This is a story of decay, of the end of things, holding only vague memories through the long winter before the land is reborn. And here it is, and we are, on this misty night, the first true weekend of fall, where even relatively high temperatures can’t mask that feeling in the air and on the wind that the slow death has come to central Illinois, with all its golden-brown autumnal beauty, dilapidated farmhouse former-glory, and liquor store desperation. The aesthetics of death are something to be appreciated, even while we mourn the passing of full summer days, farmers’ markets bursting with fresh produce, and the relevance of small-town America.
Heavy industry is beautiful for just this reason. The oil fires left in the wake of the retreating Iraqi army? Magnificent. Hell is magnificent. There is something mesmerizing about a refinery pouring smoke and flames into the air.
Lorenzo Road: the best scenery along I-55.
So even when I look out across the open plains of farmland that separate our tiny human settlements, I find the view trancelike, meditative. Yeah, it gets old after a while—that’s what comes of land with less biodiversity than the Lowe’s parking lot. But there are times you can pierce the veil and see all of our numerous engagements in those fields, each belonging to all, separated by shadowboard tree lines against the mist gray sky.
To Georgetown, plowing through Belgium, Westville. The banners scream: “This is Buffalo Country.” Maybe they missed the memo, or maybe it’s just a handy reverence. And why not, after all? They might as well name themselves the tigers or the Illini, all being equally accurate in representing the local inhabitants.
The uneasy fog had already settled atop Ike Burch Field when we arrived, and it turned out to be a remarkably accurate prospectus of the evening’s events. Sure, the homestanding Georgetown-Ridge Farm/Chrisman Buffaloes had rumbled into Week Five with the same 3-1 (2-0) record as their Vermilion Valley Conference foes, the Oakwood/Armstrong-Potomac Comets. Yes, the two teams each fit snugly into Class 3A designation. But something was clearly amiss when they squared off amongst purple and gold regalia in drizzly Georgetown.
Buffalo Country. A legitimate slogan on this night insofar as it captured the locals’ thinly veiled astonishment at watching a pint-sized halfback lead a power-option ground game to more than 400 yards of total offense. The Comets snapped the ball 70 times, and only twice put it up into the fog. On 28 of those 70 plays, senior quarterback Trace McClintock directed 5-foot-6-inch, 160-pound Ryan Strange between the tackles with clean handoffs or around end with deftly-maneuvered pitchouts. Strange tallied 210 yards while running downhill with the football, and his team’s 41-14 walkover wasn’t even that close.
The opposing offensive approaches (and fortunes) were as different as they could be. In stark contrast to Strange and McClintock knifing through the GRFC infantry, alternately eluding and carrying would-be tacklers, Buffalo quarterback Ryan Dieu continually lofted high-arching mortars into the haze, many of them directed toward Chrisman High Schooler Derrik McCormick. The lanky receiver is clearly a talented athlete, and Dieu has an arm, but we often questioned the wisdom of Dieu’s tossing bombs against a low-visability sky. The strategy was reasonably effective in the game’s first period, when the quarterback connected on a pair of touchdown strikes that gave his team a quick 14-12 lead. But the Buffs never again mustered a threat to the scoreboard while Oakwood went about chewing up turf and clock like a miniature 1980s Nebraska.
Evidently, the dreaded swine flu has made its way into Georgetown. The crowd’s disappointment was palpable when the Buffs called off their traditional postgame lap around the gridiron for handshakes with supporters, but perhaps there was a measure of relief that the plague would not begin here.
Prayer is no use against the power of the Strange.
The fog surrounding Ike Burch field, barely held back by stadium lights, cordoned us off from the rest of the world, and in this place, the most removed we have been since following local football, it didn’t feel like imagination that transported us to some alternate past or future, even if only a silent migration from the present. And it’s terrifying, the image of the life I lead here. But it is also so enveloping that you have to pull it over your head like a warm blanket against the harsh and bitter cold that we all know is coming. There is a kind of hyper-focus in a community of this size. What else is there?
Or maybe it’s just the surreal presence of this night. These autumn nights put me in moods like no other — where I know that if I can just pull back the curtain, I will come face to face with something magical. Or something horrifying. Probably both.