Guest Columnist

Unanswered questions as the night remains silent

Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County.
Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County.

Out here this time of year the nights are silent, almost absolutely. There is the occasional creaking of the old cedar trees out back when winds push through, some from the cold north, or a sudden bark from the neighbor’s dog over a far hill. Spring peepers haven’t yet emerged down by the pond, their little voices announcing to all who hear that summer is coming. By June the nights here are a cacophonous chorus of frogs, crickets, and whatever else wishes to chime in. The night quiet will be gone.

One recent morning I was awake at 3 a.m.: old men will know whereof I speak and, as I climbed back in to bed I heard a small plane fly over the house. Why in the world is some guy (I’m sure the pilot was male: women are smarter) flying a small plane out in the middle of nowhere at three in the morning?

These days I find myself asking ‘why’ much too often. Ours is no longer a world I can even begin to comprehend. Why do people continue to gleefully kill each other? Why do so many farmers plant their crops right up to the crumbling edges of rivers? We do we blame the poor for their plight? Why do banks continue to screw their customers?

And I have more questions: Why do politicians shed their value mantles as soon as they are elected? Why is the NFL Draft something anyone cares about? Why is it that I’d vote for Anita Hill but not Joe Biden? As you can see, my thinking isn’t linear, or even logical. As I said, the new world is currently beyond my grasp.

Mine are not great, artful questions, just the musings of an old guy who spends his days avoiding crowds, an old guy who prefers the company of cats. Maybe that tells you all you need to know. Answers to these questions will not reveal any existential truths, not about us, not about the world, and certainly not about why we are here. Perhaps it doesn’t matter or perhaps it’s simply the month of May, winter gone and summer still light years away.

Years ago in London I spent entirely too much money on knee-high leather boots, as if I’d been hoping for a call from the folks casting the musical “Les Miserables.” These days I wear them when working in the woods, where I fear an encounter with snakes. Thus last week I donned them because a twenty-year-old rotted pallet of limestone bricks behind my garage needed to be moved and my experience with stacks of just about anything informed me that there would likely be snakes. With each lifting of a brick I waited for my heart to stop. Alas, no snakes.

Possums eat snakes; perhaps I have them to thank. After a recent rain a possum went from puddle to puddle on my drive, drinking a bit from each, a miniature pub crawl, and at the last puddle she rolled onto her back, like you see horses do in the dust, enjoying her own small bathing ritual for a brief moment before turning toward home, stepping back in to the woods. I never ask “Why?” about the creatures that share the woods with me.

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• Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County. His book “The Iowa State Fair” is available from the University of Iowa Press

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