Sunday, December 21, 2014

Random Twinkling

From the road, the wreath on the door and the swags over the windows look just right.  From the road, they are even and balanced, the wire-edged ribbons are full and round, and the ends flutter just the least little bit in the winter breeze.  From the road, the blue on the door and the blue in the ribbons match perfectly and from the road the tiny white lights on the tree fill up the windows at the corner of the house.

But that is from the road.  Up close you can tell that the swags are getting a little ratty and nothing matches perfectly and spider webs crowd the corners of the windows.  Up close you can see that the porch needs painting and the shrubs need trimming.  You can see big splats of mockingbird poop on the arms of the rocking chairs.  

And when you go inside, despite the  centerpiece of shiny glass ornaments on the kitchen table and the row of mercury glass votives on the sideboard and the pewter tray spilling over with Christmas greetings –  stiff cardstock with your choice of matte or glossy finish – , you will see that something is wrong.   The tree, dressed in glass and shell and brass and stone, is dark along its bottom quarter.  The lights on that widest and heaviest part of the tree have died and no amount of jiggling of bulbs or pinching of bulbs or pulling out of bulbs has made any difference. 

I am standing there staring, hands on my hips as though faced with a disobedient child, and wondering just how awful it would be to go through Christmas with a less-than-fully-lit tree.  Not too awful really.  I’m the only one who will be looking at it most of the time.  And, like I said, from the road, well, it looks terrific.

That’s when I realize that I can’t do it, can’t let the tree remain like this.  I’m not a “from the road” person.  Outward appearances aren’t enough.  Delicious icing can’t make up for dry cake. A handsome face can’t make up for a cold heart.  Stirring rhetoric can’t make up for failure to act.

At lunch the next day I go looking for lights.  A couple of strands.  One strand even.  I walk into the seasonal department at Lowe’s.  There are huge swaths of empty concrete.  I see two pre-lit boxed up Christmas trees, no more.  There are no poinsettias.  No towers of boxed ornaments blocking the aisles.  There are no aisles.  Just empty concrete.  I feel just the slightest bit of anxiety beginning to rise.

I walk a little farther and see a wall of lights.  My shoulders relax only to tense up immediately as I realize that what is left are huge, 21st century versions of the garishly bright glass bulbs that donned the trees of my childhood.  I move slowly down the wall to discover that I would be in luck if what I wanted was icicle lights for the eaves of Sandhill or net lights for the shrubs at Sandhill.  I would be a happy woman if I wanted solar-powered lights or crystal flickering lights.  I am neither lucky nor happy.

Just as I am about to walk away I see a single box of 150 tiny white lights on a green cord.  I reach out and grab them quickly though there is no one else nearby.  Only as I clutch them to my chest do I see the words “random twinkling” on the box.  I don’t care.  

It is late when I get home, but I will not go to bed until the tree is done.  I pull out the lights, dig around in the fake branches for an empty outlet, and start stringing.  It takes only a moment to figure out what “random twinkling” means.  About every fifth bulb blinks on and off at an irregular rate.  Again, I don’t care.   I finish the stringing and step back, once again with hands on my hips, this time like a super hero surveying the universe she has just saved from extinction.

And then I laugh.  I laugh at the random twinkling that is going on all over the bottom of the tree and in and out of the branches where I had to connect the cords.  I laugh because I realize that, as it always happens, it has taken something completely unexpected and totally unholy to remind me what is going on here.  

It’s Christmas.  And despite all our efforts to turn it into a visual fantasy, despite all our desires to maintain the impressions other people have of us as what they see from the road, it is always going to be a celebration undertaken by imperfect, broken, damaged people who occasionally get it right.  Who sometimes, every now and then, in the rare moment exhibit random twinkling.  And in the random twinkling make everything whole.

Copyright 2014

Sunday, December 07, 2014

December Refrain

It is Advent.  The season of wonder.  Hot on the trail of Thanksgiving and Black Friday and just a few hours before Cyber Monday.  And so far the only wonder I’ve experienced is what to do with two perfectly good pumpkins that, along with a couple of diminutive bales of hay, some cotton stalks and branches of eucalyptus, and about a dozen pine cones, made a lovely autumnal tableau for the front porch at Sandhill for the last two months.
It is Advent.  And while I did manage to find the advent wreath and the new candles I bought on sale at the end of last year, four tall candles with soft white wicks, I couldn’t remember where the pink one goes so I had to Google it.  And I decided that, in a world where people make Advent wreaths out of Legos, Mason jars, and/or pipe cleaners, I probably don’t need to be too worried about whether the candle of joy is in the front or back, on the right or left.
The wonder I am experiencing is not awe and amazement or childlike anticipation.  The wonder that has me by the throat is speculation and doubtful curiosity.  I can’t stop wondering why the focus in this season of preparation and anticipation continues to be on great deals and unbelievable bargains when, if we really believe the story, there’s only the one, the one best deal ever offered.  I can’t stop wondering about the world’s unanswered questions, failed intentions, the disappointing behaviors long enough to feel the wonder of lighted trees and scented candles and welcoming wreaths.
But it is still Advent.  
I am reminding myself of this when across the road flash one, two ... six ... no, eight, nine deer, long and lean, stretching out into the interruption of the headlights like dashes flowing from a fountain pen.  There and gone.  I sit at the mailbox for a few seconds longer staring at where the deer have been, a circle of pale yellow halogen light hovering, quivering in an ocean of night.
In 1933, folklorist John Jacob Niles was attending a meeting of evangelicals who had been ordered out of town by the police of Murphy, North Carolina, when a girl, dirty and dressed in ragged clothes, stepped onto a little platform attached to a car and began singing a single line of a song.  Seven times she sang for the price of twenty-five cents for each performance.  In his autobiography Niles wrote, “[S]he was beautiful, and in her untutored way she could sing.”  From the single line that the girl sang over and over, that one fragment of melody, Niles composed the folk song that became the carol “I Wonder As I Wander.”  
A line in the second stanza goes, “High from God’s heaven, a star’s light did fall.”  Rolled out over the top of the car where I sit, still and alone, over the field where the deer fly silently in a herd, over the piece of dirt where all year long I wonder and wander, the stars’ lights fall tonight.  They are exceptionally bright.  The sky is like a connect-the-dot picture.  I get the feeling that if I can link one star to another to another to another something wonderful will appear.  Something wonderful.  Something wonder full.
I stare.  Not hard.  Not intently as though into a microscope, but with eyes wide and receptive.  I can make it out now.  It is the dirty ragged girl on the platform.  The poor child with nothing to offer.  I blink and then blink again when I recognize my own face.  I am the one with dirty hands and feet, with patched clothes, with nothing but my untutored gifting and a craving to share with the world that which is inside.  And I can do it only because I stand in the rain, in the reign of starlight pouring high from God’s heaven on a too-warm December night.
It is Advent.  I still don’t know what to do with the pumpkins.  Or any of the other things, tangible and intangible, that are left over from previous seasons, but I’m beginning to understand how to best anticipate and prepare for the best season of all.  I will keep wondering.  I will keep wandering.   And I will keep singing one line over and over and over again.  Emanuel.  God with us.

