There were the most fascinating places when I was in elementary school. One winter we had a very cold night and the next day, there were the most intricate ice castles under the surface of red mud.
On the surface it looked like flat crusted Georgia red clay but a quarter inch below the surface were sparkling worlds of lacy ice spires intricately woven into landscapes which awakened my imagination.
The sunlight caught the tiny crystal landscape and cast vibrant rainbows of color every way I turned it. I could hold part of it in my hands on the underneath side of the clay and also look down into it in the tiny spacious caverns under the surface.
My mind created stories from these worlds of ice princesses and ice princes living among glistening ice fairies in spiraled, crystal houses. The entire scene was gone by the afternoon but I’m often reminded of its magical, iridescent quality.
March 14, 2005
Once when we were camping, I found a clearing in the woods near our campsite. Until finding the way into the clearing, there was no evidence that it was there.
Around all its edges were closely spaced pines and hardwoods draped with vines and thick with underbrush. I was walking through the brush pushing my way through with my tall walking stick I had made when I pulled across a thick bunch of vines to discover the clearing.
It was such a comfortable, private place. The sun’s rays warmed the area which was about twenty feet across and almost a circle. There was a wide stump of old wood where a tree had been cut that made a nice spot for sitting.
There were birds singing in the trees and squirrels running through playing. I felt like I was on top of the world in my own mountain forest. It was so beautiful and I stayed there a long time that day. I came back to it in the days that we camped there. It became my favorite place off to myself. I could think clearly there and it felt as if the whole world was at peace.
I loved watching the trees change in the sunlight as the day progressed. Once a squirrel came within a few feet of me and sat watching me. I could see every tip of his fur and the tiny little paws and his expression which to me seemed to have character with each tilt of his head and flinch of his tail.
I don’t remember if I talked to him or watched being as still as I could so he would stay longer. I do remember how beautiful he was and how perky and full of life. That impressed me most.
Of course, I may have been sitting in his favorite spot after all. I also remember the sweet smells of honeysuckle that pervaded that clearing with even the slightest breeze. It hung in the air otherwise but when there was a breeze, it would rustle the leaves of the trees and send an intense whoof of honeysuckle smells to me.
March 14, 2005
There are a lot of places that I can remember like that from sunsets over the California ocean with its brilliant oranges, pinks and lavender clouds and the bright orb of deep red that the sun would become as it neared the ocean’s horizon.
And, too, the moonlight reflecting a perfect semblance of the full moon on a gentle stream in the mountains of North Carolina where I laid on my belly on a small wooden bridge over the water. I can still see the silver leaves reflected in the edges of that creek where I became fascinated by the fact that the bottom of the creekbed also shown through the reflections.
I can hear the gentle sounds of those waters lapping at the rounded stones along the bank and I remember floating several leaf boats in that sparkling clear water. I watched as they drifted and swirled in the micro-currents next to rocks and sprays of falling water.
The water had a soft, smooth feeling to its drops aside from its coldness that was far different than our tap water at home. The wooden bridge was worn into smooth grained planks by some effort such that I could lay on my back and see the stars, the full moon and the draping canopy of tree branches or lay on my belly and watch the reflections dance in the stream.
There was moss, deep and thick along the edges of some rocks and on ledges of earth and rock raised above the bank’s slope. I could’ve stayed there forever, it was so beautiful.
March 14, 2005
There is a quality to lakes early in the morning and late in the afternoon that defies description. I love those moments. I love to swim in the warm waters along the shore of lakes and I’ve loved the time I’ve spent early in the morning watching the mist on the water.
I think my favorite question is, “what color is that?” When I see the colors of trees on the far shore of a lake softened by the long shadows of the afternoon, I want to reach into it with my mind to feel its colors and absorb its moment time.
As the dusk comes and part of the sky is a deep vast blue while the other part is turning dark and maroon purple at the edges, I have laid back in the lake waters and watched the sky as I floated making a fish eye lens view of the entire sphere of the sky. The touches of light on every dip and valley of the lakes surface ebbs along around me and my mind wanders there to find the shapes and know the colors. There is a coolness that starts to descend that is gentle and even. Along the lakeshore, the sand becomes cold and the red mud becomes softer and warm.
