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Boy in tree (c) ArtToday - All rights reserved.

Magnolias

by John Everett

The message I got was to slow down, the teacher, a stalwart Southern Magnolia.

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 essence.

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.


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