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On the Hunt for Graves

I was at Martha’s Vineyard a few weeks ago when my phone rang. Emory Tucker, my father’s first cousin, was on the other end.

At Martha’s Vineyard.

“Brenda! Where are you, girl? I’ve got another place to show you where you’ll find some old graves,” he said, his voice booming, softened around the edges.

Emory knows I’ve been hunting graves for years. It’s my hobby. No. It’s more than that. Hunting graves is an addiction that takes me back to the land and its beauty and wildness. A longing for the country lives in me.

Driving into the field.

Emory and I made plans to touch base when I returned to Tifton. Even though I dreaded leaving the island with its glorious hydrangeas, mild weather, and blue waters, Emory’s news of more graves excited me, woke the explorer in me.

Back in Georgia, headed to Emory’s house, I once again irked my grave-hunting group by getting them lost. I’d written the address on a scrap of paper and, in my haste, had gotten the numbers wrong. My cousin lives so far in the boonies the government can’t find him. This time, knowing we’d passed the turn, we wasted no time in getting help. We stopped, called Emory for instructions, and were soon back on track.

My husband, my sister Debra, Hal Sutton, my son Patrick, and I sat with Emory and his sweet wife Jeanette on their screened porch. In appreciation of their kindness to us, I gave them a painting I’d done of a cow. Emory is known throughout the South for a sign on his property: Used Cows for Sale

A beautiful July day in Atkinson County, Georgia.

My group laughed and shared stories with my cousin and his wife. We searched through old photos, remembering the love of our parents and the good times we once had. And then it was time to go.

Emory was the lead driver, the only one who knew where to find the graves. Our caravan was comprised of three vehicles as we pulled out of Emory’s land and headed to Atkinson County, to the place where my Great Grandpa Jowers used to live on the Willacoochee River, to the place that hid a small graveyard.

We passed the creek where my family had once gathered for family picnics, passed the Rowe-Jowers cemetery where many of my kin are buried, passed places where my father used to help his Grandpa Jowers on the farm. I swooned over the countryside, so raw and beautiful, and inhaled the scent of earth. If I’d placed my hands in the soil of the fields, I would have discovered a pulse and touched a heartbeat, the same pulse my ancestors had known.

A beautiful sight to see when searching for graves.
A broken slab.

 

 

 

Beneath the weeds and grass.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Deeper and deeper we snaked among curving roads in Atkinson County. Following Emory and Hal, I told my husband I didn’t know where the heck we were going and didn’t know if we’d ever find our way out. But I didn’t care if we got lost. The countryside was seductive.

I pointed out old fashioned petunias that seemed to be growing wild. We seemed to be leaving one world for another, and the journey was long and delicious, brimming with silence. I reveled in the wonder of it all.

 

When I was a child, my family, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, had picnics near the river.

A dirt road turned into a paved road and then into another dirt road. Then, Emory led us down a long, deeply shaded driveway, past the house where my parents had lived during the early years of their marriage. At this location, Emory introduced us to distant family: Margie Kay and Peggy and a slew of friendly dogs. They welcomed us as though they’d been waiting all their lives for our visit, as though we were the most important people in their lives at that particular moment. Nobody could be nicer than Margie Kay and Peggy to a bunch of people showing up at their door unannounced.

Richard is resting after hunting for graves in the woods in Berrien County. My husband was a good sport through it all. He worked hard.

From there, Emory took us to Mike Stone’s house. Mike, a handsome farmer and Angus cattle man, gave us a smile that would melt a female heart in an instant. Riding a 4-wheeler, he led us into a field, the trip taking much longer than I had expected. At last, we stopped at an area surrounded by barbed wire.

The first headstone we examined belonged to Pvt. Alford S.Baisden, 1838-1900. We discovered many slabs, headstones, and monuments in the thick of tall weeds. Because the enclosed area was filled with gofer holes, my husband told me to watch for rattlesnakes. Under the looming threat of snakes, and unable to contain my excitement, I got on my hands and knees near gofer holes, determined to uncover slabs, knowing I might stick my nose in the face of a rattlesnake.

A wonderful headstone.

It was late July, and the heat came from above in waves, came from the land in waves. Sweat oozed from our pores.

