southern illinois on the song of birds

I wake up in my sister’s mid-century modern house in Murphysboro, Illinois, surrounded by her quirky and charming things. We are Birdsongs, my sister and I.  Birds have always figured in our lives.  I suppose if you look for birds, you can find them anywhere and everywhere.  On Steph’s bookshelves, there is A Concise Guide in Colour: Cage & Aviary Birds with a Blossom-Headed Parakeet, a Green Glossy Starling, a Peach-faced Lovebird, a Black-Naped Oriole, and Scarlet Tanager. I love the names.  There is also The Handbook of Foreign Birds in Colour, with glossy photos of Rainbow bunting and other birds.  Before my sister moved to Illinois, she had an aviary in her Los Angeles backyard full of finches and other feathered friends.


my sister’s mid-century modern house in Murphysboro

“My writing often contains souvenirs of the day – a song I heard, a bird I saw – which I then put into the novel.”  ~ Amy Tan

“Sadly, bird illustration has always been an under-appreciated art.” ~ John Burnside

I lounge in bed, finishing The Year of Pleasures.  Windows surround me, but it’s winter and I don’t hear any birdsong. No birds are chirping or tweeting or twittering or hooting. I scan the room and see a picture of a girl dreaming of salamanders, a poster for LeJour, a picture of musicians and instruments. Old editions of classics line the bookshelves: The Brothers Karamozov, Theories of Everything, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Fountainhead, Go Tell It on the Mountain, Tobacco Road, Our Man in Havana, Oliver Twist and Great Expectations.  A little lamp with a fawn on a green lampshade with pompoms in the folds reminds me somehow of our childhood.

After leisurely breakfast, we Birdsong sisters venture out in the world of southern Illinois. At Kroger we get sushi to go: a shrimp tempura roll for me and a “Yummy roll” for Steph.  We stop in the parking lot of a Target at noon to eat our sushi with chopsticks because it will take us a while to get to our destination, but the rolls are so big we can’t finish and pack them up to finish later.

We drive on flat highways cut through rolling farmland dotted with barns and silos.  Trees rise up as we roll into the Shawnee National Forest, created in 1939.  We wind up mountain roads with Steph nervously admonishing me to slow down around the corners. She doesn’t want us to drive off a cliff, although the hills merely slope gently away and are covered with trees.  We arrive at Garden of the Gods Wilderness.

We walk the stone-paved Observation Trail among strange mushroom-shaped rocks with names like Camel Rock, Anvil Rock, Devil’s Smoke Stack and Table Rock.  No bird names here, and no birds flitting about, even though it’s a rare spring-like day at the end of February.


Garden of the Gods Wilderness


Garden of the Gods Wilderness


Garden of the Gods Wilderness


Garden of the Gods Wilderness


Garden of the Gods Wilderness


Devil’s Smokestack


Garden of the Gods Wilderness


Garden of the Gods Wilderness


Garden of the Gods Wilderness


Garden of the Gods Wilderness


Garden of the Gods Wilderness


Garden of the Gods Wilderness


Garden of the Gods Wilderness


Garden of the Gods Wilderness

Three hundred million years ago, during the Carboniferous Period, famous for its vast swamp forests, local geological conditions laid down a thick bed of gray sandstone in southern Illinois.  The bed of sandstone was later uplifted, and Garden of the Gods is part of that uplifted sandstone plateau.  Unlike much of Illinois, this plateau was never covered by glaciers. It is steeper and rockier than much of the state.  Dramatic erosion patterns have created hoodoos and other unusual sandstone formations.

The dark, reddish brown swirls and rings on the rocks are called liesegang bands. The rock was saturated with groundwater mixed with iron when it was underground eons ago. Chemical changes caused the iron to solidify as rust between the rock particles. Held together by iron, the raised dark bands have resisted weathering as compared to the softer light-colored rock. The patterns on the bands are a result of these chemical changes.

I love the swirls and painterly patterns and the rust and green colors of the rock, and the lichens in pale greens, golds and grays. They remind me of birds in flight, the notes of birdsong swirling around.


swirls on the rocks


swirls on the rocks


swirls on the rocks


swirls on the rocks

In the end, we sit on a stone wall and eat the rest of our sushi.  The only serenade is the sound of our Birdsong voices.

