Some friends and I were talking about Illinois. What with hurricanes, volcanoes, mud slides and tsunamis terrorizing the world at large, we felt a bit smug about living out of harm’s way. The New Madrid fault is far to the south, and even tornado alley bypasses us. We sat there congratulating ourselves on our good fortune, but then someone asked, “What was good about Illinois?” It’s faint praise to say “Illinois doesn’t have tsunamis.” Oh, hurray. So what is good about living here? There was a long silence as we thought of the dreadful hot, humid days of summer that could kill a dog, the mournful Februarys and Marches of drizzling grey, the insidious droughts, the mosquitoes, the gnats, the horseflies, the leaden skies, the pollen count, the strange, electrical fields that seem to descend from nowhere making your skin prickle and your hands swell up, the sweltering, broiling summer heat singeing your ears, making mere existence purgatory, the dismal winters, the humidity that makes my hair curl in an unbecoming way, the brief fall–sometimes one day long, the thunder clouds that tease the gardener, and then float away without raining, the dust, have I mentioned the pollen, the spores, the mildew-laden winds, the winds of late May that desiccates every newly planted seedling and leaves them for dead, the dank winters, the feeble, greenish light of February that leaves me mulling over suicide, the horror of late January, the horror of early August, the Saharan summer heat without the novelty of actually seeing the Sahara, the Japanese beetles, the earwigs, the darkness of December so complete you can almost hear the “clonk” of the year as it hits bottom and sinks into hell, the awfulness of the first late June heat wave, searing you, tormenting you–well, we thought of all that.
But I also thought of an evening drive Jim and I took, an evening drive this past July. It had been terribly hot, and we had been hibernating indoors with the air conditioner droning and felt cooped up. So after supper we drove by and picked up my Mom and sister Kathy and went out for a drive in the country. We went to a Dairy Queen and everyone got their favorite ice cream–or whatever it is they sell at Dairy Queen–mine being a chocolate-dipped vanilla cone. Then Jim drove farther out into the country and soon we were cruising down narrow gravel roads between massive corn fields. In the slowly falling twilight, Jim turned off the headlights (kids, don’t try this), and we cruised through the soft purple darkness. Twinkling clouds of fireflies floated up from the ditches at the side of the road, and as the ranks of corn marched in an almost militaristic manner on and on, the flashing lights of the fireflies rose like bubbles that went higher and higher and then burst. Who could be more content than we were, lapping up Dairy Queen and seeing this shimmering beauty? Probably, though, it was just was just as well when Jim turned the headlights back on, and our magic carpet ride was over.