When we finished at the graves in the field, Mike led us from Atkinson County to a location in Berrien County. We slushed through stinking mud, our boots sucked into the muck, to reach the woods. Among trees and brush, we hiked, fighting vines as eager to capture us as an angry spider in a giant web. We stumbled over roots and bowed beneath low-hanging limbs, and we continued to search.

Hearing Mike say that hadn’t seen the graves for about twenty years, I feared we wouldn’t find them. Breathing heavily, swatting gnats and mosquitoes hovered on our tasty flesh, several of us were discussing giving up when we came upon an unmarked slab. And then another, right beside the first, covered by dirt and leaves, sinking into the earth. Wiping sweat from our eyes, we gathered around the two graves, concealed in the shelter of the woods. We studied the graves, a few yards from the beginning of a field, through weary eyes, studied them as though we’d discovered a hidden treasure of pirate’s gold. Mike told us that when he had last visited the area he’d seen at least a dozen more graves, but on this trip, we couldn’t find them.

Debra walking down the muddy tractor road. The mud gets so thick it sucks our boots into it.
Mike showing us graves.

Perhaps the graves we couldn’t find had been crushed when the field was extended and trees downed. We may never know.

Mike Stone and Hal Sutton. Mike knows where any number of graves are located.
A grave in the woods in Berrien County.

When the day ended, we explorers were hot and sweaty and tired and satisfied and thirsty and ready for a bath.

I can’t thank Peggy McClelland, Margie Kay Cain, Mike Stone, and Emory Tucker enough. They made it possible for me to experience something special and renew my spirit. Sometimes I must leave the writing behind and explore nature, inhale the scent of earth, and get southern soil under my fingernails. Where there is wildness there is possibility. If I stay away from nature for too long, I get stuck writing and can’t move forward. These wonderful people shared love, knowledge, guidance, and laughter. I am forever grateful.

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Brenda Sutton Rose

Author of Dogwood Blues, southern fiction.

An old, red-headed hippie with a husband, two children, two dogs.

A writer. An artist.

Proud to be the daughter of Robert and Thelma.

Writing Sanctuary at Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing

The ferry chugged from the mainland toward Martha’s Vineyard. Seduced by a cool breeze and sunlight refracting off the water, I stood on the deck, facing my destination, blurry and indistinct in the distance. A dozen hues of blue draped the sky.

Leaning against the guardrail, memories stirred in me, resurrecting the thrill that used to sweep from my scalp to my toes when crossing Puget Sound during the years I spent in Washington. My life has been a series of journeys. As one ends, another begins. This particular journey would be a short one; I’d come to Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing hoping to find a writing sanctuary, a place that gave birth to stories and buried alive the THOU SHALT NOT rules of literature.

It was an award for Samuel’s Wife, a short story, that led me to the conference. The story had recently been accepted in its entirety of 4,199 words for publication by EXIT 271, The Georgia Resource and would be published in August 2017. Because I didn’t have enough time to write another story, I reached for Samuel’s Wife. In order to meet the 3,000-word limit in the MVICW fiction writing competition, I’d need to slice more than 1,000 words from the story.

As the deadline approached, I snipped here, snipped there, threaded the remaining words, and read the changed text aloud, repeating the process again and again. Needing every permissible syllable to give my story a heartbeat in a cropped format, I submitted exactly 3,000 words, expecting to hear not a peep from MVICW. I’d add the inevitable loss to my collection of rejections.

In April, while spending some time with my sister in Illinois, I received an email from Alexander Weinstein, founder of MVICW and author of Children of the New World. He had written to tell me that Robert James Russell, co-founder of the literary journal Midwestern Gothic, author of numerous books, had chosen Samuel’s Wife for 2nd place and a partial scholarship to 2017 MVICW. With the arrival of Alexander’s email, my plans for July changed in an instant.

Monday morning, the first official day of the conference, I entered a meeting room not far from a harbor filled with boats. Hoping no one would uncover my invisibility until I felt comfortable, I fiddled with a crow feather and a couple of rocks I’d dug out of the island dirt.

