Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Beauty is where you find it...

Central Illinois is not normally noted for its flashy geography or diverse flora and fauna. What isn't corn is usually soybeans. Roads are laid out on a grid, each grid enclosing a section of land (a square mile or 640 acres). Topography is flat with gentle undulations that make it just barely impossible to see the horizon.

In short, Central Illinois makes Oklahoma look like Nepal.

People usually write off Central Illinois as a desert of corn, a subsidiary of ADM, without any merit or reason to live there. Peoria, often used as a metric for whitebread Middle America, is actually a nice town. While characterized as dull, uninteresting and bucolic, Peoria actually has a sordid history of whiskey and prostitution. Now it has Bradley University.1


I drew the short straw, and was tapped to drive Son 1.0 down to Normal, Illinois, to Illinois State University where he would be attending a church-related youth get-together for a week. It is 7 hours round trip, most of it on I-39, an interstate created to test just how straight and boring a highway can be.

Driving through a corn maze 150 miles square. That's why I look so happy.

We hustled it down there, driving 72.4 miles per hour, the optimum velocity for making time without attracting the Illinois Crown Victoria Flashing Light Society. Dropped off Son 1.0 (with some fear -- a kid was already playing a guitar sitting on his duffel bag) with prerequisite hugs, and high-tailed it out of there.

I did not get on the Interstate. I took a frontage road that followed I-39 for a while then veered off to the west. I drove through the grid like those guys in the movie Tron. Everyone I saw either waved or waved back to my wave. Cool.

So there I was, driving along, minding my own business when I crossed a bridge. Not a big bridge, but one that you wouldn't notice if there were not a bit more vegetation than you might see on the side of the road. So I pulled off to the side of the road, though with the two cars every 30 minutes, I hardly had to.

What I found was a tiny little farm creek. Not a temporary creek that shows up only when it rains, but a spring-fed creek that didn't flow much, maybe 4-5 CFS. But it was definitely an established rivulet.

I was pretty sure I'd find some sweet odonate pictures here, but the banks were steep and muddy, so I did what any photographer would do. Rolled up my shorts until I looked like I was wearing pantaloons and ditched the Birkenstocks by the side of the stream. I waded in to very cool, refreshing water. Definitely a spring-fed stream.

Note to self: next time carry hip boots.

It took me all of ten seconds to spot them, just upstream, a small little flock (?) of Calopteryx maculata, the Ebony Jewelwing, one of four broadwing damselflies that live in North America.

Of course, I had the wrong lens, the 80-200mm telephoto. Duh.

[Reverse process. Swap lens to 60mm macro. Better. Proceed where we left off].

The males were less shy than usual, not sure why. If I moved ever so slowly, they allowed me within a few inches of them, and allowed me to capture some detail I hadn't noticed before.

Detail like, uh, the jaws on this bad boy (it is a boy). They don't look so cute if you're a nice juicy gnat.

...and a lone female, very shy. I think she was hiding from the boys, who were sparring over the stream, being territorial as they are want to be this time of year.

Heavy-handed point is, you can find beauty everywhere, even if it takes muddy feet and dodging a patch of Wild Parsnip. It was worth every bit of the half-hour, and then some. So pull over and check out the little things...even in Central Illinois.

Respectfully submitted,

1 You have to love a University that has a Caterpillar Professor of English, who is also the Poet Laureate of Illinois. Before you scoff, consider Illinois produced Carl Sandburg and Papa Hemmingway.


Steverino said...

Yeah, I remember that 3 1/2 hour drive to Normal. . .longest 8 hours I ever spent on the road. Anyway, nice celebration of the road less taken. Mine has more sandstone, less water and fewer odonates, but is just as calming.

Mari said...

Greetings from the Illinoisans you met today with Frederick...thanks for writing another thoughtful post and capturing the minutiae of visual interest.
Mari & Eric