After running a few errands in Carbondale, we stop at the Global Gourmet, a cute restaurant decorated with Mardi Gras masks and beads, globes, a huge map of the world, and a list of all the countries “Andrea” has visited on a chalkboard: “Andrea’s Travels… So Far: Morocco, Gibraltar, Spain, France, Monaco…” When I tell Andrea I’m going to Morocco and Italy in April, she asks for my email address so she can send me some suggestions.


Global Gourmet in Carbondale, Illinois

A cute black & white photo in the bathroom of two little girls standing above a city grate with their dresses ballooning around them reminds me of my sisters and me when we were little girls decked out in crinoline dresses.  With those dresses like wings, we might have flown on currents of wind.


photograph in the bathroom at Global Gourmet

We enjoy $5 margaritas and tilapia tacos on blue corn tortillas, brie with cranberries and green onions on crackers, and mushroom soup.  We share a chocolate truffle cake for dessert.

Back at Steph’s house, in her art studio, she shows me her cigarette cards, trade cards issued by tobacco manufacturers to stiffen cigarette packaging and to advertise cigarette brands.

“Between 1875 and the 1940s, cigarette companies often included collectible cards with their packages of cigarettes. [They] document popular culture from the turn of the century, often depicting the period’s actresses, costumes, and sports, as well as offering insights into mainstream humor and cultural norms,” according to Wikipedia: Cigarette card.

I’ve never heard of these and I’m enchanted.  I can always count on my artistic sister to introduce me to something new and unusual. I love the photos of the birds: the goldfinch, the swallow, the barn owl. The Wills’s Cigarette cards have beautifully painted miniature landscapes and trees with their blossoms and fruits.  I also admire my sister’s drawings framed on the wall; so often her quirky characters are animals.

In the evening, we watch two episodes of Happy Valley.  Steph stays up and watches the whole season, but I go to bed because my eyes are itching like crazy – an allergic reaction to her cats.  I take Benadryl too late to enable me to read my book.

The next day, we have a lazy day watching the Michael Cohen hearings; he describes Trump as Con Man. Cheat. Liar.  No surprise there. Our disgraceful president is currently in Vietnam cozying up to Kim Jong Un.

We take a break to run errands and have breakfast for lunch at Longbranch Café & Bakery in Carbondale: scrambled eggs with cheese, a biscuit with soysage gravy, and sautéed vegetables, along with a huge cup of chai.  In the afternoon, I have to work on a Found Poem for my online class while Steph takes her dog Babe to the vet.

“I don’t ask for the meaning of the song of a bird or the rising of the sun on a misty morning. There they are, and they are beautiful.” ~ Pete Hamill

Thursday morning, I’ll leave my sister’s house, on the wing to Louisville, Kentucky.

*Tuesday-Wednesday, February 26-27, 2019*


“PHOTOGRAPHY” INVITATION:  I invite you to create a photography intention and then create a blog post for a place you have visited. Alternately, you can post a thematic post about a place, photos of whatever you discovered that set your heart afire. You can also do a thematic post of something you have found throughout all your travels: churches, doors, people reading, people hiking, mountains, patterns, all black & white, whatever!

In my case, my intention was to create a theme for each day; in this case my theme was “birds.”

You probably have your own ideas about this, but in case you’d like some ideas, you can visit my page: photography inspiration.

I challenge you to post no more than 20-25 photos and to write less than 1,500 words about any travel-related photography intention you set for yourself. Include the link in the comments below by Wednesday, July 10 at 1:00 p.m. EST.  When I write my post in response to this challenge on Thursday, July 11, I’ll include your links in that post.

This will be an ongoing invitation, every first, second, and third (& 5th, if there is one) Thursday of each month (I’ve now added the second Thursday). Feel free to jump in at any time. 🙂

I hope you’ll join in our community. I look forward to reading your posts!

the ~ wander.essence ~ community

I invite you all to settle in and read a few posts from our wandering community.  I promise, you’ll be inspired!

Thanks to all of you who shared posts on the “photography” invitation. 🙂