Copyright 2014

Sunday, November 23, 2014

"Owl-Eyes Spoke To Me"

I hit an owl.

The sky was dungaree blue, clinging to just enough light to maintain a horizon where the spikes of pine trees stood like arrows proclaiming, “This way to the exit.”  I wasn’t driving all that fast.  As soon as I saw him standing like a referee on the painted line in the middle of the road, I took my foot off the accelerator assuming that the sound of the approaching engine and the brightening headlights would motivate him into flight.  It did.

He spread his wings and turned to face me.  For half a second we were eye-to-eye.  Long enough for me to recognize him as an owl, to see the wide-as-a-saucer circle of feathers around his eyes, to be transported by memory’s subway pass to another time when my eyes met those of another creature and the world fell away.  And then he flew directly into the grill.

I gasped, slowed, looked for a place to turn around, hopeful – How can a person be so hopeful? – that he had just been stunned and was even then fluttering drunkenly off to his nest to tell the story.  “Honey, you ain’t gonna believe ...”

The headlights splayed out across the road in long white cones and, along the other painted line, the one that divides pavement from ditch, I saw the feathered body, a still shadow.  I burst into tears.

It was about time.  The last week had been a painful one, a traumatic one.  I’d buried two people I love, one a friend of nearly 30 years whose brilliant life had ended far too soon and one a woman whose long and fruitful 91 years had included her claiming of me as one of her own shortly after the death of my beloved Grannie.   I had offered hugs and words of condolence, I had held hands and shared memories.  At the latter gathering I’d even stood up in front of everybody, told a story or two, offered some scripture, and prayed.  But I hadn’t cried.  Not really.

So now I did.  And as I sobbed, gripping the steering wheel and blinking rapidly so that I could still see the road ahead, I turned on the owl, demanding loudly an explanation for why he had to fly straight into the car, a reason for why he should have been in the road in the first place, a justification for why he could not have delayed his kamikaze dive for the next inevitable pair of headlights.

Owls, it is said, are the only creatures who can live with ghosts.  And they are, of course, purveyors of wisdom.  I didn’t really want to think that the women whose losses I was grieving were trying to speak.  I mean, that would be just a little too weird.  Even for me.   Yet, there was something otherworldly about that moment when the owl locked his gaze with mine.  It was as though I’d stumbled into a thin place, unknowingly wandered into land equidistant between heaven and earth.

The cell phone dinged.  The peculiar ding of a text message.  I was almost home.  There were no other cars on the road.  I slowed to a crawl and looked down at the screen, one hand on the steering wheel, the other trying to get the tears out of my eyes so that I could actually read the words.  But the message wasn’t words.  It was a photo of Jackson standing in the dim white lights of a just-raised Christmas tree, his four-year-old hand reaching out to place a candy cane on one of the branches, the profile of his expressionless face all curves and softness.  He looked like an angel, all that blondness, all that cherubic innocence. 

The tears resumed.
The denim sky was fading quickly, the pine trees fading into darkness.  I leaned into the curve that hugs the pond where the Canada geese gather every morning and I heard the voice of the owl whispering, translating for himself. “Life is tender, sweet girl. Life is tender.  It is precious and must be protected, but it is fragile and must not be crushed. Hold it close, but hold it loose.”

Copyright 2014

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Time Change

There are so many ways to measure the movement of the year. The temperature of the breeze that comes wafting across the field, the color of the vegetation along the fence rows, the birdsongs or lack thereof. Each of them in one way or another announces the passage of time from one season to another.  But breezes and briars and birds can be deceptive.  Wet summer winds can demand a sweater.  Rain can make an autumn ditch run like spring. Birds can get confused.

Light never gets confused.

I remember, sometime in the last week of August, pulling up to the stop sign at the intersection of what Adam and Kate always called the middle sized road and Highway 301, the thoroughfare Daddy remembers as a dirt road, that I remember as a two-lane blacktop, that now fans out across four lanes and a median for most of its way into town. The whirly-gig of my mind was spinning from one thing to another: Would the 11 o'clock meeting end in time for me to make the 12 o'clock meeting? How high must the humidity be today to make those fat drops of water rolling off the roof of the house onto the hydrangea leaves sound like the flop of a big old toad frog? Should I stop for gas before work or after?

There was a lot of traffic. Both ways. So I had to sit still. I had to sit still and stare into the sun stuck just above the image of the horizon and I realized it was not where it was the week before. It was casting longer shadows.  Its color was transforming from the clear blue-white light of summer to the mellower yellower light of fall.   Already. 

It was still hot at the time.  Run the air conditioner hot.  Walk barefoot to the mailbox hot.  Wear sleeveless dresses hot. The geraniums on the front porch were still blooming. The leaves on the sycamore were still green.  The peanuts were still in the field.  It still felt like summer.  But the light was saying differently.  The light was not confused. The light knew that the year is waning. 

I did not.  

Well, actually I did, of course.  I know how to read a calendar.  But I chose to ignore the facts and live in denial of the inevitable, a situation that has left me this week rummaging through the closet in the guest room looking for warmer clothes, trying to remember how to work the heater in the car, and asking myself, as I scour the house for everything with an LED display, why exactly is it that I am changing all the clocks to a time one hour ago to re-experience again the hour I just lived.  Believe me, there was nothing particularly worth reliving about that hour.

It is not the first time I have chosen obliviousness over enlightenment, ignorance over knowledge, unconsciousness over discernment.  It is not the first time I have stood in direct sunlight and declared, “I don’t see a thing.”  And it is not a big leap to predict it will not be the last.  

I wish it were not so.  I wish that I, like light, could not be confused.  I wish that discombobulation was beyond my capacity.  I wish that no matter what happened I could count on myself to be “the natural agent that stimulates sight and makes things visible.”   I am not, though, a huge ball of flaming gases.  I do not cast shadows and spark photosynthesis.  I do not exert a gravitational pull on anything.  I am a singular being who imagines herself motionless as she flies through space at over a thousand miles per hour.

