National Pawn and Jewelry, Guess Road
In the summer south, the forest does not mess around. The summer forest eats things. And I don’t mean just rain and sunshine and the husks of insects, I mean big things, huge. Trees, whole buildings. Once, hiking in the Appalachians, I stumbled into a car - an entire car, steering wheel, tires and all, submerged in the forest like a sunken ship in the sea. I kept on, bushwacking through the Kudzu, unable to stop and marvel or even take a photograph, because I was lost and it was getting dark and I was carrying the weight of the forest up the mountain like a wet blanket on my back.
Up north, the summer forests are sparse and they shine with the gold of cedar needles. They smell like dry stones. If you are as far north as Marquette, the rivers are wide and flat and cold and they open up into the forests and the sun shines through the trees and into the water. In a northern forest, you cannot be swallowed by vines covered in flowers sticky with pollen. You cannot drown in honeysuckle.
It is hard to know what you prefer, until you have lived in both of them, like I have, for one or two decades each, until each of them has seeped into your skin like water, the one poisoned with heat and heavy rain, the other with the memory of winter, a chill at the end of every summer evening.
One time, twenty years ago or more, my van nearly lost its muffler on the side of the highway just outside the southern city where I now live. The city was new to me then, as was the south. I pulled over after seeing sparks in my rearview mirror, and the cars whipped by in the punishing heat. I bent over on the heat-softened blacktop and wrapped a -shirt around the hot exhaust pipe, pulling until the muffler let loose. I threw it into a roadside ditch already choked with chicory and knapweed and thistle and drove the remaining fifty miles to my new home, sounding like a Mack Truck the whole way. If it were another state, I’d wonder if that muffler was still there, languishing in the ditch, shining in the noonday sun. But this is the south, and I’m certain it has since been eaten alive by chicory and Black-Eyed Susan, by jimsonweed and red sorrel.
What does it mean to inhabit a place? To be from the north or from the south? If you are from the north, is there more room in the hollows of your soul for breath and stillness? If you are from the south, is there more at work inside of you? More seeds sprouting to life in the fecundity of your spirit? Can you be an in-betweeen, halfway sunk in the red clay rivers, with your head still in the midwest sky, where you can see for miles across green expanses of farmland? Or are you planted where your heart resides? And how, exactly, can you tell where that might be? Do you dream in clipped heartland vowels or a long southern drawl? When you dream of lakes and rivers, can you see clear through the blue to the sandy bottom?
In this tobacco town turned hipster haven, century old brick giving way to sleek metal columns and plastic facades, I have lived in seven different homes. A 1940’s millworker’s bungalow, a ground floor apartment that filled with water when it rained, a duplex with soft wood floors that held the smell of cooking from decades past, a third floor apartment with a neighbor who wasn't planted here, either, but who like me was trying to grow here anyways. He would play me any song I liked when I returned from work after a long day. “Bob Marley,” I might say, and he'd pick the song and the notes would drift out through his screens, and we would strain to hear them from my upstairs porch before they were swallowed up by the screaming of the cicadas.
If you like Palmetto Blog and want to see more of my writing, check out my Patreon page and consider becoming a patron.