Bulgakov and I were getting antsy for some learning. Adjusting to life outside of college not only means figuring out how to create your own budget, personal project goals, and social life, but also how to seek out intellectual stimulation. So on Sunday, Bulgakov and I reveled in our day off by going off to Coralville Lake to hike around.
On the way we decided to stop at the Devonian Fossil Gorge, a rocky area between two hills scattered with tiny seashell fossils, and, along some of the limestone edges, amazingly clear imprints of hexagonaria coral (creative name, seeing as how it’s a bunch of little hexagons). I also learned from Bulgakov that Coralville is called Coralville because it used to be a coral reef. Which, you know, would explain about all the coral fossils.
After we ran around pointing at fossils and yelling, “Look! Look! Look!” like little children, we drove up to the visitor’s center to see if we could get a trail map. The visitor’s center is about what you expect from a minor local hiking attraction in Iowa: a small wooden room with a wall of brochures and maps, a row of stuffed birds that you’re not allowed to touch, and two old brothers who talk your ear off until they start talking about their sister-in-law’s knee gout and you finally make an excuse to leave.
But actually, it was pretty hilarious talking to them for a while. I can’t make what they said up. There was the brother with the cane named James (NOT Jim!– “If you call me Jim, you’re insulting my mother!”) and his older brother (didn’t catch his name). James was absolutely crazy.
“I didn’t learn to read until I was 34.” he told me earnestly.
“How’d you pass high school?”
“They just passed me on through,” he said. “But I started reading when I was 34. I wore out my dictionary. I wore out two copies of the Bible. I read then entire Hebrew history.”
Other things James told me:
“I got some of those magic mushrooms, you know, and I put them on a pizza, because when they bake they get real big, then I gave some to my dad.” “Did he know there were mushrooms on it?” “NO! You don’t give people pot-mushrooms and tell them about it! He wasn’t mad, though. We’re best friends.”
“He was real tall, and I was always pretty short, but there’s a benefit to being short. I have the tiniest, tiniest wife. I don’t know how I got so lucky.” “So, tiny wives are better than big ones, then?” I confirm.
His brother chimes in, “Oh, hell yeah! Big wives can beat you senseless!”
“My wife’s tiny, but she’s fierce,” James continues, “She’s a crocogator! She’s got the head of a crocodile on one end and the head of an alligator on the other! Now he always asks, if its got two heads then how does it shit? And I always say, it don’t! That’s why it’s so mad!”
The brothers laugh and Amy and I look at each other, each of us thinking the same thing, “Are these guys real?”
Before we finally left, James made us come over to the gazebo overlooking the river valley. “Let me show you one thing and then you girls can get on out of here. Look at all those trees. Imagine this is the fall, when they’re all different colors. And you know, what? I have to say, I found Jesus.” Amy and I nod, wondering where this is going. It doesn’t go anywhere. “Now, I tell you what. Come fall, you two get your sorry asses off the couch and drive out here to look at the leaves.”
“We will, definitely,” We promise.
“Get your lazy asses up and come and out and look at the leaves. Okay, now, get out of here! Go! Go away! Leave!”
His older brother comes out to bid us goodbye. “You didn’t listen to anything he told you, did you?” He asks. We just laugh and wave goodbye, then get in the car and drive to a trailhead to hike around by the lake. I couldn’t help thinking, as we walked and then later, after it started raining and we went to the natural history museum to learn more about what we’d seen, that humans have been on the earth for such a short amount of time, yet I could probably spend an entire Jurassic period or a Devonian period and still be surprised by human beings in all their endless variations.