Connections

“I…
      I’m going…”

“I’m going to the dentist
      I…
          I have to go now”

With that, she turned away and walked down the hall

Six years old
A book bag as big as she was
Eyes peeking out between a fringe of bangs 

and a disposable mask
It’s February, 2021
It’s almost been a year

For the life of me
I don’t have a clue who she was
and she didn’t know me

But in that random meeting 
there in an elementary school hallway 
we needed a connection

She needed to tell me about herself
and I needed to hear it

Yet
Less than a minute earlier
I didn’t even know

Nature Usually Wins

“Nature usually wins.”

Those three words can mean a lot of different things, but I usually state them when I’m out on a trail or in some other outdoor setting with kids.  I use them to mean “nature,” shorthand for living things in this case*, can overcome some pretty incredible circumstances.

I use the phrase when I point out tree roots that are splitting rocks, eventually creating gravel from boulders.  I use the phrase when I see tree bark growing over metal trail markers.  But most often, I use the phrase when I see plants and animals living in unexpected places:  shrubs growing through a rusted spot in some sheet metal debris, trees growing through the open hood of a long-abandoned vehicle, and snakes sunning atop abandoned appliances only to slither inside when spotted.

Here’s a picture of a recent example that I love.  A plastic owl was installed at one of the schools where I teach, undoubtedly in an effort to discourage birds from nesting in the frame of a sidewalk canopy. My guess is that it blew over in the wind, but didn’t fall to the ground because of the strap that was used to secure it.

Apparently, the crook between the owl’s body and the post was a great place to build a nest.

Nature usually wins, and I’m okay with that.

—–

*Nature, of course, is so much more than what we see outdoors.  You and I are part of nature, nature is indoors as well as out, and we find living things in so many unexpected places.  For fun, look in all the nooks and crannies of where you live–we share our habitats with plenty of other creatures!

If that idea doesn’t appeal to you, open an internet browser and do an image search for “nature wins.”

Self-Sufficiency is a Myth

February 18th, 2021: Millions suffer through one of the worst winter storms to hit the south in decades.

The strongest man 
is the one
who stands alone.
A self-made man 
told me that
just after, as I recall
he pulled himself up 
by his bootstraps.
A rugged individual
he was
standing 
on his own two feet
helped, perhaps 
by his god
but only because 
he helped himself first.

What a load
of that stuff 
they have
in Texas.

It’s Cold

It is cold in north Alabama.  

I mean, it’s February, so it’s usually cold, but this is different.  Different because, well, it’s really cold–temps in the single digits last night–and it’s cold in a lot of places that don’t normally see this kind of Arctic air.  The Gulf Coast, Texas, Northern Mexico, for goodness’ sake: It’s cold out there!

In addition to today’s cold, yesterday was an unusual weather day all the way around.  It started at around 32 degrees, and it stayed there all day, varying no more than about 2 or 3 degrees.  In addition, precipitation fell most of the day.  That meant we moved from rain to snow to sleet to freezing rain a few different times.  The result: We woke up this morning to a solid quarter-inch of ice coating everything and a thin layer of snow on the ground. 

This afternoon, after sitting for six hours in front of a computer (school was cancelled, but just my luck: I had a virtual training session with an instructor who’s from a warm place), I had to get outside.  I wanted to be jarred back to life, so I didn’t dress too warmly; just a coat and a pair of gloves.  My walk in the neighborhood, as brief as it was, was wonderful.  Traffic was non-existent due to road conditions, and things were strangely quiet.  

I could hear the trees swaying in the breeze.  I didn’t hear ice falling; rather, I heard it moving…frozen sheaths around blades of wood that were only snuggly encased.  It was a strange sound to hear–one I’ve only rarely heard throughout my life lived mostly in cold climates.

It’s beautiful, but I won’t be sorry to see it go.  This is the deep south, and I want to put my coat back in the closet for the year.  Soon, I hope.

—–

Fun fact: as I’m writing this, it’s ten degrees warmer in Anchorage, Alaska (26 degrees) than it is in Toney, Alabama (16 degrees). What’s up with that?

Down the Rabbit Hole

I think about Alice sometimes
when I drop into the hole
in the palm of my hand

She fell past books on shelves
past cupboards with closed doors
and maps and pictures on pegs

I fall past people and ideas
past the odd author or two
a poet, a teacher, and the news of my world

Alice landed with a thump
and sometimes I do, too
bruised and almost broken

And more often than not 
like hers
my marmalade jar is empty

Brand New Roller Skates

February weather in Alabama is about as unpredictable as it gets.  Granted, I’m biased since I live in Alabama, it’s February, and I like to be outside.  

