Monday, May 08, 2006

Open Space [CCR]

Growing up in rural Colbert County sort of stuck with me and set my mindset for many decisions I make, primarily where to live. It seems I am just not very adaptable to what one would call urban sprawl. Yes, there are times I had to adjust when living in the Atlanta area, but with a choice urban sprawl is definitely an aversion. Thus I find myself currently living in a more rural setting looking to return home some day while my work requires otherwise and I travel to the metropolitan masses. For comfort I turn to my memories of home and my occasional pilgrimage to my roots.

It was nice having the open space as a child. And we had some of the best people around to help us enjoy our area. Between our house and the river lay the Harris’s pasture. The Harris family has always been very nice to let us walk to the river or just fish the creek down the hill. My Dad was very adamant that we be good stewards of the land and show our appreciation, so we always had to leave the area cleaner than we found it. It was our way of showing appreciation. As such I found myself often walking down to the gate and then traveling the banks of Malone creek.

Just past the first hill in the pasture a huge tree rises to the sky. The last time I was home that tree still stood strong in the same spot, bigger than ever, so I suspect it still stands. That tree became my thinking spot very similar to Winnie the Pooh’s thinking spot. When faced with a big test or needing time to meditate I often traveled across that pasture and sat under the tree. Luckily the cows never seemed to hang around that tree or they were often in the other pasture. I could lay under that tree watching the leaves flutter in the breeze and the clouds pass their various shaped shadows across the land. I’m not sure Mom and Dad actually knew where I was at the time. I didn’t really divulge the secret tree to my Dad until I had left home. But they had taught me well and knew I would be fine.

Dad and I spent much time together in the woods either hunting, cutting wood, digging ginseng, or collecting pine knots. A lot of city folks don’t understand collecting pine knots, so I often explain how we heated our home with wood. The aged heart wood of the pine tree is a precious commodity for easily starting or building up fires. Many of these activities one might consider work, but later they formed themselves into memories that you use to forget the honking and yelling of the traffic jam while you sit waiting on the Long Island Expressway. I always wonder why they call such a road an “expressway”. In today’s sprawl there is nothing express about many city expressways.

So as I sit at a special light designated to signal my entrance into the “what’s my lane” game I remember when Dad and I took the old truck down to Mr. Buddy Malone’s pasture to cut wood. Mr. Malone kindly let us cut wood in areas where he planned to clear. As Dad began felling trees I had time to play or watch while staying clear of the danger until the trees were on the ground. I don’t think there was much danger since Dad would always tell the exact position where the tree would fall, a skill he learned growing up with my Granddaddy. After the tree was down my work began.

Dad would ease along the trunk of the tree cutting the limbs and various appendages away so we could collect the good wood. I took the brush or remains and stacked it neatly so it could be easily taken away or burned. There wasn’t much brush left because we collected any wood big enough to fuel our fireplace or heater. I would then begin loading the truck with rows of wood as Dad finished cutting up the tree. Once Dad finished cutting he would carry the larger trunk pieces that were too big for me. Dad would always pack the truck with every piece possible, often to the point I sometimes thought we may never leave. But looking back I realize each additional piece accumulated to save a future trip. But there was a balance to the load that allowed us to get back up the hill. And there were times that old 1951 Chevy had to make more than one try to make it up the hill.

Thus cutting wood became a method to relax and join nature. So much so I found myself volunteering to help a friend cut wood when I lived in Atlanta. It momentarily took me away from the urban sprawl and back to the open spaces I enjoyed as a child. I bought a home on several acres when in North Carolina so I could rebuild those memories. It was sad when work moved me away, but each move will be put me closer to the move that takes me home.

Many people have never truly experienced life among the trees. Yes, they may travel to national parks and think they feel the woods, but they haven’t experienced the full life within the woods. Now my time has gone and I haven’t even touched the memories of our ginseng digging or pine knot hunting. I guess I’ll save those memories to share another day. For now I must fight the Tampa traffic and catch a jet back to Ohio. I may be lucky enough to pass over home, look down, and once again think of all the good times I had growing up.