When I was a senior in high school I applied to exactly two colleges. One was Duke because that's where I wanted to go and my back-up was the University of Denver because, well, it's a short story but it involves my stepfather and I do not care to go into it. Frankly, I think he wanted me as far away as possible.
Anyway, although I tested quite well and had good SAT's, my grades were not perfect. I had missed three months of school in my Junior year due to almost dying from mononucleosis and although before I got sick I had been a practically perfect in every way student, after I recovered I simply wasn't as obsessed with getting straight A's.
Almost dying will do that to you.
So Duke sent me a nice letter saying that no, they would not accept me in the fall but would accept me for the spring semester following that whereas DU (yes, DU) was happy to take me as I was as soon as possible. Since there was no way I was going to stay in Winter Haven, Florida in that house for one more day than was absolutely necessary, I signed right up for whatever Denver had to offer.
Of course, I'd never been to Denver but I'd just gotten back from a fairly extensive tour of Europe with a group and felt quite cosmopolitan and shit and was sure that I could handle Denver. Why not? The brochure looked pretty good. Interesting buildings, trees on campus, mountains to the west.
So my parents flew out there with me and when we approached the city I thought to myself, "Dear god, what have I done?" Denver was not green. It was brown. Instead of lakes and rivers and an ocean there were mountains so high that they looked as if they might pierce the sky in a painful way. Well. There I was.
I got settled into my dorm, met my roommate, a rather awkward but sweet girl who was actually from Denver and began my fairly brief college career in Colorado.
I was such a round hole in a square peg and I won't get into all the ways that was true but let's just put it this way- I was so fucking miserable. I was homesick for my tribe and the boyfriend I'd left behind. I listened to Joni Mitchell's "Blue" relentlessly. I entered my first real bout of depression. And the worst thing of all was the lack of trees and water. I just...could not deal with that. I'd go to the Botanical Gardens and walk around and smell plants and cry.
I stuck it out for a year and a half but that was all I could do. I was a complete mess. When I went home for a Christmas holiday I started up a romance with a guy who lived in Tallahassee. The boyfriend I'd left behind had left me behind but this boy, this different boy, was sweet and he told me, "If you hate Denver, move to Tallahassee. You can live with me."
Poor thing. I took him up on it.
And basically, that's how I came to live here. That was forty-five years ago.
The romance did not last and I think I lived with that sweet boy for about a week but then I was taken in by a friend of his, a woman I love to this day. And honestly, I still love that boy and we are still friends so it all worked out.
But I'll never forget driving from Denver to Tallahassee in my little, crappy Ford Capri with my rocking chair (still have it), my pressure cooker (I've replaced it), and my parakeets (dead a long, long time now) and how I felt when the country I was driving through went from dry and bare and spare and cold to verdant and green and humid and warm and goddammit, I was so happy.
And in an example of extreme ironic coincidence, just as I started writing about trees here and how much I love them and all of the green that grows around me I suddenly heard a huge cracking, ripping noise which I know all too well from hurricanes and storms and which sent a huge jolt of adrenalin through my body (I am sitting on my back porch) and then the whush of leaves as they are being dropped from one place to another and finally, the loud crash of a large tree limb hitting the ground.
When I tell you that the earth shakes a bit when this happens I am not kidding you.
That, my friends, is a hellvasciously large pecan limb and somehow it avoided taking out part of the porch roof OR the AC unit. It just grazed one of my camellias.
Time to get out the chain saw. Well, not for me to use but for Glen to use. Cut, haul, burn.
I love my trees with all of my heart but they can kill you dead if you're in the wrong place at the wrong time but I will live with that threat gladly because if I'd had to live in Denver for another year I probably would have died at the age of twenty.
Please know that I am not disparaging Denver or Colorado. Some people are mountain people and they find themselves at home and their souls at peace in the mountains, whether those of the Rockies or the Smokies or the Alps. But as I said yesterday, I am a flatlander and a southerner, too, to be honest. I need the water and the warmth. I need an ocean nearby. I need the grace of the green for my heart to be at home. As beautiful as mountains are I never feel like I belong on one although I have had some beautiful times on a few. I can appreciate their beauty and their majesty but they are not where I belong.
Sometimes I am not sure I belong here, either. I moved to Tallahassee on a whim and an invitation which was no doubt given with the thought that I'd never accept it. I came to call it home. I made friends who are still friends to this day. I learned to love the rivers and the beaches although to me, the ocean will always be the Atlantic which is where I lived when I was a young child. Still- saltwater. I have come to love the ancient oaks, the Spanish moss which drapes their limbs, the azaleas, the camellias, the ferns and palmetto, the canopy roads, and the red dirt. I stuck around. I fell in love with another man from Winter Haven and he ended up moving here and playing music with a guy I met the first day I arrived in Tallahassee. We had two kids. It was okay for a few years and then it wasn't. We divorced and I went to nursing school and met a guy in a bar who was inappropriately tall. He asked me to dance (my ex-husband's band was playing) and before I knew it, he'd claimed the highest shelf in my closet and was giving my children Christmas presents and you know the rest.
We had two more children. He built businesses. The children grew up, some of them had babies of their own. And now I am as rooted here as one of the oaks and I could no more leave this place than I could leave my own body.
Which I will someday.
But probably not today.
My last remaining baby of Dearie's is laying eggs now. This is what they look like.
Can you see how round her eggs are? Such a pretty egg.
I am getting seven eggs a day now. When the babies start laying, and it looks to me like they all may actually be hens but I've been wrong before- I could theoretically get eleven eggs a day.
I live in a place which is not only verdant but fecund. And I suppose that's where I'm meant to be although I don't really believe in fate or "meant to be." Things happen. Boy kisses girl. Girl packs her car. One Capri carload of stuff becomes enough stuff to fill a huge old house, to furnish the life of a wife, a mother a grandmother.
That's how it goes.
That's how it is.
P.S. Those trees in the DU brochure? They were not there. Fuck them.
P.P.S. That awkward, sweet girl who was my roommate eventually became the State's Attorney for Colorado and then the Secretary of the Interior for George W. Bush. I am not shitting you. And by the way- she DID inhale.