I like the feeling of the sand or grass on my bare feet as the wafting sounds of dusk settle across the lake. There are the delightful distant songs of birds chirping into the evening breeze in a perfect harmony with the slick chirps of crickets and the songs of cicadas. Every so often, a bass cluck from the tree frogs drops into the stream of sounds as if to say, I’m here too.
The fish flip across rain dripped lakes and before the darkness of the night sets in, playfully spinning nearly suspended above the glimmer of the lake surface to catch a bug here and another one there while the menu is good. Off in a distant cove the first fishermen’s lights come on to hook their bait and spin a line into the water hoping to catch something from among the sneaky schools of fish hovering below the surface. The popping sounds of the reel and rods set down into the flat of the boat echo out from the trees and across the lake into the slowly quieting sounds of the lake’s song pulled into the night.
March 14, 2005; and May 9, 2010
I can feel the cold of the snow around my collar and in my hair when I think of laying beneath the tall redwoods making snow angels as I looked up at what must’ve been a million tiny points of light in the dark sky. I could see every star as if I could reach up and grab them.
The branches of the massive sequoias appeared to hover between the blanket of silver blue snow and the infinite sky. Long icicles glistened in the moonlight from the eaves of the little cozy cabins set into drifts of snow six feet high against the walls. Lacy ice crystals sat against the window panes in each little corner and filled the paths across the forest floor.
Everywhere the snow lay blue in the moonlight with bits of sparkle catching the light and kicking it back in a thousand directions like diamonds. The cold icy chill of the snow licked at my hands and toes but the air was calm and cool under the trees. The stars of the night sky stretched as far as the eye could see and as far as my imagination would take me into great, vast reaches of the deep navy blue sea where they were suspended above the delicate shadows of the giant trees framing them.
On one of the days while we were there, I remember stepping down once into what looked like a solid white floor of snow to find myself waist deep in it to my absolute surprise and it felt like my body had just experienced the drop of a roller coaster with all its flutters and internal wavering happening inside me. I was also shocked to discover that it isn’t like moving through water but rather shifted and crackled as I moved in it.
It is very unnerving and at the time, to find that the snow around me didn’t give as I expected it to do, set up an entirely new realm of thought in my mind about bulldozers as people and people as bulldozers pushing through the snow to cast it aside. I thought about what it must have been like a hundred years or more ago when settlers came to this place without a cozy cabin nearby or someone close enough to hear a call of help and of the wagons going through the passes of the Sierra Nevadas during the winter blizzard that I had seen in plate engravings from a book. I could picture them in my mind forcing against the storm and snuggling into cold beds in their wagons with no respite from the snow they would find when they awoke.
We stayed in the Kings’ Canyon Sequoia National Park where I just had to make that snow angel under the massive sequoias one of the nights we were there. Or to be honest about it, when I did that several times while we were there. During the daytime, the snow is cast in an entirely different set of colors and effects, and the long, crystal icicles are even more glorious because if I held them just right, they would create rainbows across the snow as the glint of sunlight caught them.
I do love snow. I like making snow icecream, laying in the snow to make angel shapes, building snowmen and snowbears, taking pictures of every last thing it has changed from normal to wondrous and I love playing in it to catch the flakes and snowglobs on my tongue as they are falling from the sky. On some occasions, I have engaged in snow ball battles and all the sledding in it that is possible on just about anything that was within a hand’s reach of getting it and getting outside to do it.
When we lived in California, we would drive about an hour up into the snow to spend a day playing in it and then come home to swim in the warmth of the day’s afternoon or evening. We could eat chili and make snow icecream during our day in the mountain snow above the foothills of Los Angeles. Sometimes, after we came from our day in the snow, we would go to the ocean and look out across the waves with the cool evening breeze and swing on the swings at the beach while Mom and Dad sat in the car discussing the great and important things of our lives.
With our church, I went inner-tubing on the snow which was great fun. We went down the slope individually and made runs as interlocking chains of tubes holding onto one another until the whole group had plowed up enough snow to have been an avalanche. And, most of that snow was on us.