Over the next five days I sat through classes taught by a diverse faculty: Christopher Citro, Jennifer Tseng, Allegra Hyde, Robert James Russell, and Alexander Weinstein, teachers who had come to share their knowledge with enthusiasm and sincerity. Intermediate to advanced writers surrounded me. For the first time in ages I felt challenged. Although I’d been teaching writing workshops from time to time, I needed to continue learning. I had set out in search of something special, something unique, something inspiring, and I found everything I wanted at Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing, a cutting-edge writing conference.

Before the week was over I was sun-drenched and seeking out the rhythms of my sentences. I learned to welcome the forbidden, to plunder through the shadows for stories, to experiment with language, to trust myself, to be authentic. In one of the most beautiful places on the east coast, I danced with imagery and metaphor; I sang with form and syntax; I embraced my writing voice.20170719_200703

Although the days at Martha’s Vineyard melted one into another, I didn’t mourn their passage. At the end of the conference, I boarded the ferry and left the island to return to my southern roots and write.

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Brenda Sutton Rose
Author of Dogwood Blues
2015 Georgia Author of the Year Nominee for First Novel
Back to my office, my writing place.
I’m home, in my office, in my writing place.

Island of Hydrangeas

Magnificent pink hydrangeas crush the island with the weight of their colors.

 

Twelve years ago, I persuaded my husband to plant a hydrangea in the garden. When I married him, a gardener of amazing skills with a deep appreciation for the beauty of a diverse garden, he grew plants flaunting texture, shape, and color. Yet marriage often taps into the creative juices of newlyweds who have joined together late in life. Creativity certainly tapped into ours.

During the early years we lost ourselves in gardening, side by side, a team, digging, planting, weeding, pruning, watering, deadheading. The end of the day would find us sitting under a shade tree, dirty, sweaty, drinking red wine, feeling the intoxication of wet crimson, the color of one of our crepe myrtles, savoring the warmth of a smooth wine, mapping out more changes. I often brought up the subject of hydrangeas. I thought we needed a few here and there.

Martha’s Vineyard

Behind the house, we ripped up the lawn and used a stash of bricks my husband had stored for years to make curving walkways. Most of the paths he put down without me, one brick at a time, the sun bearing down on his uncovered head. I tried to help, but my bricklaying skills didn’t meet his high standards.

I’d been living in Illinois when we married. It had been my home for six years, and during those six years, I’d traveled back to Georgia only once, a trip that lasted three days: one day to fly in, one day to attend a funeral, and one day to fly home. Those years in Illinois gave me an appreciation of both the South I’d left behind and the rare beauty of Illinois.

Influenced by Illinois gardens, we planted hostas. Influenced by our love affair with flowers, we added foxglove, Mexican petunia, hibiscus, a wide variety of daylily, variegated grass, and several fruit and vegetable plants. Influenced by our love for each other, we aimed for a disheveled, overgrown garden, one without rules, without strict borders. We aimed for a hidden place where magic lives and breathes and glows like fireflies.

My husband is the keeper of about four hundred camellia bushes, his specialty. He was taught by the great man himself: the late Hulyn Smith of Valdosta, Georgia. When it came to camellias, I never offered advice. My husband needed none.

Encouraging the manicured garden to grow wild and free like a hippie in the late sixties, hair loose and flowing, feet bare, we watched change and growth in flowerbeds and in ourselves. Our garden evolved, moved slowly from a formal and manicured place to a garden that offered shelter to mystical creatures, a carefree garden that sang and danced throughout winter, spring, summer, and fall, a garden that welcomed our adopted dogs and cats, a paradise that broke all the established rules of gardening.

Our eccentric garden.
Our garden growing wild.

Hydrangeas remind me of my childhood. We bought a few, one here, one there, and I received a lovely pink one as a gift for speaking to a group about my novel. I thought we were putting together a darned good showing until we stepped foot on Martha’s Vineyard.

Hydrangeas crush and bruise the island. The bluest blues. The pinkest pinks. A seductive blending of the palest pink, the pink of a baby’s lips melting into an antique white, the soft color of a faded handkerchief, a floral innocence, a lovely recipe of new and old. Hydrangeas in front of wide open windows. Hydrangeas dripping over fences. Hydrangeas painting walkways. Hydrangeas in colors so brilliant I taste them. Truly. I’m not exaggerating.

