Tag Archives: springtime in the South


Outside the upstairs bedroom window, I see the upper branches of my Chinese cherry tree and beyond. It has become the place from which I preview the weather of the day and gauge the seasons as the sunrise moves back and forth across Green Mountain.

That cherry tree is the last of the blooming trees on this section of the street to show. The first blossoms of the season appear in the treetop just as the final russet blooms of the crabapple next door give way to its bronze-hued leaves. The cherry tree in a neighbor’s backyard is on a different schedule from mine and bursts forth with white blossoms filling the back guest room window just a couple of weeks before my Chinese cherry begins its stunning, short-lived moment of full bloom.

In the back yard, the young Japanese maple, introduced last year, is budding with promise and I sigh with relief that it weathered its first winter. The camellia finally went crazy in February with crimson blooms. A few rainstorms caused them to droop to the ground and the remaining camellia blooms, holding steady, will soon drop, too. Both wild roses in the back yard – the one that belonged to my grandfather and the one I foraged from a lake shore – are fully-leafed and will start to bloom by Easter.  The recently acquired Peggy Martin “Katrina” rose is thriving in its pot, ready for a suitable place to start climbing.

I managed to strain my back on the second day of unpacking when I moved to this house years ago and the doctor ordered three days of bedrest. My bedroom had been the first room I set up so I closed the door and let it be my refuge while I got back in shape. During the day time, I would open the curtains and watch the activity of the birds in the trees and the traffic and pedestrians on the road beyond. It was the perfect place to read.

Over the years, I have observed robins busily building nests in the cherry tree, eggs hatching, and one year I happened to be home on the morning that the babies left the nest. I pulled up a chair and quietly watched. Within an hour, they were all gone and oblivious to me cheering them on.

When a deadly outbreak of tornadoes ravaged much of Alabama in April 2011, the storms took out the power grids and cell towers throughout a wide swath of north Alabama. My neighborhood was without power, internet, and phones for five days. The night sky was amazing with no power for more than fifty miles in all directions. There was a dusk to dawn curfew and my sleep was erratic. At all hours of the night, I found myself lying in bed and staring out the window at the empty dark landscape and the night sky above. An occasional utility truck or police car might pass and any unexpected sound would prompt shining a flashlight out the window, often highlighting the stop sign on the corner. It was much later when I worried that my bright flash of light might have shone into the windows of the houses over in that direction.

Over time, the pattern was established of a retreat to the bedroom and the window whenever a break was needed. Nowadays, I am in the habit of opening the curtains first thing in the morning and reading as the sky goes from dawn to daylight and I prepare to face the day. Reading before rising seems to bring clarity to the day.

This week, I am busily packing to move to another city in a few days. The town I’m moving from after eighteen and a half years has never felt like home, but this house – with my books, and art, family mementos, and “stuff” – has.

And the view from my window has sustained and fortified me through all times and challenges. This morning, outside the window, the first hints of pinkish blooms on the cherry tree are beginning to show.

It will be full of blossoms in a few days. And I’ll be gone.

Springtime and Verlyn Klinkenborg: An Appreciation

DSCN0329 Over the past year, it has been hard to keep the stress and my journal separate and the reader has had a share in what has been going on with my family and me. Yet, even at the darkest moments, I have tried to keep the journal as upbeat and positive as possible.

As spring makes its way into the summer and temperatures in northern Alabama are starting to hit the 90s, I am spending more time out of doors – my favorite place to be – and once again watching nature around my small patch of suburban life. In the past week, for the first time this season, I have noticed the fireflies emerging at dusk. My plants in pots and in the ground are doing okay but it has been dry and daily watering has become a necessity. The robins are playful and cagey, seeing how close they can get to me as they hunt worms and forage before they scamper away if I make a move to pick up a glass or rub my leg.

The magnolias are blooming, I don’t have a magnolia tree but there is one across the street. When I was growing up we occasionally had magnolias in the yard and there was a time when Mother would use the large sturdy leaves for Christmas decorations, often highlighting them with gold paint. The magnolias this year haven’t peaked yet but the trees are full and will be magnificent soon.

Many years ago my family decided to spend Memorial Day at my house and I was determined to have magnolia blossoms on my table. I spotted a gigantic untended magnolia tree in my neighborhood and knocked on the door to ask permission to clip a few blossoms. The lady that opened the door had deeply etched skin the color of old coffee grounds. When I asked her for permission to take some magnolia blossoms from her tree she said, “Is that what that is? A magnolia?”

I confirmed that it was and she said, “I never knew what that tree was called. Take all the flowers you want.”

Last night, as I was watering the backyard plants, I spotted a pot in bloom behind the schefflera. The schefflera spends the cool months inside the house and I didn’t realize something was growing behind it in the corner of the yard. When I pulled the pot forward, there was a healthy hydrangea beginning to bloom. Here’s the rub: the two hydrangeas I have planted and tended to over the past few years are healthy but refuse to blossom for me; this one, which I don’t even remember planting, seems to be doing just fine on its own, thank you very much. There’s a lesson there, but I’m not sure what it is. DSCN0321

Perhaps the most consistent comment I receive about “Professional Southerner” is that the reader finds a calm and relaxation in reading what I wrote. That is a good thing to hear since I began the online journal in 2013 at a time when there was much turmoil going on around me and I wanted these essays to be a break from the stresses of work and everyday life.

Meditating and observing in the yard put me in mind of the journalist and writer Verlyn Klinkenborg whose essays on “The Rural Life” were just about the most satisfying things to hit the pages of The New York Times for close to sixteen years from 1997 to 2013. Klinkenborg lives on a farm in upstate New York and his essays for the Times are meditations on the day-to-day life of the farm in a calm and pensive manner. His observations on the simple matters of everyday life always leave an impression of welcome solitude and the profundity of things which are all around us.

Klinkenborg came to mind when I revisited a collection of his essays in the book The Rural Life (hardcover: Little Brown and Company, 2002: paperback: Back Bay Publishing, 2004) which is a compilation of his Times essays. I gave the book to my Mother for Mother’s Day several years ago, hoping it would be as comforting to her as it is to me.

Reading the essays after several years, it occurs to me that I may be attempting in my recent writing to capture some of the tranquility and spirit that I get while reading Klinkenborg’s minimal and essential meditations in The Rural Life and its sequel, More Scenes from the Rural Life (Princeton Architectural Press, 2013).

In Klinkenborg’s final “Rural Life” essay for the Times on Christmas 2013 he addressed the ways in which his readers’ imaginations embellished the scope and reality of his modest farm. He wrote:

I am more human for all the animals I’ve lived with since I moved to this farm. Here, I’ve learned almost everything I know about the kinship of all life. The only crops on this farm have been thoughts and feelings and perceptions, which I know you’re raising on your farm, too. Some are annual, some perennial and some are invasive – no question about it

But perhaps the most important thing I learned here, on these rocky, tree-bound acres, was to look up from my work in the sure knowledge that there was always something worth noticing and that there were nearly always words to suit it.

Thanks, Klinkenborg. May your imagination forever notice and embellish. DSCN0336