We made walls of ice and snow to hide behind to throw snowballs in mock battles and built huge snowmen from balls of snow that would always get away from us during the construction, rolling away from us down the hill and picking up more snow than we intended. It was a challenge to get the large three-foot snow-packed ball pieces on top of one another for the snowman and usually we had to get several people helping to hoist it up atop the fat snowball we had made for the snowman’s belly.
As an adult, I made a snow bear on a sled made of snow that stood as tall as I did at the time, for my children who helped for a bit here and there on it, then we put a ballcap on his head, sunglasses sitting across his nose, and a bandana around his neck. People came and took pictures of him and we named him, Mr. Personality. To be fair, the children called him, Mr. Snowbear but he was delightful and sat glistening in the sunshine under the trees of our front yard for many, many days where we could watch him from the front window.
I abandoned some great bandanas and good sunglasses to the construction of snowmen and snowbears for them to be fashionably attired. It wouldn’t have been right if they didn’t have style after all. I have loved our snow days in Georgia, though they are few and far between. When I was younger, when our family made a snowman, my sister and I would take the incentive to get it started and then try to enlist Daddy to help us put it together. Usually he would be taking pictures or gathering snow for Mom to make into snow icecream and it would take us a bit of tugging to get him talked into it.
At one time, we owned a sled and Daddy made a snow run for us in the backyard where we could use it down this incredibly large hill. By the time we would get to the bottom part of it, the speed of the sled would’ve picked up so much that it was like flying. Then the sled would come to the flat part of the run and slow down where we could fall off laughing and giggling completely out of scale with the whole experience. We would brush the snow out of our hair and and off our clothes, try to talk our dog into taking the sled back up the hill for us, which she wouldn’t and we would trudge back up the hill along the side of the run to do it all over again.
But as fun as that sled was, over the years, I’ve managed to use just about anything as a sled when it snows, including anything that is handy and I can get out right quick to go and do it. I’ve been known to make a sled out of just about anything. I can say from experience that waxed paper doesn’t work as well as it would seem to be capable of doing and that plastic garbage can lids that are round spin down a hill totally uncontrollably for a two-part thrill ride – one of which is getting up dizzy and falling back down into the snow from it before walking back up the hill to ride it again. And, I can say from experience that flying down a hill on ice and snow intending to sled with nothing but the backseat of my pants was not a good idea.
There is no adult in me when it snows. Somewhere the adult part of my mind simply steps aside and I go play with all the excitement of it that I had as a child, whether it is running around taking pictures or flopping into the snow to make a snow angel or breaking off an icicle to lick and see if my tongue gets stuck to it. And, I like it. I would not have it any other way.
There are some things that are just worth doing and playing in the snow, walking in the rain splush puddling, making snow angels, floating in lakes looking at the sky as dusk falls, and walking in the cool of the first light of dawn to see the trees stream the rays of blue sunlight through them are definitely on that list.
March 14,2005 and May 9, 2010
Another outing we would make when we vacationed at my grandparents’ house was to go to Chimney Rock and Lake Lure in North Carolina nearby. All of my grandparents lived in South Carolina near enough to Chimney Rock for us to go for the day and come back in the evening. It only took about an hour to get there and usually we would make a day trip out of it with the beautiful scenic roads through the low-lying foothills of South Carolina and up into the mountains of North Carolina.
Most always we would take an icebox with a picnic lunch in it to eat at the base of Chimney Rock where there were picnic areas by a wide creek that gurgled around big smooth rocks under a canopy of hardwood trees. In the little valley between the mountains, it was filled with trees and very soothing to put our feet in the cold water as we listened to the song of the creek waters and looked for “special” pretty rocks under our feet on the creekbed. We would sit on a rock or bend over as we stood in the waters with our pants legs rolled up, reaching into the cold water to grab hold of that perfect beautiful rock of quartz or rose quartz or umpteen other varieties of amazing. We would be putting them into our pockets until our pockets were bulging with rocks and our pants were soggy and wet with it all.
