Yes, I simply must.
So here I sit at this keyboard with the overpowering need to write something, but nothing to write about. I seem to go through this every summer, and it is very early in the summer, the solstice just passed a week ago. Usually, my writer’s malaise coincides with the late summer heat malaise, when Mississippi presents us with its unignorable swelter and humidity…a hot, wet, throbbing pool of an unrestrained, teeming life all about, which, unchecked, leaves you and your yard overwhelmed with the encroachment of nature that will only be constrained with constant effort, and sweat. Sweat. Lots of sweat. Each drop of sweat producing a longing for the time when the word can be combined with the suffix -er. Fall takes forever to get here, much akin to the same time frame that spring reaches the higher elevations of the Montana Rockies; it will not be rushed.
So, not being rushed, we just slow down. Sometimes we slow down to the point where the kudzu grows faster than our walking pace, and certainly faster than our talking pace. It is not a bad pace, either, once you get used to it. I was born used to it, and I like how time passes here. I like how conversation flows when it’s too hot to raise your voice in anger or be vexed with pointless human dramatics, because it takes too much energy and what little energy you have that has not been sapped by the heat must be held in reserve for real emergencies, not melodramatics.
“Chris!!! Come quick!!,” Debbie hollered from outside, the piercing tone in her voice arousing me out of my summer induced slumber, made possible by the modern wonder of air-conditioning, instantly bringing my energy reserve to the forefront. There was no flight in me; it was pure fight. I rushed outside.
“Help me find Olivia!” Debbie demanded as I rushed around the corner of the house and stepped onto the sidewalk between the flower beds. Debbie was standing there scratching her head looking about, flummoxed. “The crabgrass grew so fast it covered Livi up. She’s somewhere down there amongst it,” she said as she madly pulled at the crabgrass.
We both started pulling at the crabgrass with our bare hands, unable to use a hoe because Olivia was down there, somewhere. We called her name over and over, and after a hectic spell, we heard her faint cries, slowly getting louder and louder as the mountain of pulled crabgrass grew, and Charon himself was rowing from the other side of the river Styx, angry that a stowaway had been found on his boat. Suddenly Olivia belched forth from the crabgrass just like Jonah came forth on the Nineveh Beach, the resort part of greater Nineveh.
“I do not like stowaways. I do not like unauthorized use of my property, nor infringements on my authority as captain of a naval vessel,” Charon admonished, handing Olivia back to me, a disgusted look on his face. I tried to explain, but he cut me off. “Just keep this crabgrass pulled, or you’re likely to lose some more grandchildren, some neighbors, and certainly your dogs and cats. And I don’t have time to be returning trespassers and stowaways. My charter business is very time sensitive,” he explained, looking at his watch. I wondered about the cat part.
“Cats? I don’t have any cats,” I said.
“Not anymore,” Charon replied.
“They got lost in yonder Kudzu,” he said with a crooked pointy finger, “and wound up on my boat.”
“They were someone else’s cats,” I said. “Not mine.”
“But this is your grandchild?” he asked me with a raised eyebrow, handing Olivia over, she with a big smile having enjoyed an adventure amongst unchecked crabgrass, bahaiagrass, johnsongrass, kudzu, muscadine vines, and the ever-relentless wisteria.
“Oh! Yes! Thanks!”
“You’d best tend to your yard,” Charon said, then vanished, creating a small vacuum where his presence had been, which was quickly filled with runners from a nearby wisteria bush. The tone in his voice was as shrill as the one Debbie used to rouse me from my air-conditioned nap. The jig is up. Busted. Now, out comes the mower and then the weedeater. After several hours, I found a couple of grandchildren I didn’t even know I had, and a friend I had not seen in years. I fixed my friend some ice tea and had him sit on the front porch under the stirring breeze of the ceiling fan while I finished mowing. We’d have lots to catch up on. Right before I cranked the mower up again, I heard Debbie say to the two recovered grandchildren, “My how you’ve grown!”
I thought about this as I mowed the yard, or the grounds, or the property. It certainly was no lawn…as twelve acres of mowing is far beyond the word “lawn”. It is a chore, a sore chore among the hot sun and daily rain. In the late evening hours, when the cicadas and tree frogs die down for just a moment or two, as they do for some reason, perhaps as an owl passes overhead, or a bat, or both, in the soft stillness and silence of that brief moment, you can hear the grass growing…the faint popping sounds as it explodes upward bit by bit, relentless, fearsome, fearless. I’ve heard it. I know what it sounds like. It’s remarkable what you can hear when it gets silent. It’s also remarkable what you can hear when you shut off your own internal dialog.
Those fleeting sounds sound a lot like Mississippi. They sound like our music, and in fact may just be where our music comes from; sort of slow and out of nowhere it creeps up on you, then overwhelms you and claims you for its own, just like the grass growing in my yard. I can mold it, shape it, fertilize it, poison it, trim it, tread on it, and bend it, but I cannot keep it at bay without constant attention. When summer passes, finally, it’ll calm itself down and leave us time to reflect as we watch the coals glowing in the firepit on cool, fall evenings, when the heat of summer and the relentless march of the crabgrass is just a faint memory.
Then, I’ll get Olivia and we’ll toast a marshmellow (Yes….marshm-e-l-l-o-w…I refuse to spell it any other way) or two over hickory coals and sing a song or two….perhaps a ballad, a dirge, a lonely blues song. Our speed won’t be any different than the summer speed, since that is the speed we were born with, but that is just our tempo here in Mississippi, and we can get a lot out of a little.
By the way, tempo has nothing to do with timing. If you’re a musician, you’ll understand that. Tempo ebbs and flows with adrenaline, energy and passion, but never let us be caught with bad timing. Bad timing is a destroyer. Bad timing is worse than a kudzu patch on the adjacent property.
So I’ll drink one more cup of coffee. The sun will be near enough to the horizon that daylight will be here in about twenty minutes, and I will be on the mower, as rushed in tempo as the grass will allow, but timing things just right as I sing three part harmony with myself to the hum of the mower’s engine. First, though, I better peruse the grounds to make sure no visitors or family members have been captured by the grass, reminding myself as I do, that there is always something to write about if you’ll just set yourself down and write, which is exactly what I did, because, for some reason, I must.
What must you do? If you write, must you do it, too?
©2014 Mississippi Chris Sharp