Roughly patched macadam leads past vacant ball fields, broad and Illinois prairie flat. A tree line hides the river until I reach where the pavement ends and a sliver of concrete tilts, continues down into the brown water. The Sangamon River flows languidly. Rays of rising sun burst into the canyon between its tree-lined banks, illuminating exuberant spring greens in the overhanging crown of the forest.
I walk the length of the pocked dirt road, skirting puddles, river on my right. From the shadows ahead a squad car slowly approaches. The officer and I exchange waves through window glass as he rolls by. Soft crunching of gravel diminishes, leaving behind stillness, then birdsong. The only other sound is the distant rumble of early morning traffic, muffled by the trees. I walk between twin silences, river and forest.
A piercing mechanical roar disturbs the peace, tapers to a hiss, ceases. Where the road ends a railroad cuts through the forest, crosses the river on a trestle bridge. The source of the roar isn’t revealed. I head away from the still silent river into the deeper, darker silence of the forest. Black earth leads me, a trail cut precisely through luxuriant undergrowth. The soles of my shoes gather mud until I am an inch or two taller and ungainly. I stop to scrape on a log. This process is repeated again and again, though I’m careful to accumulate only mud and not any of the horse manure that occasionally blots the trail.
After a while the silence, punctuated with the cheerful warbling of unseen birds, suddenly gives way to an enormity of fervent amphibian utterances. The sound grows nearly deafening as I approach a woodland pond. Sunlight pours into the opening in the forest, glares off the murky surface of the pool as if to cast a spotlight on the cacophony. The pond is unapproachable, the frogs imperturbable, the din unwavering in its intensity. In my mind hear my wife’s voice penetrating the solitude: “That’s the sound of sound of sex,” she invariably comments with an impish grin, hoping to get a rise out of me.
I am not lost. One could not get lost on this wide path. But where it is taking me has become a mystery and a concern. I have passed numerous forks and alternative routes, always choosing one that leads towards the ever higher sun, which I’ve assumed would take me back to the road. Now, as my deferred breakfast beckons and the mosquitoes thicken, I wonder. At the next fork I cut north. A white tail deer plunges off the trail ahead. Before the rumbling in my stomach grows uncomfortable I see the bright line of the open field through the trees.
I’ve overstayed the early morning tranquility. Three mowing machines crisscross the fields, buzzing distantly like mechanical mosquitoes. The corral near the entrance, empty when I drove in, now holds a whole herd of horses. The sun blazes down on the wide-open playing fields, flat as the Illinois prairie.