I will never be light.  I will always teeter on the edge of bewilderment.  And, as I teeter, the best I can do is point my gaze toward the horizon and search out the sun. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Deep and Wide

The local, as in Savannah, public radio station is off the air right now as a result of damage from a lightning storm.  Without the voices of Steve Inskeep and David Greene and – since it’s October and the Supreme Court is in session – Nina Totenberg igniting the pilot light of my brain I have been left to entertain myself as I perform my morning ablutions.  So I sing.

I know a lot of songs.  A lot.  I can easily do a set of 70s pop, American folk songs, or Broadway show tunes.  I can do Streisand from all six decades.  I can do traditional hymns and contemporary praise music (what my friend Phyllis calls “hippie songs”).  This morning I found myself drying off, applying moisturizer, and brushing my teeth to the sweet and simple melodies I learned in Sunday School.  “Jesus Loves Me.”  “Only A Boy Named David.”  And, of course, “Deep and Wide.”
It’s hard to sing “Deep and Wide” with a mascara wand in your hand.  You have to fight the urge to do the accompanying hand motions, the vertical and horizontal extensions and, once you get to the “fountain flowing” part, the swaying and finger wiggling.  “Deep and Wide” is probably the first song I learned to sing, after “Happy Birthday,” and I remember standing in front of the church and being particularly proud of the coordination I was exhibiting as we sang to our parents – remembering all the words and extending and swaying and wiggling at all the right times.  All these years later there was something in me that felt the need to demonstrate my continued competency in that regard, but I was running late for work, so sing was all I can do.
Which is probably why I actually heard the words themselves.  Deep and wide.  Paid attention to the refrain. Deep and wide.  Heard them and stopped to consider for a moment what they actually mean.  Deep and wide.  To my three-year-old brain the only possible association was literal.  The deep end of the pool.  The door left wide open.  But to the woman standing before the mirror, the connotations were far less material.  
Deep and wide hold associations positive and negative.  Deep and wide carry the weight of a lifetime of dreams and experiences.  Deep and wide are both rich and troublesome.
Human beings hunger for conversations and relationships that are deep; experience that is wide.  And, yet, there remains something in us that demands ease and predictability, limits and boundaries.  Like our brains partitioned into lobes assigned different physical functions, it seems that our psyches are partitioned as well.  We may not be both Jekyll and Hyde, but surely where there is within us a place for City Mouse there is likewise a spot for Country Mouse as well.       
Native American lore tells of the two wolves, good and evil, residing within the heart of man and the answer to the question of which one prevails – “The one you feed.” – may well reveal the only way in which deep and wide triumphs over shallow and narrow.  Dive farther down.  Sweep farther out.  Drop the plow, broaden the blade.  Feed deep, feed wide.
When I left home for college I had no intention of coming back.  Deep and wide beckoned me with greater intensity at every mile marker.  Deep and wide existed, in my mind, in places and people I’d not yet seen or met.  My arms could not extend far enough to take them in.
For seven years I dug deep and I swung wide. I excavated my heart and stretched my mind deep enough and wide enough that, eventually, the territory I could claim encompassed that sandy piece of dirt and that great the cloud of witnesses that make up home. So I returned.
Sometimes, when a friend sets off on a great adventure or accomplishes some notable deed, I wonder what might have happened if deep and wide had become far and away.  Sometimes, when the burdens of the day press down on my shoulders like a fertilizer sack, I wonder what I might be doing if I had chosen shallow and narrow and followed a path someone else had forged.  But sometimes, when the sun is setting and the tops of the pine trees look like paint brushes set aflame and the deer at the edge of the field shine like burnished bronze and the rhythm of the rocking chair matches that of my beating heart, I don’t wonder.  I don’t wonder at all.

Copyright 2014

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Eclipses Are Slow

Eclipses are slow.  Which means there is plenty of time to notice the dew on my feet and the armadillo hole I may or may not be standing in, to hear a strange choral performance by the frogs in the branch that sounds like a rustling of the feathers of a giant flock of geese, to get just a little impatient and start staring at the stars instead, making up my own constellations.

Eclipses are slow.  Which means it is probably inevitable that I will end up wondering what it is about me and moons.  Full ones, half ones, quarter ones.  Waxing and waning ones.  Harvest moons and blood moons and paper moons. 

I remember the one that rose over the field behind Mama and Daddy’s house as big and orange as a revival tent.  I remember the one that spilled out over the ocean at Amelia Island, too tired to lift itself all the way out of the water.  I remember the one that lit up my car with green light and followed me home from work and another one that hypnotized me through the windshield and caused me to miss my turn on the way home from Baxley.   I remember them as though they are not all one moon, are not the same heavenly body spinning wildly and, yet, predictably through space around this heavenly body on which I am spinning wildly and, yet, predictably through space.

Moon myths are as old as man. My favorite may be the Inuit tale in which the moon, called Anningan, chased his sister Malina, the sun, across the sky every day, forgetting to eat in his pursuit so that he grew thinner and thinner. Not a completely logical explanation, but certainly a poetic one and, in an age before telescopes are pointed toward the sky, the poet is revered above the scientist.  

The thought crosses my mind like Anningan and Malina crossing the sky, arcing and falling.  Filling and emptying out.  Giving and taking.   

Eclipses are slow.  I decide that there is time to find my glasses, get the camera, record in some form the sky show.  Coming out this time I decide that the porch is a fine enough place to stand and I feel the wood flex and flex again under my bare feet as I shift to widen my stance, pull in my elbows, minimize the inevitable shake.  I point the lens toward the darkening moon.  The shutter clicks.  I have captured an image, but I suspect that I have captured nothing to explain what it is about me and moons. 

I also suspect that my friend the astronomer might tell me that pointing lenses –  telescope or camera – is not supposed to explain humanity’s love affair with the moon, but only to document it.  I imagine that she might tell me that a knowledge of astrophysics would not assist me in articulating why I stay up late and get up early to stare at circles and half-circles and slivers of reflected light.   I think, but cannot prove, that she would even be a bit perplexed at my need to try.

That may be why we still need myths, the stories that explain without logical explanation, the tales not of things that never happened, but of things so important that they happened and still happen over and over again.  And it may be why we need poets, the people who bid us to join them in the grass, throw back our heads, and stare at the sky. 

Copyright 2014

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Lennon and McCartney and Grannie

A flock of blackbirds covers the field.  Two hundred maybe.  Silent and still before rising, as though at the lift of some unseen maestro’s baton, into the air in one loud flap like a bleached sheet on a clothesline.  I watch and listen and shiver.  Blackbirds.  Sign of cold weather.

Grannie said that.  And every year, come fall and the first golden day in the 60s, come sycamore leaves bigger than my hand and the color of cured tobacco falling in layers in the back yard, come the rattling of peanut trailers and the drone of cotton pickers, I hear her voice.  “Blackbirds.  Sign o’ cold weather.”

