Sunday, July 02, 2006

Hickory Winds

In South Carolina
There are many tall pines
I remember the oak tree
That we used to climb
But now when I’m lonesome
I always pretend
That I’m gettin’ the feel of hickory wind

I started out younger
At most everything
All the riches and pleasures
What else could life bring?
But it makes me feel better
Each time it begins
Callin’ me home, hickory wind

It’s a hard way to find out
That trouble is real
In a far away city, with a far away feel
But it makes me feel better
Each time it begins
Callin’ me home, hickory wind

Keeps callin’ me home, hickory wind

Words and music by Gram Parsons and Bob Buchanon

They started whispering before the plane even landed. Looking out the window as the plane descended we were low enough that individuals were recognizable, but high enough aloft to see entire communities and associations of species that were determined by the ground under their feet. Their voices reach up to me in the atmosphere they helped create.

I was prepared this time. Five years ago on a cold and drizzling night, the old live oak in my grandmother’s garden that was losing life and limbs to its advantaged age called out to me as I sat on the outside porch in the dark smoking. The low clouds reflected the city lights and the branches of this ancient oak were silhouetted against the grey sky.

Nostalgia seemed the most likely cause of this interaction but the message I was getting seemed bigger than this one garden and single tree. The old oak spoke of forests and living under a protective cover. It talked about a place where trees were allowed to grow tall, to gather in groups and follow their internal instructions. Here was a place were trees were venerated. They were not treated like shrubs and hedges ready to be hacked and mauled and made to conform to the capricious demands of men.

The ancient oak said I remember you, let me embrace you once more before it is my time to go.

I had traveled from a dry volcanic mountainside whose trees had long ago been removed. It had few trees left to cover its side and those that did were foreign to the mountain. The primary function of the trees being planted around the activities of men was never to be just simply a tree.

The most ruthless of manipulations was caused by the View. As the people crowded in demanding their own private piece of the View the trees began to suffer and to shrink down in odd stunted forms.

A pleasant wind greeted me on the exit from the airport that carried with it a familiar scent. Millions of pines joined by their kin mixed in with the air. It wouldn’t be long now before I had a chance to feel their full embrace. I drove the back country roads to the town where I grew up. They were more crowded and there were many new constructions, but mile after mile the road was a wide path cut through the forest. It pushed itself right up against and into man’s doings.

Gainesville Florida had been declared a Tree City USA back in the late 70’s or early 80’s and could proudly continue to hold that title. Here a city was enveloped by the forest. Here it was possible for an older suburban street with more generous lots to show no houses, the canopy was so dense. I marveled at the sight and the feel and the trees said welcome back.

I ventured out of the city and further into their domain and found the damage done from hurricanes two years past in the San Felasco Hammock. Many had fallen and others had shed most of their branches. They sprouted with vigor to form dense and narrow branchless versions of them selves. The trees had shrugged off these storms and moved on with the business of life.

The forest trees started to change as the land descended from the upland pine and oak to the low and wetter hardwood forest of deciduous trees. A small stream with a white sand bottom flowed through their midst and I was tempted as I had done so often as a child to get in and play. I was completely alone. The quiet allowed the voice of the forest to seep in. Numerous birds sang high above me and in all directions. A quick rustling sounded a startled deer as it leapt away. So many details of numerous tree species and smaller under story plants competed for the attention of my eye which also knew to watch the ground closely for snakes. I hadn’t managed to wear shoes; my Hawaiian slippas were such habit.

By night I visited friends and attended reunions and by day I visited the forest for the calmness my soul needs. I was welcomed every where but it was the forest who said come home.

Each wood I visited was unique. Here it was the trees who decided when there would be a view, when they would open up a vista over the Kanapaha Marsh.

On another trip to Silver Glenn Springs in the Ocala National Forest the woods had an exotic feel. The combination of water and moving further south into the transition zone to the subtropics allowed native palms to be a main player in this forest community. This is the Florida ecosystem that was the jungle background for Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan.

The palm forest did LA before LA was.

I can feel it in my bones and to depth of my soul. This place will always have a hold on me and it is through the voice of the trees that it keeps calling me home.


christin m p in massachusetts said...

In the third picture from the top, is that the house and land in Orange Park you wrote about in the story How Long Will It Take?

Christopher C. in Hawaii said...

Yes that is that house my grandfather built where my parents now live while not in North Carolina.

christin m p in massachusetts said...

I've never seen a house like that before. What do they call that style? And what are those smooth exterior walls and the pretty blue roofing tiles made of?

I don't know if properties like that are common in that region, but from what I see, it's an absolute work of art. In fact, for me it holds so much appeal, that there isn't a single feature about the house or the land that I would want to change. Do your parents still have the blueprints, so that it can be reproduced?

christin m p in massachusetts said...

Sorry to bombard you with so much at this single post, but there's so much in it...

I've been trying to find a sample of the song Hickory Wind to listen to, but I think the only way I'm going to be able to hear it is to buy it.

Also, I'm curious about the picture at the very bottom of this post -- Can you tell me more about it?

Christopher C. in Hawaii said...

I do not know if that is a named style of architecture. It was built in the late 30's or early 40's and is not a common style that I have seen except for the house next door that was built for my great aunt at the same time. The walls are stucco, think a cement plaster like coating, which is a very common form of constuction.

The new roof, not original to the house, is green but does look blue in that picture and is a metal sheeting made to look like tile. It has become fairly common in the south migrating to residential homes from commercial buildings most likely.

If you stayed there for a week I have no doubt that you could find many things that need to be upgraded. I do not know if there are still blueprints for this house.

Think country music slow sad ballad for the song Hickory Wind.

That last photo was taken along the mainland side of the intercoastal waterway. Across the river are the coastal barrier islands and Little Talbot Island were the beach shot was taken. This is a very common Florida oak forest ecosystem with the Spanish Moss dripping from the branches.

Now I need to go to work. Ick!

christin m p in massachusetts said...

You have to work on Independence Day? I liked it better when the summer holidays were always celebrated on Mondays. Anyway, I guess when you own your own business, you decide for yourself, right? By the way, I'm always envious of you for that -- you know, for having the cojones to run a business. To me, that takes a thick skin.

Yeah, I agree with your sentiments about work. Up till around one's early forties, it's fine. But once you hit mid-forties, it seems like you've been working forever and then, like a little kid who has just obediently finished eating all the vegetables on his plate, you want to say "Okay, I'm done now". But the reality is that you have almost as many more years in front of you still left to work as you've already completed, and on top of it, now you have the additional weight of all your jadedness to carry around with you.

When it really gets to me, I revisit the comedy movie Office Space. Mike Judge's humor is so dead-on. Oh yeah, that reminds me (since I've already wandered so far off-topic anyway) -- Is Bill Mahr's show still on? I haven't seen that show for years, and I miss his sensible, always-hits-home humor. The only chance I ever get to see him these days is when he's a guest on another show like the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.