We would skip rocks with Daddy and see how many skips we could make them jump. We would search for the flatest, smoothest rocks to use for skipping and then try them out to skip six or seven times. Sometimes, Dad could make them skip even more times than that but he was taller than us so he had a better angle on it than we could get. At least that’s what I told myself, and my sister and I did a pretty good analysis on it. But, he had practiced it more so the angle thing may not have had much to do with it.
We never did go fishing in that stream but I bet it had some good fishing in it. We would see big fish in it sometimes amongst the edges and shelves by the rocks and occasionally under the big roots of trees hanging over into the stream clutching at the creekbed. Just about where the shadows of the roots made the water clear, I could see the fish half as long as my arm staring about as if on standby before darting away up the stream or under edge of rocks.
It never ceased to amaze me that the eddies and currents flowing around the rocks gurgled with incessant energy. The foam and splash of the water flowing over the rocks had smoothed them over time and little shelves sat below the rocks where the motions had carved out a place with every moment dancing around above it. There was moss on the rocks by little waterfalls that gleamed in the sunlight from the moisture on it and seemed to be the most comforting wondrous color in the entire universe. The moss clung to rocks almost as if by magic and every fine tendril was visible like a complete and whole landscape in miniature. Sometimes, I could see a dragonfly coasting about the waters and occasionally other small insects would skim the surface along little coves where the water was still and calm though the rest of the stream was dynamic motion alongside it within an arm’s reach.
Most of the time when we went to Chimney Rock, we didn’t go up to the top of Chimney Rock to the lookout platform they have there. Instead, we picnicked and played in the stream, took pictures and went into the cute little stores with tourist stuff that lined the narrow valley. There would usually be a short afternoon rain shower during the times we were there and we would spend that time walking through the little shops drinking Coca-Colas in a bottle with salted peanuts poured into them. Sometimes, or very nearly all the times – we would buy a thing here or there to take home with us. We could usually buy a couple little things with the money we had saved, and nearly always some postcards. It was fun till it was time to go back down from the mountains riding in the car back to Grandmother’s house.
We never did stay there overnight or for a weekend but I always wanted to do that. Daddy said he came there to Chimney Rock as a boy for their vacations and the whole family would stay for a week in some cabins near the stream every year. And, I know that my grandaddy (Daddy’s Dad) had tried to buy a mountain up in there once which he worked on for the better part of several years. I would still love to buy that mountain that he so fell in love with and I can understand why he felt that way about it. Maybe it runs in the family.
When I think back about that stream – I can still see the sparkle, I can still feel the breeze of its cool mist on my face, and I can still hear the song of its waters in my mind. There has never been a time that I have gone there as a child or as an adult that I could leave without putting my feet into those waters. There is just something about it that calls to me until I give way and just go do it. And then each time, I remember why I did and where I came from and who I am. I don’t know how it does that but its the truth.
Most of the trips, we would stop to look at Lake Lure and take some pictures on the way back and sometimes we would eat at a little barbeque place for sandwiches as supper near Lake Lure before going back to Grandmother and Grandaddy’s house. It never seemed to go as fast going back down the mountains as it did going up into them. I never remember the same anticipation about leaving as I had for the going and during the getting there.
We would get back and snack on leftover chocolate cake from the picnic, sliced tomatoes, fried chicken and deviled eggs while we sat around Grandmother’s table as the picnic leftovers were supposed to be put away. Then we would go racing outside to the front yard and swing on the porch swing Grandaddy had hung from a frame under the big tree by the driveway.
As the sun pulled away and the stars began to come out, either my sister and I, or me all by myself, would look up into those stars, without a word to say and wonder, no thoughts – just wonder. And, we would listen to the crickets playing in the tall grass by the garden and wonder. And, I would remember drifting thought pictures about the mountains and sparkling sunlight and its sounds and feelings – and just wonder. It is still amazing to this day and it can drift across my mind in a moment as if I am there once more.
March 12, 2005 and May 9, 2010
My great grandmother lived on a 100-acre farm in South Carolina. One summer, when I was about eight or nine or twelve or fifteen – she wanted to “be shed” of us (me and my sister) so the grown-ups could talk amongst themselves in the kitchen and we wouldn’t be in there. So, she took us out into the garden where she had planted long rows of cherry tomatoes and handed us a box of salt and a bucket to get some picked for dinner. And, we did – and we were out there eating cherry tomatoes with and without a shake of the saltbox and sticking two in the bucket till it was time to go in. We must’ve been out there two or three hours without even noticing it.