Grannie was not a superstitious woman.  Well, maybe she was: She didn’t sweep out the back door after sundown and she didn’t wash clothes on New Year’s Day.  And, for some reason we never figured out, we couldn’t have fish and ice cream at the same meal.  But superstition was a play thing.  You could never really know.  Unless you went ahead and washed clothes on New Year’s Day and you got to the end of the year and nobody in the family had died.  That was, however, an experiment she was not willing to undertake.  

Signs, though.  Signs were different.  Signs were visible, audible, tangible connections to the world.  One could plant and harvest and, thus, survive by signs.  One could plan and hope and, thus, survive by signs.  They were gifts of knowledge.  Knowledge in a world where knowledge was scarce, where television had yet to be invented, where newspapers did not get delivered, where the only book in the tin-roofed house was a Bible.

And so she woke up each morning –  babies at her feet and on her hip, cast iron skillet in her hand – and looked for signs.  A red sky meant bad weather was coming.  Thunder in the morning meant “sailors take warning.”  And blackbirds meant cold was on its way.  

I’ve been told that I look like Grannie.  Once I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror in a dark room – hair pulled back tight, no makeup – and a short shallow gasp left my throat.  For a second I thought I’d seen her, long dead, walking beside me.  Not long after, Daddy came in from the field and walked past a room where I was standing and stopped short.  “My God!” he said, this man who uses the name of the divine only with reverence.  “You look just like Mama.”  

But it is not just the large eyes and the straight nose, the dark hair.  I look like Grannie for signs.    I watch the sky, but I also watch people.  I watch the birds, but I also watch the times.  I listen to the wind, but I also listen to the silence, the words and the spaces between them.  

What was knowledge for Grannie has become information for me and information is not scarce in my world.  I press a button on my telephone and ask Siri, “What is the temperature in Abu Dhabi today?” and in less than two seconds she tells me.  (The high will be 100 degrees, the low 86.)  Knowledge, though, that is still the pearl of great price.

What then are they signing, the birds who rise and circle and land again in one grand apostrophe?  What is the message they telegraph in the black dots and dashes of their winged code?  What knowledge lies within the whispers of their folding wings?

“All your life you were only waiting for this moment to arise.”

Watching.  Listening.  Shivering.

Copyright 2014

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Backs of Drawers

I found it in the back of a drawer.  I had no idea how long it had been lying in wait.

The backs of drawers are dangerous places.  There lie keys to locks I no longer wish to open and ticket stubs to movies I no longer remembering seeing or, worse, remember too well.  In the far corners, worse than the mints without wrappers and the dead spiders, my fingers find souvenir matchbooks and fortunes from cookies folded like unbloomed roses.  The backs of drawers are not mines; they are tombs.

And from such a tomb I pulled the disposable camera, Kodak orange, the kind I am not sure is even made anymore.   The frame counter read 30.  I couldn’t remember: 30 taken or 30 left to take?  Did it matter?  It didn’t. 

Yes, the young man at Walgreen told me, the film could be developed.  I would soon know what images hovered in photographic purgatory.  

It is hard to remember the anticipation with which I used to drop off rolls of film, filling out the information on the thick paper envelopes: name, address, number of prints, glossy or matte.  I knew where I had pointed the camera, knew what I’d hoped to capture, but had only a vague idea of what would appear on the 3½ x 5 rectangles of slick photo paper.  Sometimes I could wait until I got outside the store to delve into the package, most of the time not.  The instant gratification of digital photography eliminates the disappointment of shuttered eyes and crooked grins, but it also extinguishes that little flame of excitement.

Which, in this particular case, was also tinged with anxiety.  I’ve lived long enough now that it was possible that there could be images on that camera I’d rather not see, faces that could evoke sadness, scenes of places that no longer exist.

That my hands did not tremble when I opened the envelope is a truth.  That I checked to see if they might is also a truth.

It took a moment, but only a moment, to recognize the skeleton of a building silhouetted against a summer blue sky.  Sandhill, the brick already laid around the foundation, the framing done, the windows boxed, the trusses hoisted high like a teepee.  Stacks of 2x4s, a pallet of brick for the fireplace, and saw horses scattered across the yard.  A faceless carpenter straddling some beams.

Twenty-four summers ago the contractor dug up already-pegged peanuts to pour the footings of the foundation.  Twenty-four summers ago Adam and Kate posed on the stacks of lumber and tried to get Fritz and Ginny, the golden retrievers, to walk the plank before the steps were installed.  Twenty-four summers ago you still had grandparents living and you didn’t have a cell phone and so many of the people you love now you didn’t know existed.  This is what the photos whisper.

One night, when the subfloor had just been laid but no walls were raised, when the whole house was one big open stage, I climbed up and walked through each room, arms raised under a silver summer moon, and blessed the house to come.  Blessed all who would enter, all who would remain.  Twenty-four summers ago.

The front door is a different color now and there is a deck on the back.  But the bay window still catches the sunset, the front porch the breeze.  The deer still rustle through the branch when the back door opens and mockingbirds still fill the trees.  Twenty-four summers have passed.  She is different and yet the same.

The backs of drawers are prisons and prayer rooms, caskets and cathedrals, tombs and time machines.  The backs of drawers are dangerous things.

Copyright 2014

Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Mimosa In Time

What is this? A mimosa tree? Its slender branches are curved in an arc out over the ditch.  Its fingerling leaves are dangling over my head. Its barkless trunk is all but hidden among the grapevines and pine trees and scrub oaks. I have walked by this very spot hundreds of times, driven by it thousands of times. How could I have never noticed a mimosa tree?

Memory overcomes curiosity and I can suddenly see the mimosa tree growing in the backyard of the duplex apartment where we lived when I was a little girl. Its branches dip so far down that even my four-year-old arms can reach those tiny little leaves. I love that they fold in on themselves when I touch them, coquettishly resisting my attention and, moments later, reopening invitingly as though to say, “No, really, I was only teasing.”  

In the shed there is a pink frying pan on the pink stove I got for Christmas.  I break a branch off the mimosa tree, strip the leaves from the stem, wet them in a puddle by the back steps, and then dredge them in sand.  I put them in the pink frying pan on the pink stove.  I am playing house.  I am having a fish fry.  I would like to cut some of the flowers, put them in a Coca-Cola bottle as a centerpiece for my table, but I know better. The frothy filaments of mimosa blossoms wilt faster than morning glories.  

