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Fighting Failure

All indications say that the fall colors this year will be muted compared to last year. I can see this already when I go out for a walk — too many leaves just dying without that final burst of color, falling to the ground as damp, dark shapeless lumps. But it’s still a bit early in the season for Missouri, so I have hopes.

I thought the monarch butterflies might be out and visited Shaw today to get butterfly pictures, but most of the flowers had already started to fade and the butterflies mostly gone. However, I was exceptionally lucky to have spotted some of the brilliantly colored prairie gentian. Or at least, I think it’s the prairie gentian. Whatever it is, it’s a lovely, delicate, beautifully colored flower–a rara avis in the plant world.

Though I could find no butterflies, there were caterpillars out and about, and I had to keep a sharp eye out when driving to not run over any. When I was walking around the lake, I saw one fine, fat fellow walking down the exact center of the road — not from side to side, like others I’d seen; right down the middle, as if he hadn’t a care in the world.

He was crawling fast, too, and I had a hard time getting his photo without too much motion blur in the background. But then, motion blur with a caterpillar works, don’t you think? Like a cosmic giggle.

I left my fair butterfly-to-be and tried the prairie near the visitor center in hopes of spotting one monarch, but the most I saw were bees, more bees, and some other odds and ends of flowers on their last legs. I was extremely pleased to see that I’ve lost most of my phobia of bees and can now walk among them without fear; a few years back, I’d have run screaming from the area. But I’ve been bitten by so many things this year, a bee sting would have all the familiarity of an old friend who says painful things for your own good.

(For instance, this last week I received two identical bites, one on my upper back, right in the middle; the other under my bra on my right side. Not ticks, because the little bite marks are too big. Who knows what got me this time, it’s becoming a running joke in my home, “Eh, I’m off to feed the critters, again.” My roommate estimates that I’ve become an important part of the Missouri ecosystem. It’s reassuring to know that, no matter what else, one is always good enough for the bugs.)

When faced with the nothingness of the butterfly garden filled with bees, I was reminded of my enthusiasm with existentialism lately and my wonderful new discovery that Jean-Paul Sartre wanted to write a cookbook. Yes, indeed, he was the ultimate foodie, I kid you not. Following is an entry in his diary, which provides a recipe for tuna casserole ala void:

October 10

I find myself trying ever more radical interpretations of traditional dishes, in an effort to somehow express the void I feel so acutely. Today I tried this recipe:

Tuna Casserole

Ingredients: 1 large casserole dish

Place the casserole dish in a cold oven. Place a chair facing the oven and sit in it forever. Think about how hungry you are. When night falls, do not turn on the light.

While a void is expressed in this recipe, I am struck by its inapplicability to the bourgeois lifestyle. How can the eater recognize that the food denied him is a tuna casserole and not some other dish? I am becoming more and more frustrated.

When you are an artist, how frustrating, indeed, to deal with those who lack the discernment to see that the emptiness that surrounds them is a tuna casserole; they persist in smelling goulash.

Back from the bees to the road again and my friend, the caterpillar, and it’s onward march down the exact center of the road. Moved by what, I don’t know–probably visions of tuna casserole–I put my foot in front the caterpillar, curious as to what it would do when faced with an obstacle.

It stopped dead and touched my shoe carefully, as if trying to figure out what it was. It started to crawl to the right, stopped, then crawled a little to the left. Finally, it climbed onto my shoe.

It climbed a little way forward and encountered the ridge where my sole meets the upper, and stopped again. Eventually, it followed the ridge around the shoe to the other side, but rather than get off, it just kept following the ridge, round and round my shoe. If I had not grown tired and sad for the little bug, it would probably still be circling my shoe now, on my foot under the table as I type these words.

Instead, I walked to the side of the road and among the the tall grasses, stamped on the ground with my shoe, gently, until the caterpillar fell off into the plants. It happily went on its way, I imagine to find the prairie gentian to eat.

One final entry from the Sartre cookbook:

October 25

I have been forced to abandon the project of producing an entire cookbook. Rather, I now seek a single recipe which will, by itself, embody the plight of man in a world ruled by an unfeeling God, as well as providing the eater with at least one ingredient from each of the four basic food groups. To this end, I purchased six hundred pounds of foodstuffs from the corner grocery and locked myself in the kitchen, refusing to admit anyone. After several weeks of work, I produced a recipe calling for two eggs, half a cup of flour, four tons of beef, and a leek. While this is a start, I am afraid I still have much work ahead.

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