Longleaf Preserve is what Buck and I call the hundred-acre wood where we have lived for the last eighteen years. It’s not a gated community with a name that evokes some long-past history. It’s an actual preserve for Longleaf pine trees and mixed-hardwoods. Buck bought the land back in the last century, in 1974. We married in 1984 and built our home here in 2000.
Many folks think of Florida as monolithic: hot in summer, heaven in winter, Mickie Mouse, golf, alligators and sharks. But the Florida Panhandle has seasons, gorgeous emerald water sugar sand beaches, and lush forests, along with some nifty small towns, including Pensacola, where we live. And a little known fact that messes with national elections reporting: we’re in the central time zone, whereas most of Florida is in eastern. We still have folks voting while the media have already started reporting who won or lost in Florida.
I’ve been walking the third of a mile from house to gate nearly every morning for a long time now, so I recognize and enjoy all the signs of changing seasons. I’m a lot older than when I first started making those morning walks, not as eager for the next season to arrive, preferring instead to linger and savor the one I’m in.
Even August, usually the peak time for heat, humidity, and clouds of love bugs. And hurricanes. But this August, with only a few more days to go, has been a kinder and gentler month. Plenty of actual rain rather than constant steam. Cooler temps. And fall-blooming wildflowers gracing us with their presence way earlier than usual.
Maybe somebody out there understands we noise-weary humans need a break. Do yourself a favor. Turn off your news-feed and take a walk.
A few days later, my beloved husband and I were putting fresh linens on our bed together, one of those sweet companionable things long-marrieds do together, each holding two corners of a sheet and UP! it goes to catch a breeze and settle itself square on the soft bed. I told Buck about my dream.
“It’s me,” he said. “I’m your black swan. You’ll always feel my steady heart and I’ll always have your back.” We looked at one another, me on one side of the bed, he on the other. His age, turning 81 this year, between us, wings stirring. Neither of us blinked in that long moment, then Buck smiled in that slow way that starts deep in his green eyes. I smiled, too. We fluffed the sheet again and felt its cool breeze on our faces.
It was a major interstate highway somewhere in Florida. For some inexplicable reason, Buck and I were driving separate cars. I think our destination was the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville. Not surprising, since we’ve been there many times and will be going again in early July. This time, though, we were approaching from a different direction, one completely unfamiliar to me, maybe from somewhere in South Florida rather than our normal route from Pensacola.
Even stranger, several days earlier, we had come the same way in one car, with Buck driving. The exit toward Jacksonville was tricky. I remember that.
This day, Buck was in front of me. Suddenly a car ahead of him spun out and left the roadway into the median. His car spun around, too, and as a result he was facing oncoming traffic, but I could see he was safely pulling off the road.
I was swept along in the fast-moving traffic trying to think fast about what I should do when I suddenly realized our exit was just ahead of me. I dove into it, drove a little ways and realized this was the wrong exit and I had no idea where I was. It was more like a theme park, similar to Disney, but I actually entered a kind of fairy tale kingdom right off the interstate with no opportunity for a U-turn.
Next thing I remember was Buck and I being together again in a dark parking lot, in only one car, and entering a back door to the hospital at Mayo via electronic sliding doors. We found ourselves in a medium-sized meeting room filled with old-fashioned metal folding chairs. The room was very dimly lit. I stood folding the armload of pale blue cotton sheets and pillow cases that I had walked in with, while Buck stood off to the side talking with a security guard. The elderly guard told Buck the President had been admitted to the hospital in grave condition.
I can’t recall any other details of this unusual dream.
The black swan with its beautiful red bill fit snugly in my arms, long neck draped over my shoulder, as if to watch my back. In this unusual dream last night, the swan went everywhere with me as though it were the most natural thing in the world.
I recall moving through crowds of people, talking to some, but no one asked about my swan and I didn’t mention it. I could feel its heart beating along with my own, not fluttery like one might expect, but deep, steady and reassuring.
Definitely one for my red box of dreams. Once written, never forgotten.
“Solo. Solo,” the women called in subdued, but urgent tones.
“Well, okay,” the old man said, rounding a time-softened gray fedora in his thin, elegant fingers. “I don’t know how it got to be five years from now.” He sat on a low ottoman in the parlor room of the small community library, surrounded by four calm-faced women of indeterminate ages. A single ray of sunlight cut through the morning shadows and fell onto his scarred arm.
It was a dream. I stumbled out of bed shortly after six to my study, found a mechanical pencil stuck in an antique heavy glass “flower frog” and began to scrawl on a legal pad. Didn’t even turn on a lamp. You know how it is with dreams. Even the most vivid ones. If you can write down a scrap of it, or in a pinch say it out loud, you stand a chance of capturing an exotic bug in a bottle.
Buck came in, found me in the darkened study, standing up, scribbling furiously. I wondered what he was doing there. This is not a man who has ever voluntarily gotten out of bed before the chickens. He moved on toward the kitchen and returned balancing half a slice of bread on a short glass of skim milk. He eyed me curiously. I mumbled something, held up my left hand in an inarticulate “wait” signal, but continued to write.
“I’m going back to bed,” he said, and was gone. Nausea, I thought. It’s still hanging on from last week’s chemo, and he’s trying to smooth it down with milk and bread and put together enough sleep from the fragmented night. Between my restless dreams and his discomfort, a solid six or seven hours of sleep is rare as precious myrrh.