But, people were that way then, the women would group into the kitchen and talk stuff and the men would stand round the shade trees outside and talk stuff starting with the cars they were working on. The children were always run off to somewhere outside and given something to do that would keep them (or, in this case, us) out of the well-house, off the tire swing with its blackened rubber that didn’t come out of clothes with anything known to man, and off the coal-pile even if the durn cat was sitting right on top of it.
That time, we ate cherry tomatoes straight out of the sunshine, warm and sweet and with the most awesome taste, each and every one of them. We could run as far down the rows as our legs would carry us to find a better spot with the biggest or sweetest ones, or go up the back side of the rows with buckets just a swinging from our pant loops on a rope to get some from the other side. It didn’t really take a lot to entertain us at the time. We looked for snakes under the tomato plants and around by the weeds next to the big roots of the oak tree by the side door of the house, because the “grown-ups” said snakes were there and to stay away from those places. We didn’t find any snakes much to our disappointment but we did see a little green garden snake that got away from us before we got to it that was crossing through the grass near the tomato plants.
I discovered that day why green beans get cooked before you eat them and why that fuzzy feel they have on the outside doesn’t feel the as good to the tongue as it did on my hand. And, I found out why snap beans and green beans have to get the ends snapped off and the strings pulled away that come off while snapping them with two or three pieces each into a big pan to be cooked for dinner. And, I also found out that peaches can be eaten straight off the tree without any water to wash them off despite the peach fuzz on the outside which I had never known in my life. And, that it downright tastes good to eat a peach straight off the tree warmed from the sunshine, peachskin fuzz and all, as long as the tree wasn’t sprayed with something to keep the bugs off.
I did get to see the well-house pump and the hand pump on the inside of the shed they called a well-house and every time we went to see my great grandmother, we drank well water from a dipper that hung over the sink instead of from a glass. It was a different kind of water with a taste that was remarkable and distinctly good. And, except for the feel of the aluminum dipper against my lips when she started using that one, it was just about the best water I’ve ever had. The other dippers she used were better, that had a white speckled finish on a blue ceramic kind of stuff like campfire coffeepots and some cookware. Her sink was high and deep sitting by the side window of the kitchen that looked out over a small dirt yard under that big oak tree with a coal pile next to the “back door.”
They called it the backdoor but it wasn’t really in the back of anything and the wooden framed screen door clanged shut just about the time the back of my feet got out it every time. She had some switch hedges that made the enclosed dirt yard into its own space and beyond it were the fields with the gardens where she grew vegetables and flowers and on the other side in front of the big kitchen window by the stove was the sandy beige dirt driveway lined with spurts of grass and the well-house shed with its rusty tin roof nearby.
We would always take a walk down the dirt road that went to her house when we were visiting. There weren’t any cars, there weren’t any people, there were a few houses off in the distance and some trees defining somebody’s property line off and away from the paved road. But mostly – it was dirt and grass and nothing. We came from the city. “Nothing” doesn’t exist in a city anywhere. We lived in suburbs. There is nowhere in the suburbs where there just isn’t anybody ever and nobody comes along in a car anytime. It doesn’t happen.
But, there at my great grandmother’s farmhouse, the sounds of cars were a distant memory with cicadas making that summer sound throughout the day and watching hawks dive upon some unsuspecting prey in a grassy field or near the edge of a garden. We got to see some old rusty flatbed pickup truck that isn’t made anymore since before World War I sometime, (the Big One,) and pick blackberries and maypops and green tomatoes big and sweet and twangy to fry up in some cornmeal and flour to eat the same day we picked them for dinner.
And, the one time that we went there when we got to shoot revolvers at the side of the barn and at old cans and pie tins stuck on the barbed wire fence was fun. I think I was more scared when I heard the sound of the bullet hit the can that came out of the gun I was pulling than when the bang happened from firing it. That was pretty well unnerving as it went clank in a hollow echo sound across the field and thudded onto the ground – the first sound I was expecting when the gun fired but not the second one of actually hitting something. I didn’t want it to throw me backwards when the gun fired like they told me it would, and it didn’t, but it did make me take a foot back to grab myself before I did fall. It had quite a kick.
