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~ Orannhawk ~

It’s the time of the year where just

stepping outside makes it hard to

breathe. Temperatures are in the

triple digits and the expected heat

indexes range between 115 to

120 degrees. I took photos late in

the afternoon of the clouds, a swath

of hail loops appearing more like

soft, raw billowy dinner rolls tossed 

upside down. Eventually they drifted away, replaced by twilight.

There are events I miss, memories that crop up, especially in the heat of summer, when my frustration with daylight savings time peaks with my summer-onset seasonal affective disorder. I keep the blinds and curtains closed, using lights only when needed if I am in the room, and offset the heat with ceiling fans to 
keep from turning down the AC unit. The confinement feels claustrophobic, but the heat is worse.

It feels genetic, ancestral, this connection with the weather and the elements. Like my dad, and my Papaw, I don’t like being cooped up inside all the time. When I found my house, it came with a large yard, and a few odd trees in the backyard. Apprehension set in a few days after moving in, when I realized I had nowhere to go. I panicked with the confinement. No one seemed to understand what I felt, the sense of isolation, the need to walk out the door and not end up in some random neighbor’s yard.

Growing up, when I walked outside, I could wander through our backyard, into Papaw’s, then onto two aunties, all without crossing the road. Granted, it was rare for much traffic if any, but crossing the road would land me at an uncle’s house, or at my Apache neighbor Susie’s doorstep. At any given time, there were cousins ready to play or visit with, and plenty to keep us occupied. We fed the horses, chickens, and dogs, played on the swings and playground equipment my dad welded from old oil field pipe, or simply ran back and forth between the properties. regardless of the weather.

Extreme weather held an allure for me, and my dad and Papaw. All three of us wanted to be out in it, to experience it fully. Heavy rains or the rare snowfall meant piling into the truck and heading out to one of many country roads to see how high the water was, and if the old iron bridges were holding out. My mother tolerated it, although she didn’t hold the same excitement and enthusiasm as we did. In high school my best friend would pick me up in his old truck and we would head out to more country roads where the bar ditches were deeper, park off the road and have amazing snowball fights.

In the early summers, we camped within twenty feet of a creek, nestled under huge oak and cypress trees. On one side of the creek, the foliage grew deep, crawling up a high cliff with more majestic trees. Some years the creek was nothing more than sporadic puddles, so we walked it looking for interesting rocks, and carrying jugs down to the natural spring for our drinking water. Often, the creek flowed and two of my aunties would venture down the muddy pathway, wearing old house dresses and carrying their lawn chairs. They’d sit in the creek with the water flowing waist high, with a small ice chest tied between them, 
and drink Lone Star beer throughout the afternoon. And they’d sing, loud and crazy, and often throw in something reminiscent of a yodel or war cry, one never knew which, especially when the beer was running low. Years later, it was just as common for us to put our ‘littles’ in a playpen in the creek shallows, while we sat in our lawn chairs and enjoyed the cool water.

More cousins joined in the fun, with families scattered over the forty acres. A few brought tents, but most of us slept in the open, with an occasional tarp strung from the massive trees. I recall less than a handful of travel trailers there, mainly for some of the elderly family members. In the late afternoons, and into the 
night, the sounds of peafowls above the cliffs serenaded us. We slept well, waking to the aroma of coffee and bacon cooking over the campfires. I hated leaving at the end of the week, knowing it would be a year before I saw most of these relatives.

The creek kept us cool, and we ran off excess energy with foot races, baseball games and running from one camp to another. We walked everywhere, and our parents never worried about where we were. With that many families, we were always in sight of someone we knew. At night, there was a carnival with rides and the usual booths to win anything from stuffed animals to beautiful glass dishes. Clean from the creek, we made our way to the carnival and then to the open-air dance, where we all learned to dance and watched as many of the less than sober adult males slid their way across the cement floor. I suspect it was sobering for most to take those slides, leaving their backsides coated with the colored chalk to make dancing easier.

Some of the cousins still gather there, staying for a week, like we once did. But it’s not the same. It had been years since I ventured back through those gates, and I left feeling lost, disillusioned, struggling with the conflicting landscape before me. That was over five years ago, and as much as I miss how it was, I have chosen not to return. There are many people camping there now who have no connection to any of the original families, but I wasn’t prepared for extremism. Huge RVs sat where old campsites were, like an influx of urban sprawl. The hum of air conditioners filled the air, and golf carts sped in and out.

Evidently walking was an anomaly. The carnival no longer comes there, but there are a few dances during the week, along with other events, like dominos, ice cream socials, and organized games for the kids, but I knew I would not camp there again. One can’t get to the spring anymore, and how anyone maneuvered 
so many massive RVs down the old dirt roads closest to the creek remains mind boggling. The defining factor for me was the abundance of confederate flags. I don’t belong there.

Closer to home, some of my favorite old bridges remain, although they sit below, rusting away, as we drive across the ‘new and improved’ ones. The new ones don’t shake or groan, and you can barely see the creek below as we leave only with our memories. Housing developments flank many of the older country roads, leaving one to wonder if anyone there would understand the significance of being there to see the high water or play in the snow banked bar ditches. There are those of us who remember, and we hold those memories close.

I have more trees in my yard, a place where, albeit small, I walk and leave food and water for the birds and squirrels, and the occasional raccoon or possum. The wandering coyote hasn’t shown itself in a while, but I do hear them sing at night, and their songs soothe me. Staying confined inside, especially during the fall to spring months remains difficult, if not impossible. Sleeping outside is reserved now for short naps, depending on the interruptions of the squirrels and birds. But the inner call to drive out to see the high water, or the barren creek beds remains. Elemental, ancestrally bound to my soul.