Interstate highways were killing the railroads. Hollywood was overtaking Manhattan as the center of international influence. Maybe, he thought, the nation was in a race of obsolescence. The big action was taking place at the fringes of the continent – San Francisco and Greenwich Village – rather than in the center: Iowa and Indiana had become back country as much as Montana and Wyoming. Maybe more.

He drove north along the bluffs. Turned in, parked the car, and climbed to a spot towering over a dam and barge locks in the Mississippi. Already, deep cold had frozen the surface. As he gazed down, a large black bird with a white head and white tail stretched a massive wingspan and soared below him, drifting out over water kept open by heavy current. Teak-wick! The kid had never before seen an American bald eagle. Teak-wick! All power before him! Teak-wick! Behind him were mysterious earthen mounds, the burial remains of Adena or Hopewell natives who lived at this site a millennium or two earlier. He peeled a strip of shaggy bark from a sycamore trunk and turned to traipse back to the car.

Today, with a computer, the image would be manipulated with ease. Not so, in his darkroom isolation. He could ask if one form of perfection is superior to another. Any answer would have a hollow ring.

In town, anticipating Christmas, the Salvation Army kettles kept ringing.

At home, he kept picking up the phone to hear only buzzing.


For more from my THIRD RAIL collection, click here.


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