The Guest Room
Musings, Memories & Epiphanies Inspired by Place
If we know exactly where we’re going,
exactly how to get there,
and exactly what we’ll see along the way,
we won’t learn anything.
Three miles is a lot further than you think — when you have to walk it every day. It was more than an inconvenience, it was a test of will, stamina and patience. It was more than a minor disruption, it was a full on assault to the soul, already tired from a day of work, and what seemed to be one ‘crisis’ after another.
It was out of necessity, really. There was only one vehicle, and two of us. I needed to arrive at my workplace an hour before my husband would have to show up for his job.
“No biggie”, I had said the first few times. I wanted to appear that I considered it nothing more than a slight inconvenience, figuring that is how most people probably would see it. In reality, as the situation continued, my mind often raced around, trying to figure out a way to get home sooner, rather than later. A co-worker would make a willing gesture on occasion and offer me a ride home. Other times, they were already gone before I had literally packed my bags, which brimmed over with papers to grade, full of the words of wisdom from the 10 year-old minds of my students.
My three-mile trek home was on the fast track to becoming a major resentment, saved from that fate by my fellow commuter.
The “walk”, as my son Hunter and I began to refer to it, became a part of our afternoons. It brought us down a main vein of travel through a neatly manicured development, with small subdivisions neatly tucked throughout. A community center with a pool and playground. Clean cement sidewalks that meandered adjacent to the roadway, dumped out to an older road, one with single wide trailers that were permanently placed, their owners sometimes trying to emulate the new subdivisions that had sprung up around their more ‘established’ community.
It was on one of these first walks home, that I began to realize the things I never saw or noticed when I drove down this street. Every walk home began to unfold hidden secrets that were there. One of my first experiences, the one in which I was grateful (at that moment) to be in Florida, began my true journey.
Warm breezes gently brushed my cheeks on that day in December. The sun shone bright, warm, and soothing. With my son by my side, we ventured off of the school campus, crossed the four lanes of travel to the eastward bound sidewalk.
“Mom, did you know that there’s a really cool place down here where the mud turtles hang out?” Hunter asked.
“No, I didn’t. By the way, how did school go today?” Not really interested in his ‘finds’ originally, I was going about the ‘business as usual’ conversation; one that would normally take place with Hunter in the smooth leather passenger seat next to me, in the confines of our air conditioned family car.
“Good. But Mom, when we get there, can I show you something?” almost begging, with a voice that was beginning to change another octave lower.
“Sure…. we just can’t mess around and hang out somewhere. I’d like to get home.” I retorted.
As we walked home that first day together, I noticed how the clean cement held fast, the black mold in small crevices, and pits in it, caused by the shells in the cochina breaking away. Cement in much of Florida, I noted, utilized small sea shells rather than just rock, sand, and gravel. The black mold had found a place to lay in wait, unseen to the quick pass-by inspection of a motor vehicle.
The air held the faint tease of jasmine lying in wait, along with scent of mildewed Spanish moss that hung fast to the towering southern oak and pine trees that clung to the landscape. We walked at a leisurely pace, discussing whatever came to mind. Our thoughts went from persons we knew, to scenery that had slowed down around us.
Arriving a few miles down the road, Hunter pointed to a hedge of sawgrass and palmetto. “It’s right over there, just beyond the brush.”
We tread carefully, looking for snakes, scorpions, or spiders to avoid. A small path opened up to a dark body of water. Sliders and mud turtles looked to our direction, then darted below the sleek surface of the pond.
“How’d you find this?” I asked.
“I decided to follow the path off of the sidewalk. It was heading toward our house, and I figured it would be fun to explore.” Hunter beamed, proud of the ‘secret world’ that he was producing to me.
We spent half an hour, just walking around the pond. Small, silver fish darted away as we came upon the shoreline they hovered in. The turtles, intermittently, poked their heads above the water, taking time to track our every move.
Birds sang, swooped, and sat around us. A blue heron kept his distance, and kept directly across the man-made structure at any given juncture.
Our discussion was now about how humans had begun to encroach on the native habitats, altering their world forever. This little pond, tucked away, was a ‘spill off’ from the developments that surrounded it. Built to hold the water at bay from the new habitats built for humans. Tucked away with all of its secrets; the ones that Hunter found, an relished.
We slowly made our way home that afternoon, talking about the world, the earth, and our spot in the grand schema of things. Our new-shared secret spot opened up another world of conversation. Deep meanings, questions of life, and lingering thoughts and fears would be shared on those future walks.
With a new school year, new travel awaits my son. Hunter is off to middle school now, riding the bus to his new school. I am left by myself to wonder if the bus will slow down long enough for him to notice; some path, a spot in the tree line, a new destination. One that is there, if you look for it.
Photos courtesy of Christa Harrison
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