Thursday, August 17, 2006

Little Oilfields

The derrick's name is Faith, I saw it spray painted in yellow and black on the side of the looming hunk of steel this morning. They have always looked like malformed ducks to me, the beaks forever dipping to the ground but never really achieving anything. Up and down, up and down, cranking out an endless dance that seems to have no point. Here in Southern Illinois, the derricks rise from the ground, sentinels in cornfields and cow pastures, often the tallest object on a flat and endless horizon.

Sometimes they pump, sometimes they don't. I've not yet figured out what factors determine whether they sip oil from the ground on a certain day, or stand idle and hulking.

When they do pump, the air around them is acrid with the odor of petroleum, a thick, black smell that irritates my nostrils and contaminates the sweet aroma of freshly cut hay and the lure of sultry honeysuckle. On non-working days, you'd not even know they were there. I wonder, do they make money? I can't imagine there is enough oil in the ground in these parts to make such a venture very profitable to a small-time oil seeker. Maybe just enough black gold is sucked into rusting storage tanks to keep the truck and the tractor going all season. Maybe not.

Maybe the dreams of fledgling oil barons keep derricks like Faith pumping away. Perhaps there are enough leftover dinosaur fossils lurking beneath the soil in the bottoms to make the venture worthwhile.


I like where I live, little oilfields and all. I like the cornfields rising out of rich, dark dirt in the bottoms and the apple trees dotting the hills, sagging under heavy loads of the reds, golds and greens of ripening fruit. I even like the beef cattle lolling in lazy groups beneath the wide-spread arms of oaks and elms on hot days. They are fat and shiny with summer. There are downy-headed woodpeckers in our woods, joined by bluebirds, cardinals, bright yellow finches, robins and wrens and I heard an owl last night and caught the faint yipping of coyotes in the distance. Jewel-like dragonflies, green frogs, snapping turtles, sunfish and large-mouth bass live in my pond. I hear the frogs at night, joining chorus with crickets and cicadas.

Here, I could live forever.

Now I just need to name the damn place.

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