adventure. Tomorrow is supposed to be cool and pleasant, and if I’m lucky I’ll get everything loaded into the moving container. Which will give me a day to play in Chicago. We’ll see!


Our “Pods” moving container arrives tomorrow morning, and I was going to go to sleep early, so I could get up and take a walk before it arrived. But it’s just too hot to sleep — 10:05, and 86 degrees. I’m too cheap to put on the air conditioning, which means I’ll sleep fitfully, and my sleep will be filled with dreams. We hit 100 degrees here today — at least, that was the official high temperature today at the DuPage airport five miles from here. Heat advisories all day, dew point in the seventies. It stayed above 95 from late morning until after seven tonight. Hot, humid. At 4:30, I went out and walked down to the river. It was too hot to walk fast, and I always walk fast, so it was an unusual experience for me. Island Park, amazingly, was empty. The usual Sunday afternoon crowds on the river bike trail weren’t there — only the rare bicyclist passing through, one fisherman, and me. I stayed in the shade and wandered slowly downstream on the west side, behind the county complex along Route 31. Three big white Great Egrets, and two big Great Blue Herons, in the middle of the river desultorily stalking fish. Scores of Mallards stood on rocks in the middle of the water, fast alseep; the Wood Ducks stayed in the shade along the edges of the river. A few Spotted Sandpipers, who are gradually losing their spots as their winter feathers grow in, kept to the shady shallows on my side of the river. I sat in the same place for three quarters of an hour, not really watching the birds. At one point, for a moment or two, I understood something about the river… timelessness, not not quite that… the trees have actual personalities, like in those paintings by, not that’s not quite…. And it was gone. Not quite sure what it was, but it couldn’t have been put into words in any case.

Not over till it’s over

According to the almanac, the sun rose today at 5:34 a.m., and set at 8:24 p.m. On June 21, the sun rose at 5:18, and set at 8:32 — not enough of a difference to really notice, but somehow the quality of the light seemed a little different this evening.

Or maybe it’s just because the sandpipers have already started migrating south. They’re always the first migrants I see. It was with a slight pang that I saw a Solitary Sandpiper along the Fox River on Monday, the first visible sign that we are moving towards fall.

But the days are still unbelievably fourteen and a half hours long, the nights short and restless, the heat has really settled in.

((p.s. happy birthday jean!))

Two sky moments

At nine this morning, a few clouds passed overhead. I was out for a walk, before it got hot, and a few raindrops fell for perhaps two minutes: a trace of rain. Then at noon, dark clouds rolled in from the west. I was at the car dealer getting a brake job. When the rain hit, we all stopped whatever we were doing and watched. The rain began just before one o’clock, the thunder and lightning were furious for five minutes, and the rain and wind lashed down. We could smell the rain. “It’s beuatiful, isn’t it?” someone said. “I like it best when there’s real loud thunder and lightning,” said someone else. “We need the rain,” said the service manager. “I was talking to a farmer who lives near me, and he said the corn is only four feet tall and it’s tassling out. He’s going to get a third less bushels than usual.” By one twenty, the heavy rain was over, and some light sprinkles persisted for another twenty minutes.

An incredible sky this evening just at sunset. The setting sun shone on the upper level cirrostratus clouds turning them pastel orange, pastel yellow, pastel red. The lower cumulus clouds, still boiling up trying to become thunderheads, glowed robin’s-egg blue inside white edges. Presumably they were reflecting the stretch of blue sky straight overhead, but they reminded me of the color of a glacier I once saw: glowing ice blue. I have never seen clouds that color before. It was a beautiful and disconcerting sight. The lower clouds sped eastward, turning leaden as they went. By the time I had reached the depot, a fifteen minute walk, all blue faded away. The sun faded in the west, until even the upper clouds had only a faint rosy edge in places, and the white dimmed to gray, and then to dusk. From the first yellow glow in the sky to dusk took only twenty minutes.

Moving, part two

All the books are packed — finally — fifty-five 12x12x12″ boxes. Maybe too many books.

