R.S. Williams

All I want is to get the words right.

Tag: The Natural World (page 1 of 8)

Hillside Monday: 5/21/18

“The View Looking West”
LaGrange, Georgia – 10 May 2013

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Friday Photo: 5/18/18

“Water Oak Leaves with Rain and Window”
LaGrange, Georgia – 1 May 2017

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Friday Photo: 5/11/18

“A Blessing at Sunset, Part 2”
Troup County, Georgia – 30 July 2015

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Friday Photo: 5/4/18

“Sycamore with Shadows”
Heard County, Georgia – 27 November 2014

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Friday Photo: 4/20/18

“Glass on Fire”
Denver Botanic Gardens
Denver, Colorado – 10 August 2014

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Wednesday Photo: 4/18/18

“Lily Pads with Black Pond”
Denver Botanic Gardens
Denver, Colorado – 10 August 2014

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Driving Home from Jonesboro, Arkansas

There are few experiences more peaceful, or more satisfying, than driving 500 miles home past rail yards and ports and farmland.

Northeastern Arkansas feels a lot like southern Georgia. It’s flat and swampy, yet fertile. In the fields on both sides of most every highway, massive sprinkler systems on wheels sleep, biding their time before the summer drought. Unlike southern Georgia, though, I saw no Arkansas cattle egrets carpeting either moos or soybean fields. Nor did I swat at gnats every other breath, like I never got used to doing when I was a kid visiting my aunt in Sylvester or Ashburn or Tifton.

There’s a spare, half-wild, desperate natural beauty there. It’s same kind of beauty that an artist friend once said makes southern Georgia “the most beautiful, desolate, forsaken place on earth—praise God.”

Watching the storm as I drove was frightening and sublime. The sky turned an unnerving shade of pinkish-green. Outside Memphis, I saw five bolts of lightning hit the ground at once. A little further up the road, I drove across both Hell Creek and the Tallahatchie Bridge. No Billy Joe McAllister, though.

Between Tyronza (pop. 762) and Jonesboro, the shoulder of the access road along Interstate 555 was on fire: three triangular-shaped patches of grass ablaze at dusk. Maybe it was the lightning from the storm. Maybe it was an alien spacecraft landing mishap. In this wide, semi-sandy, rural dream world, anything seems possible.

West of Marked Tree, Arkansas, railroad tracks parallel US Highway 63. I raced a long, long BNSF, the kind that requires four big orange locomotive engines, into town. Outrunning a train in a Honda Civic feels wrong.

The soil in Arkansas is unlike any I’ve seen. Sandy tan on top, with newly plowed furrows of deep coffee brown. Near Lepanto, a huge John Deere cut S-shaped disc rows into a fallow field every 100 feet. In other fields, brilliant yellow-flowering cover crops stretched for hundreds of acres on either side of the highway.

Outside Maumelle, a large squirrel darted across a rain-beaten furrowed sandy field. “What are you doing? Trying to get picked up by a hawk?” I said to the silence in the car. Three hundred feet across the same field, a Rottweiler mix trotted along with a limp brown broken creature in its mouth. The little brown tail flopped to the beat of the dog’s proud steps.

From Jonesboro to the Mississippi River, red-winged blackbirds swooped from fence post to fence post. Little red-and-yellow epaulets on little daredevil black birds—flash-flash-flash, swoop-swoop-swoop, waving me home-home-home.

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Friday Photo: 4/6/18

“Technicolor Floodwaters”
Heard County, Georgia – 24 February 2016

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Ardea

At water’s edge, my Fisher King, you stand
flightless, crippled. Slender faithful guard
of fen, of heart, of glorious
sooty blushing riotous raiment—
crumpled, bruised, proud.

Your birthright: motionless swift grace.
Your feathers: hopeless sacred spikes.
Your offering: flawless imperfect blessing.

Demolished and whole,
fractured and healed,
shattered and safe—O great God,
that every hurt could mend,
that you could fly.

Fly from me, beautiful broken one.
Take my breath with you.

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Wednesday Photo: 3/28/18

“Storm Over Five Notch Road”
Heard County, Georgia – 24 February 2016

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Friday Photo: 3/16/18

“Daffodil Ghost No. 1”
Heard County, Georgia – 4 March 2016

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The Other Vine That Ate the South

In the Deep South, spring smells like grape soda. Not name-brand grape soda, but the cheapest-of-all-cheapo-store-brands grape soda. Or perhaps it smells more like wonky year-old bubble gum, the kind that’s so powdery and bland nobody will even shoplift it off the dollar store clearance rack.

Whatever it smells like, that scent means wisteria, or, as I like to call it, the Other Vine That Ate the South. (The original Vine That Ate the South is kudzu. It blooms much later in the growing season, and is a topic for a different post or twelve.) In March and April, wisteria treats us to two or three weeks of glorious purple clouds in the trees. After that, it finishes leafing out to spend the rest of the season devouring everything in its path—fences, trees, houses, cars, pets.

It’s certainly breathtaking in the garden, but you have to tame it by pruning it hard every year.  Don’t slack off and skip a year. You will regret it. And don’t let its beauty fool you: wisteria sinensis is invasive. Unless someone keeps it in check, it takes over—a simple gardening fact.

But for whatever reason, the majority of people don’t control their wisteria. Or maybe it’s more like can’t control it. I’m not sure. When early spring passes, so do those amazing foot-long purple drupes. By the time summer gets here, its dark green leaves are so plentiful and thick that we can’t even see what it’s smothering 80 feet above the ground.

