Sunday, June 24, 2012

There's No Place Like Home

Southern Summer: No Place Like Home

Since Mr. Stylus has been so fickle lately, I “borrowed” Mom’s camera again and ventured out into radiating summer heat to take a few pictures. I fell in love with this camera as I zoomed in on tiny flowers with more clarity than my own vision affords me. Across the street from my parents’ home, horses roam a neighboring field. I had hoped those pretty ponies would be relaxing under a shade tree, near the fence I would soon approach. Unfortunately, my steeds had not sought shelter from the sun’s blistering rays on this day. Instead, they foolishly stood far out of range of my captive camera’s zooming capability. Swatting their tails at pestering flies that relentlessly swarmed them, my neighbor’s huge pets avoided being subjects of this photo shoot. Adapting to this disappointing circumstance, I took a picture of the fence that caged my too-far-away-to-photo phillies.

Even though the horses had discarded shelter afforded by tall thickets and bordering trees, I opted to shield myself from the sun by standing under forage shadows.

Stepping out into blinding sunshine, I became a victim of Tennessee’s humid heat. I decided to wrap up my picture taking as the day grew increasingly warmer, causing discomfort that horses apparently ignore. Capping lens on camera, I started back to the promising air-conditioned relief that awaited me back at Mom and Dad’s house. That’s when I noticed a striking group of red flowers that had caught my eye by contrasting so boldly against their green surroundings. Camera cap removed, I braved the heat a little longer to snap a few pictures of these little red bell-looking beauties.

Beads of glistening sweat dripped from my hair as I noticed some withering flowers in my batch of bright blooms. The sun had been unmerciful to some, and had begun to redirect its wrath upon me. At least I would be refreshed soon by a chilled glass of water…my flower friends would not be so lucky.

As I walked down the gravel driveway that promisingly leads to an indoor reservoir that entrapped bearable temperatures, I stopped beside a fertile blossom of dandelion seeds. As a child, I could never resist picking these and blowing seeds into the wind. I remember my father advised my sister and I not to do this since his well-maintained lawn became full of “ugly” dandelions, as a direct result of our impulse. We frowned when he forbid spreading what we considered yard decorations all over his property. He soon realized that his advice could not be understood, nor heeded, by two little girls. I remember him joining us once, to pick dandelion blooms and blow floating seeds into a warm summer breeze. I suppose he decided since he couldn’t beat us, he should join us. 

On my nature walks, I am often reminded of beautiful memories like this one that occurred on a day much like today. Perhaps that’s why I love taking pictures of everything that surrounds me- because a photo inspires feelings that resemble its nature. A picture of a dandelion will always remind me of a cherished memory spent with my Dad and sister. A picture of a sad person will forever inspire empathetic emotions within me, along with compassion for the one whose misfortune has been photographically documented. 

I whole-heartedly believe in the power of pictures…and nature walks…especially when these are combined.

I had not yet reached the end of my yellow brick road (or gravel driveway, in case your imagination is lacking) when I stopped under the next scarce patch of shade. I looked into the forest that surrounds outer edges of Oz. (or parents’ air-conditioned house) I remember burying a time capsule here with my neighborhood buddy, when we were much younger. We’d used a paint can to hold our valuable TY beanie babies and letters we’d written with bright Crayola markers. My Dad had helped us seal the tin that held our treasures so future discoverers would be able to make out words that had been preserved from weathering of any environmental disaster. I eventually dug up our capsule many years later, to find all contents in tact. Thanks, Daddy. 

Again, on my lone walking/photography adventure, I had been reminded of youthful innocence and joy. To others, this picture will not reveal a story. To me, it represents happiness, hope, and love. I’d been happy to bury my time capsule and hopeful that someone would find it (even though I did.) Love had been kept in my old paint can, preserved as it waited patiently for me to re-discover it. I exposed all emotions again when I took this picture through the woods that had housed an uncommonly shaped treasure chest.

My sister called to me from the house, “Lunch is reeeeeeaadddddy!” Her voice echoed against the wall of forest trees as I hurriedly tried to get a few more pictures before heading back to the house. My dad had just finished grilling fish and country-style ribs that tempted me to cap the camera lens again and head inside to eat. I resisted this delicious temptation long enough for just a…couple…more…pictures.

