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