We had uncles and aunts, my parents, grandparents, and my great-grandmother out there shooting. They all teased each other about not being able to hit the broad side of a barn at the same time proving to one another they could shoot better than the other one did. My sister and I had help but we got to make off some shots with the revolvers too, and I don’t think we got to use the rifles that day, but we may have.
Most of all, I remember the hour-long lecture about gun safety and loading and cleaning and being careful and doing it right and what not to do and when not to do it, beforehand – and then for the rest of the evening and part of the next day, after we went off down by the barn shooting. But it was fun and I’m glad we did it or I would’ve always been wondering about guns and maybe never had a chance for anyone to explain it to me in the right ways while experiencing what it does for myself. There is no way to explain a gun and the frightening power of a gun without holding it, knowing what it does and pulling the trigger feeling that powerful explosion going through every fiber. And, then that bullet hits something and its far and loud and damaging and the relationship is obvious.
One time when we were at my great grandmother’s house, she made a Canadian War Cake. Mostly we would have dinner with her when we would go to her house, and both at my grandmothers’ house or at my great aunts’ houses and at my great grandmother’s house – they would always have a cake made for dessert with dinner which was lunch anywhere else. Well, this time she had made a Canadian War Cake and it was the sweetest, richest cake, or dessert I have ever had in my life. But, it was made without sugar because during the War (the other big one, WWII – that’s W. W. Two) – they rationed sugar and had some kind of coupons that you had to have to get any.
So, a lot of women’s magazines had recipes for war cakes that didn’t use sugar and my great grandmother and other women of her generation would swap the recipes back and forth with one another and amongst the women family members. And, they would alter the recipes and piddle with them to make them better and then switch back and forth with the recipes wandering through multiple families and back again. To be honest, I have never eaten anything that sweet in my life as I did that day, neither before that nor since and I have lived in a number of different places and tried lots of different kinds of foods.
That day at my great grandmother’s eating Canadian War cake was especially uncomfortable, since I couldn’t be rude and it had to be good because they all thought it was something wonderful and that it was “eating a part of history”. That’s still funny. “Eating a part of history”. But, its true, that was a very real part of the lifestyle taken by Americans across the country during the war efforts that took the main stock of resources to get the job done for our greater good, from petroleum to rubber to sugar and all kinds of metals for things and tin. Its a wonder. And, a lot of things got made with blackstrap molasses that nobody would’ve thought to be putting that in before or since, including some of the most durned burnt well-water whiskey I had up in North Carolina one time later on in my being all growed’up and knowing everything.
Across the course of my life, there have been significant cultural clashes of lifestyles, customs and dialects between where we lived and where we would go “back home” because my parents had grown up there. I was born in Ohio, grew up in Florida, Georgia and California and Georgia and California more than a time or two. And, I lived up in North Carolina, on the coast of South Carolina awhile, and West Georgia in several areas by the state line, inside Atlanta and in the suburbs of Metro Atlanta as an adult. But, I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world. Today, most of us, including me – don’t get to go to a farmhouse like that or from one vastly different part of the country to another where we sit around the table with family members that do – not just a thing or two differently than us – but damn near everything differently than what we think is the custom. It is well worthwhile.
May 9, 2010
Happy Mothers’ Day Twenty Thousand and Ten
– hard to imagine but here we are –
In the twenty-first century.
This is the gift I thought I would offer today, both to my children, and to the mothers across that greater world out there. Isn’t it just the most amazing thing you’ve ever seen to be a Momma? And to know those beautiful children aren’t going to do a thing we tell them to do the way we said they ought to do it and come up with something else all on their own that we never envisioned and never even began to imagine was possible? Isn’t it amazing. And we love them anyway. And, eventually it all gets done right and it works.
It is amazing. Have a Great Mothers’ Day and many wonderful days ahead.
Wishing you all the best,
May 9, 2010