Little Birdie sets up bear traps. Ropes, logs, rocks, big and small. I am sent on a mission for red berries. For the bear bait. He places berries carefully into the trap, and instructs: now watch out, step back, and don’t trip the trap. Then on to fishing and beaver hunt. This is his favorite place, the mud. “Trail closed ahead due to flooding”, the sign reads. But Little Birdie does not read human, he reads racoon tracks, and we press on. The Beaverville changes little, spring, summer, fall or winter, it is dead trees, two beaver dens, and still water. Something different here now, the smells of the ground baked by summer still decomposting with pungent richness, the crunchy wind in the cattails, and the light squeezed in the shadows thin, the deer is turning gray, the gangs of winged visitors are unusually chattery, spring water striders all but gone, and one last optimistic bullfrog denying the coming of winter.
The colors are rich now, the azure of the waters reflecting fall sky is almost unnatural. Little Birdie makes his tools, he fishes, searches for frogs and mud puppies. Girl finds the musk rat hideout. They measure the depths with sticks. Then unexpectedly, they both lose their balance and fall into the mud. Covered, waist down, in thick, earthly skins. Tears and muddy fingers, we scrub them clean on the grass, still summery soft. And on we go, to check the traps.
I am so lucky! Little Birdie exclaims.
Why? I ask
Because I found a dime yesterday, and now I found a way to walk through the mud, and I may even find a bear!
I am trying to remind him that he is more likely to find a dime in a mud than a bear, for there are no more bears in Illinois, but such nonsensical facts do not interest him.
I know, there are, I know there are! he says.
I am so lucky, I think to myself.
We bundle up on a rainy night, thanking the skies for making more mud. And we watch a beautiful film, Tales of the Last River Rat, with Kenny Salwey, a modern-day American hermit, living a self-sufficient life on Mississippi river. Following the snapping turtles hatching, birds migrating, rattle snake hunts, Little Birdie is already planning his next adventure.
Little Birdie may be right. Sooner or later bear may be back in Illinois. A few black bear sightings had been recorded in Illinois since 2009. We watch a film on faith and tolerance, Little Boy, in which an eight year old boy befriends a Japanese man in WWII California in his faithful attempts to bring his father back from war. Who knows what faith may bring back, men still alive from wars, bears hungry for red berries, or rattle snakes who almost vanished since those days when Kenny’s uncle got 600 in one season.