Once, I stopped near the harbor and lost myself in a profound pallet— Phthalo turquoise on some blooms, ultramarine blue and purple on other blooms. The taste of blueberries filled my mouth, coming from every direction. I swallowed, thinking I was too old to be seduced by a flower. When I turned away from the blooms, the taste disappeared.

Our garden maiden, dressed in fig vine.
A hydrangea from our garden.

 

Am I a bit like my son who sees music in color?  Or am I simply under the spell of Martha’s Vineyard’s luscious flowers?

I don’t know whether to plant more hydrangeas in our eccentric garden or simply give it up. Last night I dreamed of a hydrangea as dark as blackberries blooming over Brody’s grave in the rear garden. I thought my dog came to me and licked my face. I tasted blackberries.

 

Hydrangeas spill over fences at Martha’s Vineyard.

I’ll tell you about the writing sessions in another post. I have never been to anything quite like them. 

 

 

Brenda Sutton Rose

Author of Dogwood Blues

Searching for William J. & Susan Royal Story

If you read my posts, you know I’m writing my second novel, and you know I enjoy searching for forgotten graves. It’s what I do.

entering the graveyard
A selfie with my husband and fellow explorer.

Last week, though my husband seldom accompanies me on my explorations, he decided to tag along since I would be searching in Turner County. He’d grown up in the area, yet had never heard of the overgrown cemetery I planned to explore.

Tucked inside my purse were directions I’d found online as we drove through downtown Ashburn. To be sure we were on the right path, my husband called his sister, a Turner County resident. Her husband confirmed we were on the right track. I chatted with enthusiasm as my husband drove the truck down a lovely dirt road not far from the interstate.

Henderson Cemetery, the oldest cemetery in Turner County, is located in an overgrown wooded area surrounded by fields. A fence, topped with barbed-wire, surrounds three sides of the cemetery. I read that the farmer who owned some of the land bordering the cemetery had used a backhoe to push up dirt on one side, and in doing so, pushed forward and broke several of the headstones from the 1800s.

Susan Royal Story

We had to park on a dirt road, jump a ditch, walk through high grass, and then cut our way through hanging limbs, broken branches, and oversize bushes to reach the cemetery. Once inside, a canopy of overgrowth protected us from the sun, hiding us from the outside world. Pine needles, leaves, and other dirt served as a mat beneath our feet. Gnats swarmed us.

I soon discovered spider webs connected tree limbs, and it was nearly impossible to explore the area without walking into silk spun between trees. Most webs sported a large spider surrounded by its dead victims, unfortunate insects. Spider webs stuck to my face and tangled in my hair, and I had no way of knowing if a spider was crawling on me. It was terrifying. Still, I was determined to search.

We found William Jackson Story and his wife, Susan Royal Story.

Several of my ancestors had led me to this place. I needed to find the area where they had been buried; I needed to touch their headstones. William Jackson Story, my 4th great uncle, born in 1827, and his wife, Susan Adeline Royal, born in 1829, were said to be buried in the neglected cemetery. Samuel Story, born in 1795, my 4th great grandfather and one of the pioneer families of Irwin County, later Worth County, and his mistress, Annie Brown, born in 1800, had buried an infant son in the peaceful area. Another 4th great uncle, M.T. Nipper, and his wife Mary E. Nipper had laid their twin infant sons to rest in that Turner County dirt.

Nipper twins

Bees had built a hive in the cracks of a crumbling vault, and we stayed clear of it. Bees buzzed, coming and going, gathering in numbers, as though they new intruders were nearby, as though warning us to keep our distance.

If I’d been using my brain, I would have gone prepared to rake, clear the debris, and clean headstones. But I arrived with a camera and little else. Richard had a small tool of some sort and a walking stick, but those items weren’t enough. I needed gloves for my hands and a car broom so I could sweep dirt from the slabs. I should have brought some aluminum for the headstones I couldn’t read. By placing a thin sheet of aluminum foil against the stone, or by wrapping it around the stone, and brushing the area with a clean makeup brush, it is often possible read the words left impressed in the foil. But I arrived unprepared and unorganized.

