Interstate 10 runs right by my office window, back behind the trees, as it winds a course to Jacksonville one way and Long Beach in the other. I am of a disposition to amplify the effects of humans, so on my walk this morning my first impulse was to fixate on the interstate and the constant din of trucks, cars, motorcycles, choppers, jake brakes, ambulances, and so on that roar by all day long. But if I get on with life and forget about the highway, the most dominant noise is the wind, billowing through an utterly shameless profusion of rich green leaves. They are this year’s bumper crop and, out of nowhere, they have filled in winter’s blank spaces by the billions. Where before I could look out across the parking lot at the people lined up in front of the food truck, now I see only a wealth of spring greenery. It is a miracle of rebirth.
The wind touched every one of the trees on my walk this morning, passing through the trees like astral fingers stroking the hair of the earth as the temperature dropped ahead of today’s April shower. Birds rushed to finish their morning business, calling out to one another last minute warnings and desires over the cacophony of road and weather. A Mockingbird chased a Cardinal up a dense leaf-lined avenue overhead, warming the walk with a flash of crimson followed by a white and gray streak. The other birds hid themselves well, not as prone to the Mockingbird’s passion or the Cardinal’s exuberant plumage.
The wind whips up a potent mélange of smells—not all of them natural, but all a welcome deviation from the anodyne air in the office above. Cut grass from the faded green tractor plying the margin of the interstate, delicate flowers peeking out from the sun-dappled spots of bushes along the way. Hot rubber tires. Sighing asphalt. Leaf litter. Unidealized bark.
I lose myself in the symphony of it all and walk through a wisp of Spanish Moss. It reminds me of childhood visits to Memorial Park. Dad playing the part of Old Mr. Green with the Spanish Moss beard. Mom was flabbergasted when I played the part myself later that week. “You’ll get redbugs!” she gasped, and I threw the moss away like some sort of cursed memento mori. But dad didn’t get redbugs, and neither did I. Old Mr. Green was all bugs, though, and leaves and sticks. Old Mr. Green was potent earth and leaf litter chasing children through the park in 1990. He sings to me now from the parking lot outside. You only have to know where to look. You only have to ignore the interstate.
There is an overgrown patch in the middle of my backyard that sprung up last month when winter began to gasp away. I remember it happened all of a sudden. The grass was not short—it rarely is in my yard, sadly—but subdued. More bohemian gardeners might have almost called it respectable. But then it rained one Thursday night, one of those surprisingly thunderous late winter gullywashers that sends the cats scurrying beneath the bed, and the grass woke up next to the fire pit on Friday morning with a wild mohawk and a raging sneer. Since then I’ve been ignoring the boisterous patch of turf like a shamefaced Baptist hiding in the back of the church. It feels too early still to tune up the lawnmower, a cantankerous old Snapper tractor that is probably busy popping its own front tires as you read this, and get down to work; but I know it’s going to have to happen if I want to stay on speaking terms with the neighbors and my dog, so I’m locked in a debate now between the slothful devil Chris on one shoulder and the industrious angel Chris on the other.
When I went home at lunch today I took the dog outside and saw that the patch had broken into an enthusiastic bloom of Spanish Needles. Most anyone you ask would call these weeds, and, well, they’re not wrong. But I’ve been reading gloomy articles about the insect apocalypse all winter, so I was a little happier than I should have been when I noticed that this patch in the yard was practically swarming with honeybees. My shame over avoiding the yardwork was transformed into respect and wonder for these little plants and the insects they attracted. Where would these bees be right now if I had cut the grass last weekend?
I’ve read that the best thing we can do to save the bugs, aside from advocating for the more thoughtful regulation and use of pesticides, is to promote an insect-friendly environment in our own backyard. These little Spanish Needles on the rebellious mohawk patch taught me a lesson today: sometimes that means letting go, just a little, and letting nature work. As insects, water, and other precious things dwindle, it’s more important than ever before to balance management needs against the needs of nature. Next year I intend to promote this little weed, to make it an intentional part of the yard, along with other insect-friendly plants.
Until then, I probably need to cut the grass.
Hurricane Michael blew through today. Michael made this probably the most memorable birthday I’ll ever have, but, more importantly, it bulldozed a heartbreaking path of destruction across a huge portion of the Florida panhandle I have come to know and love. I have a few photos of the aftermath in my neighborhood which I will post soon, when the power is restored, but I just wanted to mark the occasion tonight.
Here is a video of the pines in my backyard swaying in the Tropical Storm-force winds blowing in the storm’s wake. These trees stood long before I was born. They stood tall through Hurricanes Michael, Hermine, and Kate, just to name the direct hits; bent but never broken. They lost a sister tree in Hermine, but continue to smile down on our home, which is really their home. I love these trees fiercely. Their strength and resiliency can be an inspiration, I hope, for all of us in the difficult days ahead. When the complaints about trees and power outages start–and they will, very soon–these mighty pines will remind me why we value trees in Tallahassee, and why we choose to live with them.
March 21, 2018, 7:19 PM
A young man, crouched like Mathew Brady behind his curtain, at the corner of the patio area outside of the bar, carefully framing an
instagram photo of crimson and white Edison bulbs against the shadowed underside of a palm tree at the darkening earth-margin of the evening sky. Poetry in the damnedest places.
March 21, 2018, 8:35 PM
Three cops, straddling bicycles in the street, faces hidden by sharp white headlamps, bathed in the amber-red glow of taillights and street lights, talking to the drivers of neon donks on 22s and 24s parked in front of the hand-painted faux red brick garage. All is draped in the sodium glow of night. So am I.