Today was a beautiful day, clear with temperatures in the upper 50s, and tomorrow is supposed to be even warmer.  Two days ago?  Cloudy and damp with a daytime high in the mid 30s.  This weekend’s forecast?  A daytime high of 27 and an overnight low of 10 degrees!  This is Alabama…we’re in the deep south, for goodness’ sake!

Today, though, was nice, and I can be happy with that.

My wife, Lisa, and I took a look at the forecast this morning and decided we would take a walk this afternoon on a local greenway.  We’ve had a lot of rain recently, so a hike would be an invitation for muddy boots and we just weren’t feeling that.  The Wade Mountain Greenway is a mile(ish) of asphalt that allows folks to walk through the woods on an out-and-back path without, well, walking through the woods.  

The Greenway attracts a lot of people, which is nice.  An afternoon like today had us sharing the path with plenty of families as well as the occasional runner and bicyclist.

And a girl on rollerskates.

We saw her in the distance, looking to be about 10 years old, clearly on skates and carrying herself as one who didn’t have a lot of experience.  Probably not a lot different than I would look.  She had her feet just a bit more than shoulder width apart and her arms were straight with both hands seemingly reaching for the ground.  Concentration.  Loads of concentration.

As we approached, with our efforts more than hers responsible for the gap between us closing, she looked up at us and smiled as we complimented her on her efforts.  Oh, what a smile! Then her eyes were back on the ground, the concentration returned, and she shuffle-skated away behind us.

Her parents came next, walking the slow walk of patience, enjoying their daughter’s efforts.  With beaming smiles returning our own, they conveyed both pride and the tiniest bit of embarrassment at our needing to give their kiddo a bit of extra room on the wide path. We exchanged hellos, complimented the effort we just witnessed, and they were soon behind us as well.

I’m sure the next time we see that family her parents will be reminding her to stay in sight of them, but for today…well, guess who we caught up with on our trip back to the car.  

Flit: verb

Movement ahead brings my eyes up 
from the stone-strewn path that 
demands my attention 

A red-bellied woodpecker 
moves quickly from tree to tree ahead of me 
flashing grey and red with frenetic bursts of flight

“Flit” is the word, isn’t it, for what I’m seeing?  

That’s always struck me as a written word — 
have I ever heard it said it aloud?  
I’ll do that, I decide, and twice declare it to the trees  

With the bird out of site, I drop my head and
start off once more, not quite flitting 
but with a step clearly lighter than before

To Flit

I like words.  

Many of my friends do, too, and if you’re reading this blog there’s a good chance you feel the same way about them.  

I’m not one of those people who “collects” words, nor am I the person who can pull out an obscure term at the drop of a hat (or at the occasion of any other cliche).  Rather, I’m one of those people who enjoys etymology. I like knowing why a word is what it is, since there’s usually a reason. 

Quick aside: If you were a bug person who wanted to know where an insect’s name came from, would you be an etymological entomologist or an entomological etymologist?

Getting back on the path of this story, I was out hiking the other day (see what I did there?) when I was struck with the need to look up a word.  My wife and I were on a favorite trail here in north Alabama, enjoying a beautiful afternoon, when we came upon a red-bellied woodpecker hanging from a branch about 15 feet above the ground.

The bird flew from one tree to another, then touched down on three more in quick succession.  One to another to another to another to another before flying off out of sight, in just about the amount of time it took you to read this sentence.

I thought, “Flitting–that bird is flitting.”  

Flit.  Flitting.  Flitted.  

That’s an unusual word, and in my limited experience it’s almost always used to describe the flight of a bird.  Also, it’s not a word that I often hear spoken.  I’ve read it a lot, but not heard it a lot. Anyway, right there, far enough from civilization to see a red-bellied woodpecker flit from tree to tree, but not so far from civilization that I didn’t have a cell signal, I stopped walking, pulled out my phone, and looked it up.  I needed to know: what’s the story of flit?

It turns out it’s got Scots/Northern English/Old Norse roots (fleet and flytja) and it’s related to “fleet.”  From watching that woodpecker, I’m not surprised, as my view of it was fleeting, indeed. 

My curiosity satisfied, I slipped my phone back into my pocket and moved quickly to catch up with my wife.  I didn’t quite flit, but the thought of doing so brought a smile to my face.

Marcescence

We stand on the side of a hill
a beech tree and I, as the 
cold January wind blows between us
rustling its lingering foliage and stirring my thinning hair

Its leaves are bleached brown and brittle, that beech
devoid of the green that gave life in the summer sun
They hang on because of the tree’s inability 
to let go of what it does not need anymore

Marcescence, the trait is called
I linger a moment, thinking on that
then turn and walk down my winding trail
holding tightly to a few things of my own