The sharp-eyed bluebird watched in his lapis lazuli suit with its apricot vest from a fence post perch as more than thirty cardinals at the feeders played a manic game of leapfrog.
The steady rain didn’t slow them down at all. Hours later, the rain continues to fall straight down and steady into the warming ground and I know that within days I’ll be cranking up the old John Deere. Mowing season will have begun. But this afternoon the circles of light inside our dry abode are all the sanctuary a creature could dream for, and a nap beacons.
First, though, a March walk in the pine woods. If you’re still awake on this sleepy day, come along. Plenty of sweet, fresh air for everyone.
At my desk early this morning, I was distracted by a bumping sound outside under the window. I went to look, and saw fuzzy white ears belonging to a small whitetail doe. Her companion, another doe, was foraging for green shoots midway between clearing and woods. Her ears were the typical brown. The white ears were quite distinctive. I’ll recognize her even from a distance now.
The photo above is a good reminder never to leave the house for a walk without the old point and shoot camera in my hand. It was Monday, February 24. Buck and I started our walk later than usual. After our second or third house-to-gate lap, we rounded the driveway in front of the house to circle back to the gate a third of a mile away when I looked up and saw this amazing sky. The clouds looked like they were quilted from softest down. The opening, like an upside down inactive volcano, was rimmed in sun-gold.
Our hearts were heavy that day, because we had learned Sunday that a dear old friend was near death. After returning from our walk, an email from his daughter told us TC had died Sunday, only an hour after we had talked with his wife, B.
A brilliant, wise, and kind man, TC was an engineer with a stellar career until retiring in 2000. Disaster struck eleven years ago, when he was diagnosed with an unusually cruel disease known as Semantic Dementia. Imagine an intellectually gifted person, one who managed a major industrial plant and thousands of employees, a person who founded a scholarship program at his beloved alma mater which continues to educate new engineers every year, a person who — along with his devoted wife of 55 years — created a youth program at their church decades ago which continues to thrive long after their relocation from Pensacola to other cities and ultimately to Birmingham; a father of two accomplished adults and grandfather of five. A person who loved to read.
Now imagine that person, or yourself, with four objects on a table: a pen, a pair of scissors, a table knife, a flashlight. Someone asks you to pick up the scissors. You pick up the pen. Frontal lobe deterioration is rapid, irreversible. For the last five years of his life our loquacious friend didn’t say a single word.
Some days I wonder whether we might be more content not to have so much information at our fingertips. In the past few weeks, I’ve learned far more than I am comfortable knowing about conditions that can affect the lives and quality of life of human beings: Guillain-Barre Syndrome, from which our friend Harold is slowly recovering (he proudly took eight steps on a walker yesterday); and Semantic Dementia, which took our friend TC’s mind and eventually his life.
I look at the photo of the sky and wonder at it’s ability to comfort my ruffled spirit. I have so many questions.
Are these pitcher plants gorgeous or what? Talk about a nice surprise. A crystalline blue sky and dry, cool air drew Buck and me outdoors yesterday to wander the fire line trails. There’s a swampy area where the road is too wet to cross this time of year. We walked right up to that spot; I looked off to the right, and there, in the pine straw and muck, nearly hidden, was this stunner. No wonder hapless insects find them irresistible.
We only saw this one cluster, but it was our treasure find for the day.
Most of us have heard the old chestnut that the trick in life isn’t getting what you want, it’s wanting what you get. Expectations shade our perception of reality. Here on the Gulf coast of Florida, we’ve had a series of mild, rather pleasant winters. Until this year. Birds skating on the frozen bird bath for days on end is not part of my world view of “how things should be” in our winters. I can almost hear my friend, Jeanne, laughing. She lives in Moose Pass, Alaska, although even she has dusted out of there for an adventure to South Africa. (Check her fantastic photos at Gullible’s Travels.)
The ice melted completely late last week and now we’re back to more typical winter weather: chilly for a day or two, then a warming trend with rain, then cool again. Repeat until spring. Some beautiful days are coming, I’m sure. Like lots of other folks around the country, we’re eager for some bright sun blue sky days.
Here are a few January scenes. I wish now I had roused myself from the warm house and gone to the woods to get some ice and snow photos, but instead was true to my hothouse flower roots and stayed by the fire with hot chocolate, Buck, and a pile of books.
Care for a swim, anyone?
24/7 Fast-Food Fly-Through.
Buck’s old Case tractor.
Dead plant from last summer’s pocket garden under the stairs.
It would have been cooler if Buck and I had started our walk earlier. Even so, at 9:00 a.m. the difference between the hot sun in the clearing and the near chill of the deep shade down by the draw was striking. Rainfall for August broke all records. The last week of August hinted at fall, but this morning summer was back in all its steamy glory. We walked our regular five laps from house to gate and back, clicking off three and a third miles in just under an hour — fast enough for a slight uptick in heart rate, slow enough to chat.
We returned to the house sweaty, ready for a shower. It had gotten late on us, though, and we opted to have breakfast first. I whipped up a strawberry banana smoothy in the old blender with vanilla soy milk and a handful of flax seeds. You would have sworn it was made with ice cream. Too eager, I gave myself a brain freeze.
By the time we finished breakfast, our bodies had cooled enough to consider going outside again even though it was nearly mid-day. Buck took to his old Case 60 horsepower tractor to bush-hog the major fire lines, and I took off walking.
Tomorrow, more pictures and some thoughts on the pleasure and treasure of living in the pine woods and how it feeds the instinct toward creativity. It may even be an antidote for the tendency toward over-immersion in social media, a preservation of precious inner space.
*Title of this post suggested by author Rebecca Solnit’s superb piece in the London Review of Books. I saw it thanks to memoirist Richard Gilbert’s link. Highly recommended reading for all us “well-connected” folks, here.
When I run the third of a mile to the gate for the morning newspaper, as I did this cool morning, the wind in my ears keeps me from hearing an owl in the stream bed, the skitter of squirrels in the scrub oaks, the whoosh of turkey wings when I startle them from their roosts in the trees. But when I poke along in the woods, it’s a mindful walking that takes in all the forest wants to offer. It’s a treasure hunt; an endless buffet for the soul.
The March woods are my cathedral choir. Dry blackjack leaves rattle on the tree and fly. Anoles skitter through piles of dead oak leaves, startling me until my memory of this season recalibrates to their sound. Squirrels make a bigger noise, vertically racing and leaping from tree to tree, high in the canopy. The acoustical hop, hop of unseen brown thrashers is bigger than the bird. Everywhere there is sound and echo, call and answer. Full body and soul immersion into morning birdsong is the baptism toward which I run.
Longleaf in January, an aging beauty queen without her make-up, mercilessly photographed in harsh light. And yet, there is grace here, unadorned without the vining flowers of summer, spare and honest. Taking a back seat to the rutting deer; providing them shelter and sustenance in this chill, sleepy season. Longleaf is the ground of our being; the place where we meet ourselves coming back. Home.
A friend looked at a spider on one of our sliding glass doors. It was carrying off a bug bigger and even weirder looking than itself. “What are those?” she said.
“They’re bugs. Don’t you know you’re in the woods?”
Not all the ground is sandy here. Some places have a red clay base; others iron rock that would break a drill. Now I think of it, it seems odd that this “beach white” sand is out here in a Longleaf pine forest. Pretty, though, and soft on bare feet.