by John Everett
The message I got was to slow down, the teacher, a stalwart Southern
Last summer, after having been away from the South for over 17 years,
I moved back amidst failed plans, spoiled expectations, excitement
over the prospect of adventure, and a humid heat I could never have
prepared for, entrenched as I was in Colorado's built-in, all natural,
outdoor air conditioning.
Despite the chaos, during rare moments of lucidity, I was awestruck by
impossibly unrestrained and completely gorgeous verdure. In Colorado,
expert gardeners struggle like gold miners for hints of the greenery
that breaks out so wildly here. Magnolia, sweet and unusual Magnolia,
struck me most of all.
I remembered JJ Cale singing "Magnolia, you sweet thing, you're
driving me mad." JJ wasn't really singing about the tree, but I
think he was singing about someone who was wild and beautiful, and
mysterious, like the tree, quietly and consistently haunting him.
Writing is good, it provides me with a wonderful gift of remembrance.
I can dredge deeply into boyhood memories of Magnolia trees climbed,
used as shelter from the rain, and daydreamed under on bright, hot
days. Vividly remembering being lost next to ambrosial flowers,
hidden by a powerful and protecting presence, giant leathery leaves
and satiny flowers as big as dinner plates, shrinking me into a secret
world that fed and strengthened me, meeting me in my smallness.
Since the beginning of another summer packed with frenetic activity,
during the 12 hours each week I spend racing over Florida's
topography, to and from my ant-like endeavors to maintain an even keel
financially, I've been trying to remember when the Magnolias bloom.
I think the answer is that their annual resurrection efforts, which
actually do start up in April, are fragile shadows of the robust
efforts mustered up in May and June.
Last week, I passed the first noticeably budding Magnolia, hating the
fact that I was going 60 MPH with my windows up. Adding insult to my
self-inflicted injury, just two miles and two minutes later, I passed
a shredded scrap of road kill, an ex-Tabby, repulsive and foreboding
of grieving children over their lost pet, now, radically changed in
the blink of an eye by a hurried and harried driver just like myself.
The first budding-Magnolia spotting was all but forgotten. This, I
began to resolve, is not the way one should approach the resplendent.
The proper way to come upon a Magnolia is on foot or by bicycle. From
a distance, your eye can take in the whole of a giant's untended
shrubbery, fully framing it as if it were a diminutive Bonsai tree
sitting in a pot on your neighbor's front porch. Slowly walking
closer, the experience begins to be absorbed into your bloodstream
like some secret Chinese tea ritual, as the wind undertakes
unchallenged aroma therapy delivering an indefinable, but unmistakable
Finally arriving beneath it, walking has naturally provided enough
time to make a clean break from a rabid 60 MPH lifestyle. You're in
the presence of an unusual tree with waxy, patent leather leaves,
which might look more at home on a rubber tree plant, real or
artificial. But that's just because it's all so new, and there's no
better reference to compare it to. You sit for a while, and then you
walk back. That's how it should be done.
That's definitely how it should be done. Think. Walk up. Enjoy.
Slow down. Walk back. And if 2 miles up the road the un-resting
specter of random suffering flippantly tosses a tortured cat across
your walking path, you'll have had nearly an hour to relish and own a
little bit of the prior transcendence.
Not unmoved, you might even take a second hour to bring newly
sharpened sensitivities into perspective with a host of realities,
both bitter and sweet. Life contains dead cats as well as Southern
Magnolias, and all points between. Our own bitter, sweet, and
poignant realities come into focus as we slow down. These realities
may exact patience and more from us. They can arrive with tears and
without consistency, but they're all we've got and they're guaranteed
to be missed completely at 60 MPH.
Copyright © 1997