But they are so beautiful, the color of deep pink associated with Florida and Silver Springs and swimsuits with halter tops and sweetheart necklines, things I have never actually seen, things I can know only from postcards and the labels on the big bags of oranges that the cousins from Florida bring with them when they come to visit.  Once, Mama made a dance recital costume for a little girl that was just that color. It was made of satin, smooth and shiny like an evening gown, something else I had never seen.  She sewed on every single sequin by hand, attached the ruffle of net onto the little derrière with stitches so tiny and tight no one could see them, and when it was finished she let me try it on and have my picture taken underneath the mimosa tree holding an umbrella made of stiff tissue paper and balsa wood.

Who knew the word glamorous at the age of four, but that’s what I was. I knew it. I tilted my head and cocked my shoulder and smiled shyly at the Brownie camera, completely unaware that mine was not and never would be a dancer’s body, oblivious to the fact that the satin stretched and puckered across my round belly, incapable of comprehending that the world was anything beyond that single moment.   Itchy grass.  Sunshine.  Mimosa tree.  Mama.

I realize I have stopped.  I am standing in the middle of a dusty dirt road staring at a mimosa tree that is somehow the same mimosa tree that is growing in the backyard of my childhood.   I am fifty-seven and I am four.  I am wearing shorts and I am wearing a ballerina’s costume that are – Are you kidding me? – exactly the same color.   I am here and I am there.  It is now and it is then.

Is it possible?  

Madeleine L’Engle, she who taught me of time travel and tesseracts, once remarked, “Nothing important is completely explicable.”   This simultaneity, it is important.   It is inexplicable.  It is always and everywhere.

I will walk four miles before I return home.  I will pass the mimosa tree on my way back.  And in the evening breeze its leaves will quiver and send a wrinkle through time.

Copyright 2014

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Bits and Scraps and the Making of Nests

Why do we call it nesting? Why not denning or lairing? Why was the home of a bird, as opposed to that of a lion or fox or bear, turned into a verb?

Home from a weekend at the beach I am scurrying to recover the equilibrium of my every day. The washing machine is swooshing with the first of many loads. What is left of snacks and drinks are scattered across the countertop, haphazardly emptied from totebags and coolers, awaiting some decision as to whether they are worth keeping. I am standing on a ladder in the shed hoisting the beach chairs and umbrella up into the rafters. The last remaining grains of sand are a dry baptism on my head. 

It rained while I was away, not much, but enough to leave the hydrangea surprisingly perky, the basil sprouting fresh green leaves, and the Russian sage, grown absolutely out of control at the corner of the perennial bed, drooping nearly to the ground. The rain was brought in by an eastern breeze; I can tell from the bits and scraps of botanical detritus littering the yard.  Carefully watching my steps to avoid the holes dug by armadilloes, I nearly trip over a nest.

Sitting perfectly upright, as though laid gently on the ground by soft hands, it is still balanced within the arms of a Y-shaped branch.  I wish I had been there to see the branch, snapped brusquely from the chinaberry tree in the rain, fall? dive? float? down to the soft bed of grass on which it now rests.

It is hot. The shed has left me damp all over. My hair clings to my neck in wet curls and my shirt is stuck to my sunburned chest.  I am honed in on the air-conditioned inside just a few yards away, craving the taste of just-made sweet tea in a glass sweating as much as I am.  But I stop.  I cannot resist the nest. 

I bend down to peer into its perfect cup. Spun round and round each other like skeins of cotton candy, thin pine needles the warm brown color of melted caramel make a perfect inverted dome. Beyond its edge, larger pieces of brown grass, threads the color a tweed jacket I once had, form the exterior wall of the little house.  Beyond that, twigs and sticks thicker than spaghetti, not as thick as a pencil, lie across each other at odd angles like a game of pickup sticks.

There is no sign of its former occupants and, having lost its place in the tree, the nest is not fit for avian habitation any longer. I can, without guilt, requisition it for myself –  a found treasure, a serendipitous gift.  I stoop to gather it carefully into my open palms. 

Why do we call it nesting, the instinctual need to adapt an ample and appropriate living space into a unique expression of self?  What is it about the delicate configuration of stems and string and stray slips of paper, where eggs are laid and hatched, where raucous wars are fought to protect the hatched, where fledglings are set forth, that makes it a better metaphor for creating a home than the warren of the rabbit or the lodge of the beaver or the sett of the badger?  

I carry the nest inside and place it on the kitchen counter.  There is a basket of pears grown on Mama’s tree and a hand-painted ceramic bowl I bought at the Club Mud sale at Georgia Southern.  On an opposite wall is the framed blue ribbon Grannie won at the fair and a cross-stitched map of Georgia on which I added an extra X for Register.  On every wall, on every tabletop, on every bookcase there is a bit or scrap of my life and those scraps have been spun and threaded together into a home.  Into a nest.  And it is mine. 

The lair, the lodge, the sett.  The burrow, the den, the warren.  Each is a digging out, an excavation, an emptying.  Only the nest is a building up, a construction, a filling.  Only the nest takes bits and scraps, pieces and flecks, leftovers and remainders and turns them into a seamless whole.  That is why we call it nesting.

Copyright 2014

Sunday, August 03, 2014

One Wild and Precious

I cannot say for certain what it was about the milk bottle that convinced me that it was mine.  It could have been the textured glass that felt like sandpaper.  Or the way the sharp light from the windows at the storefront spread into a soft pool of translucence around its edges.  Or the cool curves that  conjured up memories of the mornings when my father left home early early early to make deliveries to the front porches of people I didn’t know.  Whatever it was, it took only moments for me to pay the exorbitant ransom and hurry away down King Street.  
For the last fifteen years or so, the milk bottle has sat quietly on a shelf at Sandhill, the receptacle for quarters I will not spend, a conservatory for the flat silver discs that clink their way into a mound of delayed gratification.  When the bottle is full, I treat myself to something frivolous or, if not frivolous, at least a bit more extravagant than I would usually allow.  Sitting on the floor, tilting the bottle just so, watching the quarters tumble through the mouth of the bottle, feeling it grow lighter and lighter as it empties, I remember the little girl thrill of emptying a piggy bank.  Stacking the quarters in towers of four, counting out the dollars, I am taken back to childhood Saturdays and McConnell’s Dime Store and the Whitman Books display – a spinning rack where the Timber Trail Riders and Donna Parker and Trixie Belden waited for me and my insatiable appetite for words.
One morning while mindlessly brushing my teeth, I saw the bottle from the corner of my eye.  And for the first time in ages noticed the word etched in thick block letters up one side: WORTHWHILE.  
It was, as I recalled, the name of the store from which I’d purchased the bottle, but in all this time I’d never really thought about it as being anything other than that – the name of the store.  In a single glimpse, a sideways glance, though, I now saw with the clarity of a stare, a glare, a studied focus that it was more than a label.  
Worthwhile, worth the while, worthy of the wait.  It was a question.  From its perch on the shelf next to the crystal clock and the ceramic angel, the bottle was asking me, “Is the container into which you are dropping your currency worthwhile?  Are the things and people in which you are investing worth the while?  Are the dreams you are dreaming worthy of the wait?”
I finished getting ready and headed out into the morning.  The questions stayed with me like chaperones.
Sometime around lunch I heard another question join them when the voice of the poet Mary Oliver whispered in my ear:  “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” 
Wild?  Not an adjective generally associated with me.  Precious?  I’ll accept it, but point out its substantial subjectivity.  One?  Ah, there’s the rub.  No argument available against it, no plausible dispute possible.  One life.  One milk bottle into which the coins of minutes and hours, days and weeks, months and years go dropping one by one.  And as I tilt the bottle, as I watch the days and years tumble out at what feels like equal speed, on what will I spend them?  