At this point, nearly everything is packed except the things that are fragile and difficult to pack: framed pictures, dishes, tchotchkes. But we don’t have much of any of those things, so it should go quickly.

Right now, the plan is to get everything packed except what’s going in the car with me, so I can have a week to go into Chicago, and work on a couple of writing projects. The sooner I get everything packed, the sooner I get to start that free time — so back to packing!

Midsummer night

Twenty-odd years ago, I got into the habit of staying up late in the summer. I was living outside Philadephia, it was brutally hot every day for weeks. My job allowed me to pretty much set my own hours, so I stayed up late, sometimes all night, to take advantage of the cooler night air. I’ve been in love with summer nights ever since then.

This afternoon, it got brutally hot. I’m on vacation, so I had the luxury of not having to work, and instead I sat around in a stupor. Now it’s night, a magical summer night, and I can stay up late to enjoy it.

I can see some lights on in the upstairs apartment of the house over on Ford St.; at least one other night owl lives nearby. The moon has set already. The orange hazard lights on the construction crew’s sawhorses blink on and off all along Ford Street in an odd rhythm.

And I can hear the various hums and whines from all the neighbors’s air conditioners. The third shift of the Burgess Norton factory over on Anderson Boulevard has one of the doors open again, so I can hear faint factory sounds: machinery clacking away, the “beep-beep-beep-beep” as a forklift backs up. Across town, a late-night freight rumbles along the Union Pacific line.

The first light of day will come at about 3:30. That’s the time I came awake two nights ago, to hear a few birds idly start to sing. They thought better of it, stopped, and began again in earnest at 4:30 when dawn was more sure.


The drought keeps getting worse. NOAA’s National Weather Service Forecast Office has upgraded it to the category of “severe drought (D2).” They define severe drought in the following terms:

Crop or pasture losses likely; fire risk very high; water shortages common; water restrictions imposed.

Yesterday the air was dry, the easterly breeze we’ve had since mid-week continued, and the temperatures stayed in the eighties — a perfect summer day. I decided to walk to Batavia using the paved bike path along the river.

Walking down Hamilton St. to the river, I saw the leaves on some trees were beginning to wither with the dryness. Some shrubs and smaller plants were in even worse shape. One patch of Coneflowers appeared dead.

But once down by the river, everything was still amazingly green. Even the grass was green along the river, although everywhere else it has dried to a crisp brown. Duckweed is out now, and when I squatted down to look at some, I noticed all kinds of insect activity along the surface of the mud and of the river. I realized that I have seen almost no insects anywhere for weeks, not even mosquitoes. But there are insects close to the water, which must be why the swallows are flying so low recently.

The river remains low, and you can see it flowing over rocks that are usually well underwater. The surface of the water looked bright and cheerful beside me. I walked through a stand of trees, and could feel the coolness coming up off the river, and into the shade of the trees.

About halfway to Batavia, I passed an area of grass that had not been mowed. The higher stalks, which bore the seed heads, were dry and brown, but up to about eighteen inches the grass and the lower plants growing among it were green — not exactly lush, but green.

I passed two bicyclists who had stopped to pick mulberries, which are growing prolifically alongside the river, and still bearing heavily. “Good year for mulberries,” I said.

One of the cyclists,”Oh they are so good,” with an accent that sounded eastern European. He picked another handful. “Very sweet.”

On the walk back, I picked some. The plentiful juice stained my fingers (and presumably my mouth) a bright deep purple-red. They tasted extraordinarily good, although that may be because I was getting thirsty by that point. Or because the mulberries from trees growing up away from the river are small and wizened, and taste eldery.

As I walked up State Street, climbing up out of the river valley, I noticed the trees started looking bedraggled starting at about 30 feet above the surface of the river. Our house sits beyond the height of land that marks the edge of the valley, and we are about sixty feet above the river. The house was built in the 1850’s, and still has the old water pump out front, sticking up out of the concrete cap someone put over the well. I wonder how deep that well goes, and what kinds of droughts it has seen in the past.