The graveyard is beneath the trees on the other side of the ground that was pushed up and broke into the fence.
Libby Royal

In spite of my lack of planning, my husband and I discovered many headstones and slabs, most of those on my list. But I failed to find the grave of Samuel Story’s and Anna Brown’s infant son. With so many headstones broken and swallowed by the earth, it is possible the missing grave of Samuel Story’s son will never be found.

Pieces of history are lost to us every day. I love discovering the broken pieces before they are gone forever.

These Dirt Roads of Georgia

In the 60s and 70s, as a young girl, I ran barefoot through the hot soil of plowed fields and along dirt roads that led to blackberries. At the end of the day, darkness settled and fireflies came out of hiding to dance and put on a show. Life was simple and beautiful and carried the many scents of the South.

Although I grew up exploring the countryside and the woods, often with brothers and sisters, I never snooped around cemeteries. There were no graveyards nearby, so I seldom walked among headstones and slabs.

Years passed. I grew up. Moved from Georgia. And my father died.

I tried to seize every memory I had of the man I called Daddy, of the two of us together, of our drives down dirt roads, stories he told me, tried to snare the strength and beauty of my brothers and sisters, to recreate meals from my mother’s kitchen. Local and family history seduced me one memory, one secret, one taste, one scent, one moment at a time.

  

I still enjoy the country, sunsets, fireflies, watching birds, picking berries, reading on a quilt under a tree. The music of the river and the solace of hidden places entice me. Often, I can be found traipsing through cemeteries and abandoned houses. When not seeking my own history, I hunt for lost graves, for the graves of slaves, people who worked this southern land, people buried without slabs or headstones, forgotten people.

The end of the day at Story-Odom Cemetery.

 

Several weeks ago, my adult children and I gallivanted through several counties, history whispering in our ears. I showed them the grave of Samuel Story, their 5th great grandfather, at Story-Odom Cemetery. We traveled down dirt roads, county roads, and state roads. I showed them how I dig through history, chasing clues that might lead me to who-knows-what.

The day ended with a magnificent sunset, liquid gold, shimmering on the present, shimmering on the past.

Grandma Gets Stuck in the Elevator

I wrote this post about a year before my mother died. 

My mother has lived under a cloud of bad luck lately.  Presently, she’s recovering from a broken hip and a fractured pelvis.

“First I got stuck in the elevator,” Mama said, “then I broke my hip.” She giggled like a school girl. “I think I gave Carlton and Rhonda (my brother and his wife) a good laugh when I got stuck.”

For several weeks she had been visiting Carlton, Rhonda, and their children in Macon. They put her in the guest bedroom on the second floor. The main staircase in the house is grand and curving, with so many steps it frightens even me.  And the back staircase is nearly as big as the main one. Mama used the elevator.

One afternoon, as my brother, his wife, and their three daughters were gathered in the kitchen, Caylee, a tall redhead with a dry sense of humor, stated matter-of-factly, “Grandmother is stuck in the elevator.”

Rhonda, said, “What!”

“Grandmother is stuck in the elevator.”

“How do you know?”

“I heard her beating on the walls.”

Carlton's girls

They rushed to the elevator. The contraption that my mother had never trusted had indeed stalled between floors; she was stuck inside.

Somebody called the elevator repairman, but he wasn’t answering the phone. A wave of hysteria filled the house and their phone calls continued to go unanswered. The details told to me are fuzzy from this point on, but I know my brother removed the elevator’s door, and his wife climbed down into what my mother probably thought was the pit of hell. Rhonda carried with her a folding beach chair for my mother. She wouldn’t be able to stand for long. At some point, as hysteria mounted, my brother lowered a ladder to them, and my mother, pushed by my sister-in-law, climbed to the top where Carlton and the children pulled her out. The bunch of Suttons fell in a heap to the floor, laughing until their stomachs hurt.

My mother told me she had never been through anything like that in her life. She said, “We don’t have elevators in Nashville, Georgia.” She thought for several moments. “I think I gave them all a good laugh.”  She seemed proud of herself, as if she’d presented to my brother and his wife a unique gift.

“You sure did.”

Not many days after being trapped in the elevator, standing in the kitchen and dining area of my brother’s house, Mama leaned over to look at her feet. She either lost her balance or her hip simply broke as it often does in the elderly. In any event, she toppled over. She told me, “I was nowhere near the stairs or the elevator, but I broke my hip and fractured my pelvis.”