I spent the weekend on Signal Mountain with some friends.  On Saturday afternoon we found ourselves in a shop with a spinning rack that held greeting cards, not books.  The five of us stood shoulder to shoulder reaching in and pulling out, reading to ourselves and each other the poignant, the clever, the down-right funny sentiments.  

I already had my hands full of selections to purchase when one of my friends said, “Here.  This is you.”  She handed me a card on which I read another quote from Mary Oliver: “Instructions for life: Pay attention.  Be amazed.  Tell about it.”  

What do I plan to do with my one wild and precious life?  I plan to pay attention and be amazed.  And with every moment that tumbles out of the bottle and into my hand, I plan to tell about it.  

Copyright 2014

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Imagine That!

I am lying on my back.  The darkness outside the window has a green tinge to it, as though the night has mildewed.  If there is a moon or any stars, they are blocked by the limp branches of the mimosa trees and the shed in the backyard, neither of which I can see, both of which I know are there.  Also there is the clothesline where my mother hangs the wet sheets and towels that flap and flap and flap and come back inside dry.
I am in the top bunk, my face not far from the ceiling of the room I share with my little brother.  He is asleep, curled into a comma in his cowboy pajamas on the lower bunk.  Not far from his face are the red and green linoleum tiles that make the floor of the entire duplex a giant checkerboard.  Sometimes I walk through the rooms stepping only on one color or the other.  The tiles are big and it is not easy on four-year-old legs.
I am not usually awake in dark this dark.  I am usually, like my brother, asleep, lost in Schopenhauer’s “little death.”  But tonight is not usual.  Tonight I am lost in what lies beyond the window, what lies beyond my street and the street behind it and the summer night heavy with humidity and the sounds of crickets and frogs and distant traffic.  I am lost in something for which I do not yet have words.

It is the strange sensation of being in two places at once, of rubbing my arms and legs across the sun-dried sheets, of reaching out to touch the cool wall with my hand, of hearing the bunk bed creak when I roll over onto my side, while simultaneously drifting through the window and up and over the backyard, pulled by something strong and irresistible toward someplace.  It is as though I am both myself and Wendy, for whom Peter Pan has flown all the way from Neverland to take back to the Lost Boys.  How is that possible?
How could someone possibly sleep?
I can not tell my father, who tiptoes in and peers into each of our faces in turn, who leans in close to hear our breathing, who touches our arms to assure himself that we are really there, I can not tell my father that I am here and also somewhere else, that I have discovered, accidentally and haphazardly, imagination.   I can not tell him or anyone else –  because I don’t know it yet myself –  that I will never be the same.
It is years later.  A lifetime later.  I am lying on my back.  The darkness outside the window has a blue tinge to it, as though the night has frozen.  There is a moon, but it is blocked for the moment by the languid flow of thick clouds.  There is another shed in another backyard.  The sheets against which I rub my arms and legs have never dried in sunlight. 
I am often awake in dark this dark.  Often gazing at a ceiling that hovers far enough above my face that I am reminded of my near-sightedness.  Often carried away to a place that has grown as familiar to me as my hometown, though I don’t always call it by its real name.  I am more comfortable, in some circles, with saying that I am reflecting, daydreaming, or – God, forgive me! – brainstorming, but no euphemism, no circumlocution, no periphrasis changes the fact that what I am doing is imagining.  And every last thing that I imagine is real.

I do not need a stocking-shaped shadow folded up inside a bureau drawer or a box of Turkish delight or a passport stamped Minas Tirith as evidence that I have been to Neverland and Narnia and Middle Earth.  I do not need geological specimens from the thousand other places I created in order to establish their existence.  And I have all the momentoes I want locked away in the warm summer night of my imagination.

Copyright 2014

Sunday, July 06, 2014

"Why Did It Have To Be Snakes?"

The snake was five feet long.  Exactly five feet long.  I know this because I measured the skin he left in the hosta bed right outside my back door.  The skin he left in a soft pile like dirty clothes he expected his mother to pick up and toss in the laundry.  The skin I picked up with a broom handle and stretched across the cool concrete carport, careful not to touch it because, well, you just never know.  

I stood there and stared at it for a couple of minutes, thought about the snake wriggling and writhing and slipping out completely dressed in brand new skin, wondered where exactly he’d gotten to after his costume change, and congratulated myself on having waited two days since the discovery before venturing close enough, with the broom handle, to examine what he had left behind.  It was highly unlikely, I reasoned, that he would have hung around under the hydrangeas for two days, cool and damp though it would have been.  

I was pretty sure it was a rat snake.  Not because I am particularly adept at identifying reptiles, but because every time I’ve engaged Daddy to expedite the departure of a snake from the immediate environs of Sandhill, his swift and sure work has been accompanied by the remark, “Well, Doll, ain’t nothing but a rat snake” and they have all looked like this one. But pretty sure was not good enough because, well, this snake was still alive. Somewhere.

So that is why I measured it.  Went inside and pulled from the drawer by the telephone my Stanley 25-ft Locking SAE Tape Measure, chrome-plated and outfitted with a wide clip on the back to fit on a tool belt, an instrument one can trust when exactness is important.  I stretched it out the length of the snake skin, feeling the metal flex and flatten against the concrete, and locked it down where the skin splayed out in a ruffle where the snake’s head had once been.  Five feet.  Exactly.  I measured again just to make sure.  Five feet.