I had to take one picture of my pine tree that strongly stood tall, proudly defying the blistering heat that had threatened its ability to flourish. Full branches of green needles lay motionless on this breezeless day, as basking sunbathers who welcomingly invite harmful rays. Memories flooded my mind as they always do when I look upon this particular tree. It, too, shared a story…

It was Earth Day and I was a fourth grade 4-H club member. All students at West Cheatham Elementary were given a small pine tree that they were supposed to plant- in efforts to save the Earth, of course. I was given a dried up, hunched-backed tree that had been miserably beaten during transport from 4-H central office (or wherever else- origin of trees is unclear). I had listened to our class speaker who had convinced a room full of impressionable children that it was our duty to plant and nurture these tiny trees. Mine had been more malnourished than Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. Nonetheless, I protected sick baby tree on the bus ride home that day. 

Excitedly, I told my Dad that we had to plant it right away. My eagerness and mothering intentions were met harsh reality as my father foretold probability of tiny tree’s death. He explained that my tree had been out of the ground too long, and reviving its health was not possible. Devastated, I cried with sobs of sorrow that suggested death of a human being instead of a plant. I stubbornly demanded that my tree be given a chance for survival as my little heart weighed with disappointment in my Dad’s decision not to save the planet.

 Realizing how his logical and realistic predictions had traumatized his eldest nine-year-old daughter, my father reassured me that the impending death of my tree would not doom planet Earth. My sobs grew louder and more tears fell from my heavy eyes as I told my Dad that I understood, but still wanted to plant my ill patient in an environment more suitable for his death than the burlap sack that had suffocated him. Dad grasped my tree and told me to follow him outside, where we planted the runt of all tree spawns to most surely die. 

Tying wires and strands of twill to feebly frail branches, Dad anchored my pitiful pine into fertile soil, miraculously managing to straighten its stalk and cure its hunch-backed handicap. I prayed the night that followed my emotionally stressful day, hoping that God would prove Daddy wrong by permitting my baby tree to live. 

“Please save it,” I whispered into my tear-stained pillow. “Show Daddy it can live.”

 I don’t think God allowed my pine to survive that night for the sole purpose of showing my father he had been wrong. I’m not sure why God protected it from lawn mowers, snowstorms, and heavy rains in the 20 years that followed. Whatever the all-knowing preserver’s motives were, they allowed me to save the world when I was just a child…and they made Daddy help, too.

 We still can’t believe this tree survived. If my father had known it was destined to live, I bet he would have picked a better planting spot to accommodate its size. If I had known it would live, I would have taken 3 more saplings from my 4-H club leader and boasted about the oxygen supply that would be afforded by my natural ability to beat the odds. 

This picture- This pine tree- This walk taken on a hot summer day- will always be remembered for the joy they contributed to my life.

"Ah, summer, what power you have to make us suffer and like it."
-  Russel Baker

Then followed that beautiful season... Summer....
Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light; and the landscape
Lay as if new created in all the freshness of childhood.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

"In June, as many as a dozen species may burst their buds on a single day.  No man can heed all of these anniversaries; no man can ignore all of them." 
-  Aldo Leopold

"I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read and all the friends I want to see."
-   John Burroughs

Today was too short for all I wanted to do, but I had thought many thoughts and managed to see a buzzing friend before heading inside. My parents' house will always feel like home, though I haven't lived there in over seven years. (I feel old now, counting back to my teenage youth) 

I was greeted with cooler air that was full of delicious aromas of just-off-the-grill, glazed ribs. My Dad doesn't give himself enough credit when it comes to his grilling expertise. My mother whipped up sides of fresh veggies and melt-in-your-mouth potatoes to accent flavors in our main dish. Summer in the South wouldn't be the same without meals like this...and I was ready to devour each morsel that awaited my walk's return...

Piping hot rolls were fresh out of the oven, and I gobbled them up almost too quickly to replenish all I’d lost to the heat of the day. Mmmm, Mmmmm…

Every bite melted in my mouth as I struggled to refrain from overindulgence of one of the best meals I’ve had this year- definitely the best of this season. I wish all of my walks would end like this one did! I left Mom and Dad’s that day with pictures, memories, and a full stomach. This Southern Summer day gave me more than I ever expected and I hope for many more just like it!

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