Thursday, February 6, 2014
I sprinkle a lot of fairy dust around on this blog. I shamelessly romanticize the place where I live, because I am in love with it. I show you its best side most of the time.
But it's been a long strange winter and I've been housebound by ice and snow and extreme cold for a long time. The kids have been out of school more than in, and we're all cooped up save for epic grocery runs I make so I can keep everybody fed, birds too. I haul in food a hundred pounds at a time. On a glorious Saturday it briefly hit 53 degrees, and the boilerplate snow finally melted for a dizzy 12 hours, and we got to see the land again. Of course we had a gig that day so between loading and lugging equipment, sound check, rehearsal and gig I couldn't get out and run in a T-shirt as I so desperately wanted to. I wanted to feel warm breezes ruffling the little gold hairs on my arms. Just once. It was not to be.
By Sunday it had plunged down to the 30's again, and it was raining. But I had to get out. I'd been sidelined for so long that my legs and ankles hurt like crazy when I started running again, just like they had when I first started almost four years ago. It just didn't seem fair to have to go through that twice. I knew I'd have to keep running through the pain or it would never go away. So out I went.
I took my phone, of course, and I ran for awhile without shooting photos. What light there was, was totally flat. The first thing that grabbed my eye, about a mile into it, was a box turtle plastron from a road-killed summer turtle. My heart sank. I'd picked so many up right here, carried them across. I wondered if this was the one that had taken two years to recover from his lost eye and hurt forelegs, the one I'd released where I found him, the one I'd asked to please be more careful next time. I didn't want to think about that. But I snapped a photo.
And it occurred to me at that moment to take photos of things that I wouldn't ordinarily record. The not so pretty things. It could be interesting, could take my mind off the stinging in my rusty ankles.
A chicory plant, freezer-burned but still alive at the core, despite temperatures plummeting to -12. That's snow for you--an insulator. Out of this melted mess will spring a healthy plant before too long. I've seen a few such plants this winter, many in my own greenhouse. Most didn't come back. I have a feeling this chicory will.
I love chicory because it grows where nobody else wants to. I sometimes feel like a chicory plant, loving these hardscrabble roadsides in Appalachia as much as I do. My coastal friends with their museums and symphonies, galleries and stores where you can get anything you want, the hothouse flowers, wondering what chicory loves about hard-packed gravel.
I went a little farther, and spied something that has been buggin' me since before Halloween. I don't find fake cobwebs very attractive at best, even when in season. But Halloween decorations left up until Groundhog Day? Nuhh.
Every time we run here this dog barks and barks. His entire world is a packing box, a chain, and mud. So anyone who passes gets barked at, because there's nothing else for him to do.
There are three such dogs on this mile and a half stretch of country road. And another elderly beagle who lives in a wooden box on our county road. All chained for life. I wish so hard that I could change that. I think about the vast gulf between a dog who's chained outside a wooden box, left to bark himself hoarse, and a dog who lives as a family member, who shares the comfort of a human pack and their warm home; is loved and honored as an individual. The only difference is in the way he's treated. People start with perfectly good dogs and give them a life like this. They ruin them. This could have been a wonderful dog, but no one will ever get close enough to know. Chet eyes him sidelong and keeps trotting. The free man striding past the slave. The slave, howling in outrage.
We make our dogs what they are, and we also make them what they aren't.
We never pass without praying his chain doesn't break.
Deep in the woods, a truck dump. Yes, it's the other side of this beautiful place where I live.
I realize what a stretch this is for me, looking for the sad, the homely. I'm strangely pleased at that. It hits me that I've been filtering this corner of Appalachian Ohio all along, giving it a pretty face for you to look at. I do that because I love where I live, warts and all, and because seeking out beauty is a hard-wired habit. It's a habit I will continue to cultivate. It makes me grateful.
But sometimes it's a good exercise to turn your worldview on its side, to point your camera at the cold wet ground.