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Been Thinkin' About...Oaks, sun, crossroads

The sun glistens waxy oak leaves, so dark green the leaves appear almost black in the bright. The summer is hot. The wind is hot. When temperatures rise like this, the forest becomes a different place. Cedars release their oil into the atmosphere and the oaks in all their density and grandeur begin to smell, well, like oaks. The smell is subtle but impossible to overlook once experienced. The forest smells of standing in an old oak cabin on a hot afternoon. The forest smells of ancient wood, of sacrifice, of hope, and honoring the past, the ancestors on the breeze.

 

A bend in the trail, a clearing, something of a grassy meadow. First fruits, blackberries, ripening amid the brambles. Mindful of snakes, I taste a few berries. It seems only days ago, these berries were just cold, white blossoms in a cold gray rain. Blackberry winter, we called it. The blackberries are sweet, juicy. You need the right amount of water in the soil at the right time to plump the berries, but you also need the hot sun to make them sweet — a combination that never seemed to be right in the meadows at home, long ago. The hot breeze tussles the canes. Hard to believe that, without human intervention, wild blackberries – heck, wild everything — has been breathing and breeding and creating since time immemorial. Humans are never as important as we think, but we also are part of this wild and wooly universe pulsing with life.

 

Afternoon, then evening, shade comes in weird relief. The hot summer wind is still there, now in the shade of the forest. A gray racer flicks his tongue, testing the air. Somewhere not far off, a dog barks. The sound of traffic returns to the world. There is a lost innocence after an afternoon like this. Some dreams crumbling, some unfurling in the summer sun. Climate control — and for air conditioning I am thankful — walls us away from the elements, heavy drapes keep out the blinding heat. Comfort, yes, but also distance. Distance from the earth and the turn of the year. Distance can be dangerous. Reality catches us unawares.

 

The world changes in a turn. War, famine, supply chain, inflation, economy, society. Trust is gained, trust is lost. On social media, we each may find our own sense of celebrity, our own voice, real, or artificial. Looking back, it feels at times I grew up in an America that was some sort of strange dream. Four news stations, all with the same script. An AP wire dangerous only in its gate-kept straight-lacedness. Sure, we had our squabbles, but we were number one, kept square and fair and constantly reminded that it was "those" countries over there, somewhere far away with their funny ways and a dearth of freedom, which propagandized and lied and were a threat to liberty. If you never stray from the prescribed path, you never know the guards or the gates or the walls. Excommunication never comes for the holy, or the perfect.

 

It is funny to watch an empire fall, even if the empire is only within our own minds. The world has indeed changed. Or has it? The summer wind still tussles the berry canes in the high grass. The racer still tests the air, gray, sleek ribbon rippling in the dust. Somewhere, not far off, a dog barks. I stand in the sun amid oak, an ancient and whispering place, the crossroads of time and space, grateful for those closest. And I whisper to myself, "The future is what we make it."

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