“You’ve had a lot of mishaps.”

“I’d rather be stuck in that elevator than stuck in a wheelchair.”

“I know.”

“They need to get the elevator fixed.” She paused, sighed. “There’s not even a television in that thing.”

Forbidden Writing at Martha’s Vineyard

 

DSC_0098 (1)
The maiden in our garden. She is clothed in green, her favorite color, and she is the keeper of my secrets.

Last week, as a soft rain pattered outside my windows, I opened an email from Alexander Weinstein, Director of Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing. “I am happy to let you know that Robert James Russell has chosen your story, Samuel’s Wife, as the second-place winner of the 2017 MVICW Fiction Contest. Congratulations!  The story is beautiful, and I was thrilled to see he chose your work. There were over 100 entries this year in fiction, so my congratulations on this honor!”

These first three sentences of his email lit my insides like a slug of moonshine. After squealing a few times, I pulled up the website to plunder through the MVICW’s class descriptions. I read them silently.

Jennifer Tseng, one of the instructors, describes a lesson overcast with danger. In this class you will work to produce a piece of forbidden writing, using the form of your choice. Whatever your forbidden territory is, I encourage you to visit it with curiosity and attention. We will proceed as a group of risk-takers together, none of us traveling to precisely the same place, but all of us keeping one another company on the journey. I will emphasize intuitive methods and ask you to cleave to what makes your secret heart beat faster.

I read Tseng’s description again, this time in a sibilating whisper. In the moments that followed, I remained still, a scattering of illegitimate words filling my mouth and wetting my lips, the scent of rain in the air.

In May, I’ll be at Martha’s Vineyard. I hope this introverted writer will dare to explore the forbidden.

 

 

 

Brenda Sutton Rose, author of DOGWOOD BLUES

I hope you enjoy photos of the garden.

A Harry Potter Wand that Works

Years ago, after my husband’s granddaughter was born, we went shopping for a gift. My husband, knowing little about baby clothes, stayed in Books-A-Million while I went to look at baby clothes.

In Baby Gap, I heard a small voice say, “Mama, I want a Harry Potter wand that really works.” Following the sound of the voice, I spotted a little tow-headed boy, approximately five or six years old. He pulled on his mother’s loose-fitting smock-type dress. “Mama.  Mama. I want a Harry Potter wand that really works.”

While waiting to pay for my purchases, the mother and son were in line in front of me. The mother was lovely. Tall. Long honey-colored hair. Tanned legs. Slim. From the style of her dress, I thought she might be pregnant. Her little boy continued to tug on her dress and plead, “Mama, I want a Harry Potter wand that really works.”

She looked down at him and explained in a calm, patient voice. “The wands are pretend. They don’t really work. You have to make believe they are real.”

I knew many children, some very young, were watching the Harry Potter movies, and this little boy was one of them.

The child ignored his mother’s explanations, as though she had not spoken. He continued to pull on her dress and plead in the same sweet tone. “Mama, I want a Harry Potter wand that really works.”

I left Baby Gap with a few dainty baby clothes and, for no particular reason, went into Old Navy. I didn’t need anything else. After looking at some clothes, I prepared to leave. My husband would be waiting for me in the bookstore. As I strolled down an aisle near the exit/entrance of Old Navy, I heard the same little boy. “Mama, I want a Harry Potter wand that really works.”

Knowing no toy can replicate the magic of Harry Potter’s wand, a wave of sadness swept over me. The child firmly believed what he saw in the theater. To him, wands were magical.  He’d been a good boy and he wanted a Harry Potter wand.

I remember when my children discovered Santa wasn’t real. It hurt us all. But, in time, they learned about a different kind of magic, a magic that lives inside them and inside the hearts of other good people.

I believe in magic.harry potter wands

More than Walking

One of the best places to sit and rest and think about life is in the heart of the woods.