My various Audubon guides are lined up on a chest by the front door, propped between sandhill crane bookends. I pulled out “Field Guide to the Southeastern States” and flipped to the reptiles sections.  On page 271 there it was: eastern rat snake, elaphe obsoleta.  “Gray race of se GA west to MS valley is gray, with diamondback-like white-edged dark blotches.”  I peered through the thick plastic of the gallon Ziploc bag into which I had gingerly dropped the snakeskin upon bringing it into the house.   The tiny overlapping scales, laid out like bathroom tiles, were the color of a summer thundercloud trimmed in unginned cotton.  He certainly seemed to fit the description. But it wasn’t enough.

Number.  I wanted a number.  And there it was: 5'.  The National Audubon Society had declared that rat snakes were 5 feet long.  My snake was 5 feet long.  Ergo, my snake was a rat snake.  Held breath expelled.

There is some part of our humanness that makes us want to measure.  To define with numbers.  To identify in SAE terms.  Not a bad thing when one is building a house or designing a rocket or even identifying a snake.  It occurred to me, however, as I reshelved the Audubon guide and dropped the tape measure back into the drawer, that the ease of using numbers to distinguish one thing – or one person – from another can easily rob us of the other parts of our humanness.

Test scores that admit some students and leave out others without regard for abilities and characteristics other than test-taking aptitude, ticket sales that determine what is deemed to be art, descriptions like “age-appropriate” that can not possibly be defined – they all ignore kindness and compassion and curiosity and courage and all the other numinous and luminous qualities that ultimately make those houses and rockets, that produce schools and churches and families, that result in creatures a little lower than the angels, crowned in glory and honor.

I will leave my tape measure in the drawer by the door.  I will keep the scale in the bathroom.  I will maintain my checkbook register and watch my cholesterol and keep track of the time.  But I will not be defined or limited or made afraid by numbers.  Not even the ones attached to a snake.

Copyright 2014

Sunday, June 22, 2014

For Ophelia

So bright that I could make out the fluted edges of the leaves of the geraniums. So bright that the rocking chairs glowed in the shadows of the porch. So bright that across the way I could tell, even in the dark of midnight, where the field ends and the woods begin.  It was the first honey moon to fall on Friday, the 13th in almost a hundred years, an event that will not happen again, according to astronomers, until 2098, an appointment I will not be able to keep.
Bare feet planted on the top step, knees folded like a pocket knife to make a ledge for my elbows, palms splayed to make a ledge for my chin, I stared at the coin of the realm floating in the southern sky.  I stared and breathed a prayer of gratitude for summer.
It is not yet July and I have already planted basil, pinched its leaves, and tasted spring in homemade pesto.  I have made bouquets of sweet mint and peppermint picked from the plot at my back door, dropped their leaves into tall glasses of sweet tea, and sniffed with every sip the scent of green. I have cut bunches of hydrangea, filled Mason jars and Waterford crystal vases with their purple and lavender and pale blue puffs, and cared not at all that the tables got sprinkled with hydrangea dust.  I can hardly remember the ice on the ground and the frost in my breath.
Last weekend, a little drunk with the scent of honeysuckle and the sound of hummingbirds, I got out the saw and the clippers.  I started by trimming some low-hanging branches from the chinaberry and sycamore trees.  That was just enough to work up a good sweat, so I looked around for anything else that needed cutting back.  The rosemary at the corner of the deck had grown over the fall and winter into a huge mass of dark green spikes and whorls, escaping the row of concrete edging meant to contain it and threatening to choke out the verbena, the pennyroyal, and the mint with which it shared its plot.  A major pruning was in order.
I clipped and sawed and clipped and hacked.  Stepped back to check the shape, snipped a little more.  And all the while I was thinking about how much I like rosemary – its scent, its taste, its folklore.  It has been known to repel witches and to divine the future.  And it is, of course, for remembrance.
Which may be why, at some point when I paused to wipe my forehead, I remembered what my friend James had told me.  James is a gardener, a rather well-known one now, and when he came to Sandhill and saw my rosemary he smiled and said, “You know, rosemary grows where strong women live.” 
My next thought was, And sometimes it grows out of control.  I stopped short, clippers dangling from my wrist.  Is it possible that strength, too, can grow out of control?  That being the competent one, the capable, dependable,  reliable one can eventually, ultimately, finally become untenable? 

I could see it now.  The winter just past had not been only about cold and dark, but also about loss – consecutive, repetitive,  chronic loss.  And in the throes of competence and reliability, I had become like the rosemary, sprawling in all directions.    I had run awkwardly over the boundaries that were meant to shape me, had tried to take over adjacent acreage by solving problems that weren’t mine, offering assistance that wasn’t needed.  I did too much.  I was too much.  I was too strong.  

I stared down at the rosemary and the raw, blunt edges of the branches I had so brutally cut.  For a moment I wondered if I’d done the right thing. What had been full and lush was ragged and puny.  I bent down low and took a breath.  My lungs expanded with the scent of evergreen. Ever green. Always green.

It is hard to wield the saw on yourself.   Hard to step back and check the progress.  Hard to make the first pass. So you start by taking a deep breath. For remembrance.  And then you go sit on the porch and stare at the moon.

Copyright 2014

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Traffic Signs

About halfway between the communties of Adabelle and Excelsior is a creek bridge.  On the Bulloch County side of the bridge, the county-maintained highway is known as Adabelle Road; on the Candler County side it is called Dutch Ford Road, though most of us who live nearby refer to it simply as the road to Excelsior.  The two-laned highway, called by whatever nomenclature one chooses, has long been an obstacle course of potholes, wash-out and loose gravel. The fact that the population of deer in the neighborhood vastly outnumbers the population of people adds to the overall perilous nature of travel on this short stretch of pavement. Its condition has been so bad for so long that there is, standing along the right-of way a tall metal flower, a diamond-shaped yellow highway sign, pockmarked from flying gravel, that reads “Rough Road.” As though it were not obvious.

Over the past few months in a rare act of county cooperation or, perhaps, serendipitious synchronicity, both ends of the road have been resurfaced. It is now possible to traverse from U.S. Highway 301, where Adabelle Road begins, well into Candler County on macadam smooth as ganache. A trip that used to strain the best shocks and struts, that could easily cause a blow-out, that left drivers in need of chiropractic adjustment now feels like a ride down a waterslide. The finished product more than makes up for the brief delay experienced on the days on which construction closed one lane or the other leaving tractors and pick up trucks and minivans transporting farm laborers backed up around curves trimmed with narrow aprons and deep ditches.

The resurfacing has made the drive so pleasant that I can now pay attention to the environs. The deck that has been added to the back of the house in Excelsior. How many legs there are to the center pivot irrigation system in the field to the right.  What is blooming in the yards of the farm houses along the road.

This morning I noticed something else:  the sign is still there. The rough road sign. 

