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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
- Indra, of TravTrails, takes us along the Scarborough Bluffs on the eastern shores of Toronto’s Lake Ontario.
Thanks to all of you who shared posts on the “photography” invitation. 🙂
I never knew that about you, Cathy! Your fondness for birds. Isn’t it strange how things can pass us by? As I’m typing this little Tommy Tweet is chirping away in the background. He’s a caged bird our Portuguese neighbours have and I can’t see him, but boy do I know he’s there. 🙂 🙂
Fabulous scenery and photographs. How very different is this from Cairo!
Thank you, Jo. Let’s just say my fondness for birds is a bit abstract. I don’t try to photograph birds because I’m simply too impatient. I admire people like Mario who do it so well. I do love to listen to them singing and I love to look at pictures of them and I love the names. But I would never want to keep them and clean up after them! Neither would I ever have patience to be a bird-watcher.
I was called “Birdie” by my high school friends, and even my first husband engraved “Always Bird” on the inside of my wedding ring. It was a last name that brought me endless teasing. I was birdlegs, birdbrains, and many other not so nice names!
How lovely to be serenaded by Tommy Tweet from your Portuguese neighbors.
You’re so right, Illinois is about the furthest thing from Cairo that could ever be! 🙂
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What a wonderful post! I loved the black and white photo of the two little girls and your sister’s amazing drawings! Yes, bird art is seriously undervalued, that is for sure. How beautiful is that Wildnerness area! How nostaligic it all made me, though not for any time spent with my sister, which has never been a positive, healthy experience as she has never forgiven my parents for having a second child, me, and she is now in her 60s. Pettiness is always at the core of every exchange and it is very sad as I have no other siblings and have always sought out older women as friends to be the big sisters I never had. I also have a special fondness for women friends younger than myself, as I would have treasured and protected a younger brother or especially a little sister.
It has always made me very sad to have not had a positive relationship with my sister as neither of us have children and we have only our dad left. I know how much it hurt my folks that we never ever got along, not since the day I arrived home from the hospital when I was born, but it is not for lack of trying to get along on my part. I know we supposedly choose our family to be born into if you look at life that way, and that everyone is in your life for a reason for you to learn something from, but I have no idea why my sister, who is so unlike my parents or myself, is in our lives, as there is always anger, jealousy, immaturity and tension when she is in the room. It is such a fundamentally life-shaping experience to have a sibling, and while I have almost no positive memories of us doing anything together that did not descend into her reviving decades-old grudges, shouting fits of childish name-calling, discussion-ending phone-slamming, or days and days of condescending silent treatments, I do have the capacity thank God I am able to enjoy reading and hearing about the positive relationships and joyful memories that other people have or have had with their brothers and/or sisters. I am nostaligic for their memories since none of my own evoke that sentiment, sadly.
When my dad is gone, what will be left? Who will there be to share the end of the family name and history and line if not with a sibling? It makes me feel as forlorn and sad as the swirly boulders and windswept trees of your snowless February winter in Illiniois.
Thanks so much, Mona Lisa, I’m glad you enjoyed these photos and this post of the days I spent with my sister. She has always lived in California until recently, so it has been difficult over the years to spend much time with her; now that she’s in Illinois, it’s closer, although still over a day’s drive away. I should see her again, I hope, on my way to the Dakotas in September.
I think when I was a small child, I was quite jealous, being the oldest, when my little sister was brought home. Especially because I had colic and my mom complained that I cried incessantly. I was always told Stephanie was a quiet little angel. I think I felt very jealous of her when I was a child. And also that she’d invaded my territory with her arrival! Haha. So I can understand your sister’s feelings, although I got over it long ago. It’s strange and sad that she would still hang on to that jealousy and pettiness. It sounds like your sister might just be a hopelessly angry person and it has to do only with her and not with you at all.
