A VW Jetta rather noisily crushed my right front turning light in the parking lot of the Paul Douglas Forest Preserve Saturday at noon. The driver, a college freshman named Chris, somehow missed seeing my bright red Honda coming toward him when he backed out of his spot, feeling good from just having won a game of flag football (he played defensive end). One might say that his car (actually, his girlfriend's) tackled mine, but that would be stretching a metaphor too far.
After exchanging information and getting a police report from the park policeman, which took, all told, forty-five minutes, my binoculars and I went off for a hike, rather out of the mood for it by this point. The great blue herons were roosting on poles high above the marsh as usual, occasionally swooping down like pterodactyls; red-winged blackbirds gamboled among low bare branches. I watched a vulture for a while, flying with magnificent grace in large circles close to the ground, its red head bright above its dull black body. Two sandhill cranes--the first I've seen in Illinois--were walking happily together wearing their little red caps, occasionally emitting their gargling cry, even louder than the geese.
The preserve is quite vast, crisscrossed with deer trails, but without any hiking trails at all; you have to bushwhack across the swamps and creeks. Dense forest alternates with marshland, but the majority of the land is brush and rolling meadows, and most of the trees are crabapple (though there are some delicious wild apple trees too). For some reason several of the trees near the rookery had been cut down and ground up--I'm not sure why or what the plan is. The playing fields are all near the parking lot, and I can't imagine anyone trying to convert the ground where the crushed trees lay to playing fields, as it's simply too marshy.
I rediscovered the spot where at some point an earthen bridge had been built over the creek that otherwise renders inaccessible the eastern two-thirds of the preserve, but I didn't spend much time exploring. I drove back home and fried an onion, a zucchini, garlic, leftover baked sweet potato, and cashews, and grated some havarti dill over it all. I felt like having a cocktail--I had a blackthorne in the fridge left over from a poker game--but I didn't.
Catherine and her kids, Celia (seven) and Zavier (eleven), stopped by on their bikes, and Jacky (my son, eight) and I joined them on ours with Maybe (our dog) running alongside me. We cycled down the Midway past the ice rink and played a tough game of soccer for half an hour, Zavier and Catherine beating the three of us five to four. We tried playing baseball with a tennis ball, but Maybe kept catching it and not letting us have it back, and even after we tied her up, the enthusiasm was gone. We cycled back and had hot chocolate.
Karen (my wife) is laid up with a broken leg, and Catherine went upstairs to chat with her for a while; I made dinner (baked sweet potatoes and a stew of ground beef, onions, red peppers, tomatoes, and cumin). At 8:30 we were to spend an hour without electricity (some environmental group had been promoting this silly scheme), so we unpacked and filled our oil lamps; then Catherine and her family came by bearing pastries. We served champagne--the real stuff, not the sparkling wine I usually get--lit lamps and candles, turned out the lights, and played Settlers of Catan (the kids played Life). Jeff (Catherine's husband) won handily, though it was his first time playing.
It was after 10:30 by the time I finally put Jacky to bed; Thalia, my daughter, was out of town with friends, but called to say goodnight at 11:00. Karen, trying to stop Maybe from breaking our dessert plates, had shattered one of her precious crystal champagne glasses; I cleaned up the rest of the mess. It had been a day of minor defeats. But at least I had played the games.