With all the scraping and regrading and filling of holes, all the tarring and rolling of the new surface, all the careful and tedious repainting of yellow lines down the middle, nobody thought to take down the sign.  What was once a helpful warning to those who had not traveled that way before, what was once a gentle reminder to those who traveled that way often, what was once a useful part of the landscape has become a relic. 

Relics can be useful. They can teach us things about a time or place that we did not know. They can offer insight into the common characteristics between peoples of different times and places. They can remind us of progress made and progress still needed.

But a relic not recognized as such can be dangerous. We can spend so much time learning from the past that there is no time left to enjoy the present.  We can hold on to reminders so tightly as to be unable to grasp anything else. And if an official DOT road sign tells you that the road ahead is rough, chances are that you will believe  it and stiffen your entire body in preparation for being bounced and jostled and jerked.  It is likely that you will clutch your steering wheel tightly and set your face like flint against non-existent impediments.

I have no intention of violating Code Section 32-6-50 and taking down the sign between Adabelle and Excelsior, but I’m thinking of taking down a few others.  The ones that keep me stuck in the traffic jam of destructive thoughts.  The ones that force me onto detours that take me much too far from the path of my dreams.  The ones that say “Do Not Enter” and “Wrong Way” and “No U Turn.”   Especially the ones that proclaim “Rough Road” when all that lies ahead is possibility.  

Copyright 2014

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Remembering Moonlight

Sounding like Goethe on his deathbed, I handed the contractor the blueprints for what would become Sandhill and instructed, “Light.  That’s what I want.  As much as possible.”  So the windows were broadened and lengthened in order to not simply permit, but invite as much light as possible into the rooms.  With the serendipity of a southern orientation came sunrise through the bedroom windows and sunset through all the others. 
I soon discovered that it wasn’t only sunlight that welcomed itself into Sandhill through all those windows, but moonlight as well.  Each month, in the week the moon waxed toward full, I would go to bed each night under a slightly more silver glow and when the sphere of reflected light reached perfect roundness, the whole room shimmered.   It was as though the pillows, the sheets, the comforter had all been sprinkled with sequins.  As though a handful of stardust had slid down the moonbeams and scattered itself across the furniture. 
Sometimes the light was liquid and poured through the panes like water from a jug or over a sluice or through a funnel, puddling on the floor and the bed linens in wading pools of pale illumination.  I would lie there and listen to the silence, as full and content as the moon, and my next conscious thought would be morning.
For fifteen years there was not so much as a valance adorning any of the windows.  I loved the suns’s play of bright and brighter overlapping each other on the floors, the strangely angled shadows  projected onto the walls.  I was constantly amazed that Old Linen, the paint color I’d chosen for every room, could look so completely different from morning to afternoon,  from hallway to kitchen, from spring to fall.  
The nakedness of my windows was both frightening and embarrassing to Grannie who finally asked me one day, “Aren’t you afraid somebody might be able to see in?”  To which I responded, “If they come this far, they deserve to see something.”  She was not amused. 
About eight years ago, in the aftermath of three bumper car hurricanes that brought enough rain inland to require rather significant repairs, I put up blinds.  Wide slatted ones.  Easy to open so that I might maintain my this-is-freedom-not-vulnerability stance, but equally easy to close in order to seal off, block out, hide from view what I’d finally admitted in what passed for adulthood could be frightening, dangerous or, at least, uncomfortable.
The result has been plenty of nights, many nights, most nights, when I couldn’t have said whether the moon was waxing or waning or whether it was, in fact, outside my bedroom window, at all.
Last week – and I can’t say exactly why last week was different –, when the moon was full, when the sky was cloudless, when the memory of moonlight shining through my window sprang up like a craving, I turned off the lamp and opened the blinds.  I got into bed and lay very still, waiting to feel the shimmer, waiting to hear the silence. 

Across the room, on top of the chest of drawers, I could make out the silhouettes of photos, books, an hourglass.  People, words, time.   Their sharp edges were softened in the pale moon breath, dulled beyond any capacity to worry or wound.  I had forgotten what moonlight can do to edges.   I had forgotten what moonlight does to me.

Copyright 2014

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Propagation of Fruit

For fourteen years I have walked the circle drive at the Screven County Courthouse.  At least once a month for fourteen years I have walked, heels clicking against the pavement, files tucked under my arm or stuffed into a rolling briefcase, toward the double glass doors and the wide tiled hallway that leads to the courtroom.  As often as not, in warmer weather, I have walked to the tune of a mower moving back and forth over the front lawn like a metronome, breathing in the shaved grass along with the scent of the roses Mrs. Pullen planted at the front door when she was clerk.

And in all that time, through all those springs and summers when the heat cushioned me like bubble wrap, on all the clear sunny days when the fire trucks at the station next door were sparkling in their just-washed shimmer, in all the early mornings when the puffy white clouds had not yet been burned away, in all that time in which I thought I was paying attention, I never once noticed what I noticed today.   And what I noticed today, out of the corner of my eye, was a blackberry.
Not even as large as the tip of my pinky, it was poking its head through the equally tiny leaves of the hedge that runs along the edge of the circle drive.  I stood the rolling briefcase upright and looked closer.  There were three or four more, all peeking out coquettishly from within the pencil-thin branches that grew like a vast web of veins four feet into the air before sprouting a five o’clock shadow’s worth of greenery. 

So I picked them.  And popped them into my mouth.  And tasted the hardness, the coldness, the bitterness of a not-yet-ripened fruit.

That bitterness, that sharpness that purses lips and leaves teeth tender, it is no accident.  There is a reason behind the deterrent to eating fruit that is green and immature.  The seeds inside ripe fruit, juicy and tasty, sweet-swelling and enticing, are mature, capable of reproducing.  Eaten by animals, the mature seeds are expelled and the cycle begins again. The seeds inside immature fruit are barren.  Eat that fruit, those berries and the cycle stops.  The circle is broken.

I’d had breakfast. I wasn’t hungry.  But who spies the first blackberries of the season and doesn’t pick them?  Doesn’t pop them into her mouth without a thought for the chemical nonpareils sprinkled on top?  Who in the world, after a winter that dragged on like a soap opera death scene,  sees this herald of nascence and renewal and walks on by?   Not this girl. 

Not this world.  We choose precocious over experienced, we honor youth over age, we trade-in and trade-up for whatever is newest and freshest, and ignore what history, personal and human, has taught us – that waiting is not the worst use of one’s time when the stakes are high.

I can’t say am actually sorry for picking the blackberries.  At least, not those blackberries.  But there are some fruits I have picked too soon, some bites that have left a sour taste in my mouth, some berries I should have left on the vine.  And who can forget them?  Not this girl.

Copyright 2014