A Curious Case: The Woodmen and the Women

talimenaoverlook Ouachita National Forest,  viewed from the Talimena Scenic Byway

Less formally known as Talimena Drive, the Scenic Byway uncurls along the ridgeline of Winding Stair and Rich mountains. Passing through southeastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas, its fifty-mile length includes the highest points to be found between the Appalachians and the Rockies; the wooded valleys of the Ouachita National Forest, rolling away to the south and to the north, belie the complex and ultimately hopeful history of an area obsessed with its trees.

I would have missed Talimena Drive had it not been for a friend’s suggestion that I take the more circuitous, though ultimately more interesting, route through the mountains while on my way to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville. Quite apart from stunning vistas and emerging fall color, the more leisurely drive also would allow for a visit to the Muse Cemetery: an opportunity to confirm that my own muse hadn’t been interred while my back was turned.

The Come-and-Take-It Duck

Dissolving into the late afternoon heat, a sweet stench of rotting fruit thickened the air, rendering it palpable as withered petals fading and dropping from the passiflora.  Torpid among the vines, bees buzzed erratically, seemingly ambivalent about their task. Like the bees, I’d come to work, but I suspected none of us would be disappointed when darkness brought labor to an end.

After days of rain, alleyways between the rows of melons, tomatoes, and eggplant remained soggy: rich in puddles, and riddled with crawdad chimneys. Though good for still-ripening figs, water was bringing an end to the abundant tomato crop. Soggy as the ground, their skins splitting, fruit fell to the ground or fell to pieces at the first hint of a touch. Finding still-firm tomatoes required concentration, and the development of a rhythm: search, test, pluck, bucket. (more…)

Reclaiming Independence

Few of us remember our first birthday, or even our second. Those celebrations were less for us than for our parents, joined perhaps by a few siblings or other relatives. Presents mattered less than the party itself, with its cake and ice cream, memories, smiles, and photos to share.

By our third or fourth birthday, we began to participate in our own celebrations. We asked questions: “What time was I born?” “Why did you give me this name, rather than that?” “Can I have strawberry cake this year?” (more…)

Reclaiming the Freedom to Sing

Because it was a school night, my tenth birthday celebration necessarily remained a small affair, confined to our family’s dinner table.

It was October 23, 1956. As I blew out the candles on my cake, whatever sweet, mid-western wishes I made had little in common with the wishes of children a world away, children who, with their own parents, were marking a different sort of occasion —  an uprising that later would be known as the Hungarian Revolution.

On the 24th of October, or perhaps the 25th, I passed through the dining room on my way to breakfast and noticed the Des Moines Register lying where my cake had been. A photograph filled the space above the fold, and a bold caption: “REVOLUTION IN HUNGARY.”

At the time, there was no 24-hour news cycle. There was no CNN, no internet, no Facebook or Twitter. There was only a newspaper, motionless and mute, waiting while my father readied for work and my mother drank coffee in the kitchen.

I stood at the table, transfixed by the photograph. Eventually, my air of concentrated astonishment caught my dad’s attention. Stopping behind me, he asked, “What’s happening?”  I pointed to the photograph. He picked up the front page, scanned it, then brought it to the kitchen. He showed it to my mother, then handed it to me.  “Maybe you should take the newspaper to school,” he said. And so I did. (more…)

The Great Acorn Storm of 2013

Flung across the  landscape by autumn’s rising winds, acorns bounce and tumble, the sound of their fall exploding into the air like the percussive chatter of  firecrackers.  

If you’re standing near a car when the first gust strikes and an acorn-laden oak lets fly her seed-crop, the racket is astounding.  If you’re sheltering beneath a tin roof, the amplified sound is deafening.  A storm of ripened acorns may be less destructive than hail, but it’s no less impressive.

I experienced my first “acorn storm” in the Texas hill country, an area of valleys and ridges threaded through with several varieties of oak.  The sudden swell of redbud in spring, the extravagant yellow blooms of prickly pear, the color-turn of Virginia creeper climbing toward true red may delight the eye, but the oak has its own capacity to surprise the inexperienced or unprepared. 


Published in: on November 23, 2013 at 7:41 am  Comments (118)  
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