Relationships with siblings can be difficult. I see it in my own children and the relationships that have developed between them, or, alternatively, fallen apart. My relationships with my sisters and brother have fluctuated over the years. It used to be I was closest with my youngest sister, but ever since I missed her daughter’s wedding when I traveled to Spain and Portugal in 2013, things have never been the same between us. Steph and I have had periods of closeness and others of being not close. My brother and I have had a strained relationship at times too. It’s not always easy being around the family that we were born into! Sometimes choosing your own family is the best alternative! 🙂
I’m sorry you feel like you won’t have your sister to share the end of the family name when your father passes away. And I love the way you put it, that it makes you feel as “forlorn and sad as the swirly boulders and windswept trees of your snowless February winter in Illiniois.” Beautifully put. I’m glad my post brought these reflections to mind. Enjoy your weekend, friend. 🙂
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Such a pretty and unusual surname. Do you know the background of it? I love the way you have themed this post around the subject of birds. Very cleverly done. And I love those rock patterns (Meg will too). Some of the photos in that garden / park look very Australian – like in the Blue Mountains or the Grampians.
Thanks, Jude. I thought you knew my maiden name already. It is actually German, from Vogelsung. Or something like that! I used to like to think it was Native American but then one of my linguistics professors at William and Mary told me otherwise and when I asked my dad, he confirmed. It was fun to theme this post around birds. Sometimes the themes work nicely, other times they’re more difficult! I can imagine this place does look like some Australian places. Interesting about the Blue Mountains, because I met those Aussie guys on the Camino from there. 🙂
I did know your name and I think it is quite beautiful. I also wondered if it was Native American. Still it sounds much nicer in the English translation from the German. Have you traced back your ancestors to find out who it was that came from Germany?
It’s funny how I just believed what I wanted to believe about it, without ever even asking my father, until I was in college! I agree that it sounds better in English than in German. As of yet, I’ve never done a genealogy search. It’s one of the millions of things on my to-do list! Someday, I hope. 🙂
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[…] with beautiful, blue dragonflies darting ahead. 🙂 I’m linking this to Cathy’s Photography Invitation. If you haven’t seen it, do take a […]
Hope this works for the Photography Invitation, Cathy? Your photos are beautiful.
Thanks, Jo. Yes, I love your photos with those wonderful mystical views. I’ll link it to my next post of July 11. Thanks for the link! 🙂
Many thanks hon 😍⛅💕
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I wish I had had this kind of relationship with my sister.
What a lovely post to read.
Thank you so much, Jackie. And thanks for dropping by. Do you have a blog? 🙂
One of my most favourite of all your posts, not least because I finally see you lounging in bed, instead of tearing round the universe. You create a lovely oblique portrait of your sister and your relationship with her. The birds are a wonderful presence-even-in-absence, and make of this post something unique.
And then of course there are those wonderful rocks and their patterns: that’s a walk I would love to do. It was interesting meeting Liesegang rings in your context – I’ve seen them in spectacular profusion at low tide near Glasshouse Rocks at Narooma. I’m envious of the clarity of our geological account – I struggle, partly because I’m always treading a narrow path of knowledge over an abyss of ignorance.
Thanks for Saturday morning pleasure in an empty apartment – the kids are with other babcia, and Ro and Marcin have gone on a weekend bike ride.
Thanks so much, Meg. It was fun to write this post tying our time together with the bird motif and the Illinois landscape, which I found to be quite surprising for that part of the country. Your knowledge about all things geological seems quite deep to me, while I would consider mine to be “an abyss of ignorance!” I’m so glad you decided to drop by here and comment during your Saturday morning in an empty apartment. 🙂 Enjoy the rest of your weekend.
I love those fabulous rock formations. I didn’t know that about the iron and the “swirls” – beautiful patterns they make.
Thanks, Anabel. It was a fun excursion, and a surprising one for Illinois! 🙂
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What a gorgeous landscape!
Thanks, Pit, and it is quite unusual for Illinois! 🙂
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