The Fall

The Fall

Four and a half million autos are registered in Illinois and I swear every one of them poops in my third floor condo during the summer. Sooty tailpipes dump combusted fossil fuel waste into the air, earning them the top prize for the cause of Chicago’s air pollution.images

In season I sit at my open windows, as if I’m on a front porch, surveilling dog walkers, tree trimmers and strolling wayfarers, totally oblivious to airborne black soot drifting up from the street. Until I feel the grit under my bare feet. I dust and mop but I neglect the wide flat wall-to-wall windowsills, since I don’t walk on them or eat off them. By the fall, the accumulated soot requires major housework.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports there are more polluting vehicles in American cities now than ever before. Why? Because of Amazon deliveries and Uber riders. Ugh. I’m guilty. People who live near highly traveled roads are at greater risk of death from stroke, lung and heart disease. Still, a force compels me to throw open my windows for as long as Mother Nature allows.

The first week of fall I close the windows and move thirteen oval planters of crimson geraniums and various street-art bird sculptures off the windowsills to vacuum, spray

and wipe up smeary tiny black particles. I toggle back and forth between swearing at the polluting drivers below and feeling superior because I ride my bike.

This year, I frenzied to finish cleaning in time to lunch with friends. As I swung around to pick up the spray bottle, I knocked over a clear hourglass vase filled with my seashell collection. It smashed to pieces on the hard floor. The seashells scattered and I rushed to lock Henry-the-dog away before his compulsive eating disorder kicked in and he devoured the shards. I almost threw the whole mess in the trash. Who needs a bunch of old dead shells?

When I returned from lunch I gingerly sifted through the crash site of remembrances. Collecting and identifying seashells was an obsession when I was young, addicted to pot and living at the Jersey Shore. Later I collected shells on other shores—Pismo Beach, Harbour Island, Sanibel. The scallop, clam, oyster and limpet shells had survived turbulent roiling seas, much worse than the fall. I dusted and massaged the intact heirlooms and settled each on a cleared bookshelf. How old are they? 

My most prized possessions in the smashed vase, the fragile sand dollars, were too brittle to withstand the impact. In the late 1980s my six year-old cousin and I harvested the images-5moribund sea urchins from intertidal shallows of the Atlantic. We had been snorkeling around his family’s cottage in the Bahamas and splish-splashed far along salty Eleuthera Bay to the narrows between two deserted islands. We tucked a few sand dollars in our bathing suits and floated home half-submerged, flapping lazily over sea turtles, starfish and schools of barracuda. The shattered remains of those sand dollars lay now in the burial mound of ever-increasing sacred memories.


Sweet Paradise: Harbour Island

Sweet Paradise: Harbour Island

The slow slide and bump after our plane landed at the North Eleuthera International Airport told me we’d slid off the runway. I froze in my window seat seeing the tropical brush below. The full plane exploded in happy applause. We were safe.

“Don’t worry”, yelled the pilot, “this happens all the time. The sand blows onto the runway.” He backed up onto the tarmac, and the door of the plane opened to a rush of fragrance. Roses? Coconut? Ginger?

“That’s frangipani,“ said the flight attendant, “you’ll smell it everywhere.”
The low wide-leaf vegetation we drove through on the 50-mile-an-hour, ten-minute taxi ride sounded like we were driving through a cornfield. At the dock the aroma of wet gaseous pulp permeated the air from the surrounding mangrove trees. Gasoline and oil from the idling water taxis stirred up into the tropical air. Fellow passengers and I boarded the small canopied motorboat with our suitcases full of clothes we’d never use.

We sped off toward Dunmore Town, the only tgovt_dockown on Harbour Island. Saltwater sprayed our welcoming faces and dried out our pollution-soaked nostrils. The sun heated, then soothed the top of my head, melting my restlessness.

Flowery shirts on happy-faced Bahamians greeted us on the crowded oversized cement dock. I announced to the gathering on the dock that I was going to Sunsets and was directed to Otis, the driver for all visitors to Sunsets. The 2-mile drive from town on a low sandy road through high vegetation evoked adventure. Otis talked all the way in an accent I had never before heard.

I had just run out on a job as the campaign manager for a dying cause. I’d been at a loss as to how to keep the campaign afloat with only one other paid staffer. Feeling depressed, disappointed in myself and physically weak, I complained to my cousin Therese who told me to join her, her husband and two children in their vacation house in the Bahamas.

Sunsets, a 3-bedroom cottage with windows all around looked westward onto the bay between Harbour Island and Eleuthera. I claimed my room, unpacked, and waited the few days for the family to arrive. I  read James Michener’s Caribbean while lounging in a hammock between two rubber trees. Snorkeling in the undulating salty turquoise water under a cloudless sky, I kept a slow pace with the barracuda, sea turtles, starfish, octopus – hyper-aware of every movement, every flutter, every

The day Therese and her family arrived I went for a long walk on the pink sandy beach, ate fresh avocados, papayas and mangoes and fell asleep with my book on the terrace overlooking the bay.  An unearthly, ominous pounding from the driveway of the cottage woke me up.  I rushed around back and found three-year-old Melissa jumping up and down on the roof of their car. She screamed, “There’s my cousin Regan!”. Sweet paradise, I was a happy camper.