Field Notes: Morning Walk with Old Mr. Green

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.


Heard the first cicadas of the year this afternoon and wondered what I was doing when this brood entombed itself, a living time capsule, a few inches below our feet. In other parts of the country they know their cicadas better than we do here in Florida, so I can only speculate. Maybe I was in Gainesville, playing in bands and going to shows–but mostly just wandering the aisles at Walmart. Maybe I was standing at a door machine at a Jacksonville lumber yard, dreaming nothing, day to day. Maybe it was just last year, and I was pecking at keys on a tiny screen, just like now, when I should have been sleeping instead. I don’t know. We don’t know our cicadas here.

If you live somewhere north of here, you can be more precise. This year’s brood up in South Carolina, down into Georgia, and across the broad freeway-crossed South laid itself down at the dawn of the new century, in 2000. Who knows how I would have been if I had been raised a Georgian, Carolinian, or Kentuckian, but I like to think of myself down in the sprawling suburbs of North Florida posing for the yearbook with pink hair and a tie knotted well above the neckline of a T-shirt just as the magicicada were burrowing below.

Wherever you are, cicadas are a link to the past. Springs and summers past; burrows dug and uncovered again.

It’s entertaining to imagine myself a teenager again, but what must these poor baffled insects think as they emerge into this spring and look at what we’ve done to the world their parents left in our hands when they burrowed below? Talk about woke.