Location: marengo, il, United States

Sunday, November 21, 2004


About one hundred miles west of Stinking Onion lays a slight valley. A lot less populated, this basin thrives without much racket or as many thrills as the far-off metropolis.

At one end of the valley, a tiny swamp endures in the center of a certain village. Not a regular type of swamp that one might imagine; it contains no cypress trees festooned with graceful Spanish mosses. The slew supports no water lilies nor a single lily pad. There are no alligators; nor do bob cats roam free. And no bearded men pole around in flat-bottomed skiffs. None of these things are natural to the swamp in the middle of Hoohooville.

What breeds in abundance are mosquitoes. Dragonflies also flourish, as do butterflies, black crickets, hopping toads and singing frogs. Small fish prowl pockets of waters searching for food. Snakes are less evident than turtles, and turtles are seldom seen. Raccoons, opossums and squirrels make the area their home, among groundhogs and a rare coyote or fox. Several species of oak and maple do well and thrive, together with beech and walnut trees. Wild grapes can be found hidden in a few spots.

The community of Hoohooville is less than extraordinary except for the presence of its singular swamp. Like most humans of the world, its friendly residents are dull and lackluster by strict definition. Then again, like most folk everywhere, such a harsh but accurate portrayal might set off riots were it not for their decent morals and unparalleled sense of humor.

The folk that make up Hoohooville are a diverse lot, however. Many work at jobs close by to pay for life‘s simple pleasures, while others might rise extra-early to commute to near-by settlements that offer many varied ways to earn a living. Some manage to stay at home to do whatever they fancy.

Several factories and manufacturing plants in the town keep lots of the adults busy. One single food market offers a fair selection of wares with a chief aim to please customers. Two shops sell gas along with useful snacks and drinks. A pizza parlor, one hamburger franchise plus a number of different restaurants soothe appetites of either the adventurous or the languid.

A single modern building provides postal services for cash.

One hardware store in the village has managed to keep its doors open.

A well-equipped rescue squad does a brisk business, for some citizens in this serene part of the world are forever finding new ways to either injure or eradicate their own or others’ existence.

One establishment set in the heart of the downtown area sells alcoholic drinks in a smoke-filled den of loud chattering regulars. Two blaring televisions and a lone juke box compete for attention, while hustlers shoot pool in an adjoining room.

On the west side of town another club offers about the same trade. Most of the crowd from both places are fine and responsible citizens. A scant few have found themselves waking up to discover that they are riding in the rear of a wailing rescue vehicle.

One enterprising fellow in town spends his summer days traveling slowly up and down village streets, annoying the sensible with a corny and repetitious version of a theme song from a long-forgotten movie entitled “The Sting”. An attentive hoard of largely little children follow after this modern-day piper, craving his ice cream or other frozen treats.

The population of Hoohooville might vary at different times, but this anomaly hinges largely on the influx of automobile traffic. This variant can be observed twice daily and from several different angles, but in no way does the witness ridicule, or even attempt to make a person feel less than admirable. The uncomplicated facts simply account for the freak event.

Far-away and close-by settlements continue to yield to hungry land developers. These sorts offer vast sums of monies for acre after acre of spacious farmlands. The debt-ridden farmers then succumb to the enticements one-by-one.

Now who among such men could resist the pull of that lure?

So twice a day commuting foreigners, driving their throngs of congestive cars, invade the single road that winds through Hoohooville.

Because of this one blemish upon the unspoiled face of paradise, any futurist is put off from getting ideas here. For you see, our wisest city fathers encourage us to behave, unlike the folk in big Stinking Onion.

Long ago glaciers left this gentle basin where Hoohooville now slumbers, and they left behind a valley scoured clean and smooth. An occasional rise here and there breaks the present-day sameness with tree-lined knolls, while at the same time giving witness to past forces of nature one should only contemplate with reverential awe.

But the melt waters from these historic glaciers, along with run-offs from abundant spring rains over the centuries of time, have produced a small stream that humankind chose to call the Kishawamuckie River. The name came from an Indian word that literally means “We have arrived here worn out and hungry, and now our women are starting to act strangely”.

Most often the Kishawamuckie flows lazy and slow, but the flattened stretches of the valley have allowed the little stream to spread far and wide during times of floods. Woven now among its banks are pockets of tepid water that extend for huge distances away from the river proper. It is in one of these low bogs that a visionary sought to build a tract of homes.

Early one morning, as fog crept among damp trees and wet grasses, a lone blue heron gave up his prize portion of the swamp and flew swiftly away. His wings flapped graceful and silently while he climbed into the sky, taking him high out of reach of the two men that unintentionally disturbed his fishing. The pair of surveyors, oblivious of the retreating creature, had a mission to accomplish.

And soon after their and other official reports cleared committees that granted such permission, large machines entered into the swamp. First bulldozers arrived to fell all of the trees. Nesting birds panicked and abandoned their homes. Then massive trucks delivered ton after ton of fresh earth. Land mammals scurried off into nearby woods as sands and clays were dumped and sloshed, filling the pools of still black waters. Fish trapped within their muddy graves perished.

Next came more giant equipment to push and shove the mounds of soils around. Hungry birds returned to feed on displaced frogs and salamanders.

Other machines quickly hired on to roll over the earth to pack it down level and firm, and then after all of the diesel engines grew silent, crowds from the village came and stood at the edge of the beaten swamp to watch as bands of laborers began the task of building new infrastructures.

Thousands of feet of sewer pipe became buried in fresh-laid trenches. Then a series of roads appeared over the virgin topsoil. Hundreds of poles went up to accommodate utility lines where trees had once stood, undisturbed and unplanned. Spiders took to spinning webs in the background of all this activity, trapping abundant insects for themselves.

Then the carpenters arrived. A flurry of hammers and saws, along with a glut of boisterous language, pounded and whined and cursed, filling the surrounding land with first one stud wall after another until at last, definable structures began taking shape.

Almost overnight the former easygoing swamp became a composed and ordered neighborhood. It still lacked a human population, but that unfulfilled dream of the visionary came all too swiftly. Before one could say Jack Flash, at least in geological time, young married couples moved in and began procreating.

The vanquished swamp soon began to flourish with various types of life forms. Newly-planted saplings grew to become trees that would bear witness to many changes. They also endured an unexpected flood that scared the original humans who lived among the tame trees. The waters crept in silently to threaten every dwelling before receding, which caused some of the terrified residents to fear that the swamp might want to return.

So shortly after the soggy pioneers and their precious land dried out, they banded together and sought an agency to address their predicament. A corps of engineers conducted another survey, and then proceeded to dig a deep drainage ditch along the northern border of the swamp. After a second deluge the agents extended the channel, bringing it to empty into an even deeper canal that ran northward to the uncomplaining Kishawamuckie River.

After that the trees continued to mature and keep silent watch.

In the beginning parents strolled babies down new sidewalks. Later they held tiny hand as the toddlers began to take first wobbly steps. The trees swayed to soft breezes that moved through their branches while observing tricycles rolling up and down the sidewalks, dutiful fathers walking along side. They grew tall as training wheels were removed from the bicycles, and they grew taller still as basketballs were thrown through hoops attached over garage doors, and they continued to grow even taller as the children advanced to automobiles and first dates and proms. They beheld mothers driving to visit distant shopping malls. They saw fathers going to work to provide for all of these historic moments.

And for the next fifty years the tolerant trees held their vigil.


Post a Comment

<< Home