DSC_0014

While I was in Illinois, my sister Lynn took me up one of the many hills in Springdale Cemetery, a magnificent place encompassing 255 rolling acres. From the green slopes, crowded with headstones and weather-beaten statuary, stained with age and covered with lichens, from grassy slopes lifting up pedestal monuments, broken columns, pilaster columns topped with urns, and obelisks, Lynn and I sifted through our hearts and confided our thoughts of life and death, aware we were in a sacrosanct and enchanting place. “Death is beautiful when it merges with nature,” we said several times. “I could spend the night here in this tranquil place.” We both felt a spirit of peace surrounding us.

The cemetery was crowded with silence and beauty.

Lynn has a more professional eye for photography than I do. Her natural gift for capturing mood results in some extraordinary photos of people, landscapes, wildlife, and flowers. With a sharp and creative aim, she snaps scenes that whisper of untold stories. I, myself, take the random good picture. But I’m better at writing than I am at shooting poetic pictures.

One day, Lynn and I got up early, and she took me to an obscure spot, a small valley. The place made me imagine a luscious green crater inside a volcano, something from a story of magical realism. Beneath a soft rain, my sister and I climbed down a slope to reach our destination. Empty-handed, I had left my camera in the car. Lynn was eager to take pictures, so she protected her camera from the rain by tucking it under her shirt.

On this particular outing, I realized I had more stamina than I had exhibited just a few days earlier when Lynn had first led me up the hills. In the mountains of North Georgia, when I’m not confined inside a cabin at Blood Mountain or at Blue Ridge, when I’m not trying to complete a writing project, I take leisurely walks. Avoiding steep inclines, I never hike straight up. I couldn’t if I tried. The prednisone I take has caused me to gain weight. My North Georgia strolls lead me along gently winding paths, trails that are easy on my arthritic joints. In Illinois, though, Lynn introduced me to her more difficult mode of walking. I call her gallivanting style, “Straight up.”

As it drizzled, Lynn took photos of honeysuckle, trees, greenery, bushes, plants, and flowers, capturing the ethereal grace of the landscape. Damp, we laughed and talked and revered the cleansing of nature, a deep green sparkling caused by rain’s bath. I believe we both felt unblemished after walking in the soft rainfall in the heart of the Illinois landscape.

 

 

 

Walking in Peoria

There is a connection between the soul and nature. I grew up planting, harvesting, digging my hands in the soil. Now, as a middle-aged woman, I spend a lot of time walking so deep in the woods that I can’t hear the noise of the city. Nature fills me and heals me and inspires me. Nature soothes me.

Nature fills me.

Nature soothes me.

In Georgia, I walk flat land, through fields, around ponds, and along the banks of rivers. I climb through barbed wire fences and head deep into the woods. I walk through abandoned houses, but South Georgia’s landscape is different from that of Peoria’s. Here, in this part of Illinois, the flat land of cornfields will betray you. Don’t trust it for a minute. The next thing you know the fields will be far behind you, and you’ll be climbing to magnificent views overlooking the Illinois River. You’ll be ascending ancient hills where the dead of Peoria are buried.

My husband admiring the landscape

My younger sister’s name is Lynn. Nearly seven years separate us. Yesterday, Lynn took me up slopes so steep I thought I might collapse from a stroke or heart attack before I reached the top, but I had come a thousand miles from South Georgia for her to show me where she walks and meditates and captures mysterious and beautiful photos with her camera, and this southern girl was determined to make the journey, even if my sister and my husband had to drag my sweat-covered corpse from the mountaintop. Come to think of it, they wouldn’t need to worry about removing my dead body; we were in a cemetery. They could simply leave me there, in the beauty of that magnificent place of a thousand souls.

My rheumatoid arthritis joints screamed, but we kept moving, up, up, up. We didn’t take the gently sloping paths. I headed up the side of the hill, straight up, and felt the torture and the foolishness of my actions. My sister took the same hill like a mountain climber. Piece of cake. Nothing to it. Of course, she didn’t say those things; I looked at her limber movements and thought those things.

We both have Nikon cameras. Lynn has the latest version. We took photos, dirtying our knees, getting on our bellies and aiming our cameras at various angles. We laughed and hummed and walked in awe. We talked about spiritual things, about the beauty of others, about the beauty of the cemetery, and came home with a gazillion photos.

Lynn taking pictures.
The Flower Lady

Our time gallivanting lifted my spirits and reminded me of the connection between the soul and nature.