Other than adding stunning Pointillist color to the landscape and providing food for bees, wisteria doesn’t have much going for it. Oh, wait—it will also hide any place that you mean for people to forget. Don’t believe me? Just follow these two simple steps:

  1.   Plant wisteria.
  2.   Move.

Give it a few years, and voilà! Nobody will know the place ever existed.

People can say what they want about wisteria. I still look forward to its luxurious hues draped over roadside trees every spring. This is probably because I’m lucky enough not to have any on my property. As much as I love the Other Vine That Ate the South, it’s probably best that I leave it where I found it—far away from my own yard.

Photo: “Wisteria No. 471” (LaGrange, Georgia – 21 March 2012)

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Advice from Raptors

As I washed this evening’s dishes, I heard them call from the water oaks behind the house: Who-who? Who-who? Who-cooks-for-YOU? Barred owls—the first time I’ve heard them this season.

Some folklore traditions regard owls as harbingers of doom. Others maintain that they signal change of many kinds, not necessarily bad news. Still others hold that owls mean your house and property will soon become rodent-free. For a long time, I discounted the first two. But that was before the hard-partying bunch of barred owls moved into the trees around my house several years ago.

Since then, every new phase of my life—whether painful or pleasant—has arrived in the company of owls. They go quiet for days or weeks, then return, and HOLY SHIT WHAT WAS THAT?!? something new and previously unimaginable shows up along with them. Tonight, when the first hoots reached my ears, I almost dropped a soapy dinner plate into the floor: “Please, universe. I can’t handle any more. Please, please—have mercy on me.”

Fortunately, neither the owls nor the universe heard my plea.

When I stop and listen to the stillness of my soul, I’m sure of several changes heading my way. While I don’t yet know what they’ll look like, what form they’ll take, I know to expect them, to get ready and do what they need for me to do when they finally get here. Others, though, I cannot and will not know until they are upon me. The owls are just the early warning system.

Good or bad, sweetness or sorrow, I’m grateful and humbled to hear those feathered harbingers call once again from the walnut tree. Whatever they bring, I brace myself and welcome it with open arms. Which, honestly, is about all any of us can do.

If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to sit in the cool of the back yard for a while. I’m gonna soak up the dark and the quiet and the peace. I’m gonna listen for advice from raptors, whatever they may decide to pass along.

© R.S. Williams (all rights reserved)

 

Wednesday Photo: 3/7/18

“Sadness, Part 1”
LaGrange, Georgia – 4 April 2014

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Hillside Monday: 3/5/18

Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.
— Mary Oliver

“For Wes, Part 16”
LaGrange, Georgia – 18 August 2017

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Friday Photo: 3/2/18

“Hope and Rehope”
Chambers County, Alabama – 20 February 2018

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The Daffodils That Always Mean “Home”

Living in a small town often means commuting a long distance to work somewhere else. Before I began working from home, I drove about 90 miles round-trip to my university teaching job. While the commute itself sometimes bored me, the scenery on U.S. Highway 27 between LaGrange and Carrollton never, ever did.

So it’s Spring now—the season that, in the Deep South, gives us an ice storm one day and tornadoes the next. This year has brought out the daffodils a little early. I delight in watching them pop up along U.S. 27’s shoulders.

When you see daffodils, you can safely assume that someone put them there. Unlike seed plants, daffodils and other bulbs have to be dug up and replanted. In order to get them from where they are to where they’re going to be, someone has to move them at the right time of year (late spring, after blooms and foliage have died back), transport them to a suitable location, and plant them.

Most of the daffodils we see along the roadside make their homes in someone’s yard. Sometimes they’re in neat flower beds. Sometimes, as is the case with my own yard, they’re randomly planted in a sunny patch of lawn to surprise everyone, year after year, with unexpected yellows and creams in a sea of brittle brown grass.

But what about those planted in or near a roadside ditch—without a house nearby?

Just because you don’t see a house doesn’t mean one hasn’t ever been there. Daffodils stay underground most of the year. Once they’ve finished blooming, their leaves die back and don’t reappear for another year. So old houses get demolished, their sites fading into and gradually out of memory—yet the bulbs embedded around them come back. They come back every spring thereafter, house or no house.

Plant ghosts, I call them. They don’t know the house and the people are gone. They come back because this is their home. In every sense of the word, they are rooted here.

The daffodils pictured above are very simple, single-cup daffodils, an old variety we often see around old houses. They’re about 12” tall at most, and amazingly hardy. Judging from what’s left of the house, and from the size of the flower clumps, these daffs have been here for about 50 years.

Behind the thick, overgrown privet hedge, nearly 20 feet down the bank from the southbound lanes of U.S. 27 in Carroll County, appears the faint outline of a house—or what used to be a house, anyway. Out in front: these happy yellow bells.

I wonder why the last residents left. I wonder if they left in a hurry. I wonder who decided to let a once-sturdy farmhouse simply fold itself back into the earth.

I wonder if, on leaving, they took one long, last look toward the flower bed. I wonder if they wept for the flowers waiting beneath its surface, for the daffodils that always mean “home.”

Photo: “Daff Nipped by Frost” (Carroll County, Georgia – February 2012)

NOTE: Earlier versions of this post appeared here on 2 March 2015, and at Forgotten Plants & Places on 25 February 2012.

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Friday Photo: 2/16/18

“Morning Dew, Taylor House”
Rabun County, Georgia – 27 September 2017

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Hillside Monday: 2/12/18

“Still Life in Shadows”
LaGrange, Georgia – 14 January 2018

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Friday Photo: 2/9/18

“The Bench Crows Know”
Rabun County, Georgia – 26 September 2017

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