Brief Return to Alabama

I drove the 640 miles from West Virginia to visit my Alabama home Saturday, August 19, seven full weeks since I had departed. Normally, by three weeks into August, summer has taken its toll. Browning road medians and some fading tree and shrub foliage. Lawns that are yellow, no longer lush as they were early in the season. This year, however, medians along the entire route remained verdant. Lawns, even those along north Alabama rural routes at homes seldom if ever employing lawn treatment and sprinklers, appeared June-like. I prefer these years when Nature delivers ample rainfall across the long growing season, not that Nature cares or considers my preferences!

Sunday dawned clear, warm, and humid on Big Blue Lake. Big Blue stood quietly at the lake’s northern neck, either having rested there for the night, or just arriving for breakfast. He paid us little mind as we walked past and later returned. I doubt he noted that this was my first appearance in some fifty days. My heart filled to see him, always symbolizing my Dad’s spirit, welcoming me home, perhaps inquiring of how things are going at Fairmont State University, where I serve as Interim President.

Judy and I enjoyed a cup of coffee on the patio. Big Blue flew low across the water within thirty minutes, departing the neck, bee-lining for the southwest corner, then lifting across the second pond, rising above the trees on the far south shore, and to points beyond. Katy (our daughter) brought Jack and Sam (our two Alabama grandsons) to visit after our coffee. Jack, the 9.5-year-old, requested a walk around the lake. We departed counter clockwise. Leaping frogs preceded our passage by 10-15 feet. Several created enough ruckus to startle Sam (3.5 years). His attention shifted occasionally from the frogs to the goose poop spotting the grass and back again. I suppose priorities and perspective vary with the distance between heights of three and six feet, and ages from 3.5 to 66! Jack and I paid more attention to the many bass we saw hunting along the near-shore shallows, and the three green herons we watched come and go solo, and stalk along the shoreline or perch momentarily on lower willow branches. For the frogs, fish, and herons (green and great blue), predation in search of satiation is the order of the day. No omnivores, these voracious predators share the same food-stocks. These placid waters and their scaly, slippery, and feathered denizens soothe my psyche and reward my visual palette. The frog finds nothing soothing about Big Blue.

We did not see three other meat-eaters that we have encountered on past circuits: snapping turtle, snake, and hawk. What a privilege to call this rich environment home. What a relief to be above the dangerous lake community food chain! I imagine that few among my human neighbors pay much attention to life on the lake for other than themselves. I am fortunate to be able and adept at seeing far more than the houses and lawns that ring the lake. I have dedicated myself first to looking, and most importantly to seeing and feeling the magic, beauty, wonder, and awe that Nature affords and provides.

Amazing, too, is how much change I see over those two elapsed months. Our landscape plants have flourished. Subtle and somewhat invisible when viewed day after consecutive day, changes over the extended period of heat, moisture, and long days shout at me. Our loblolly pine, just four feet at planting, now stands close to seven feet. Our back-bed willow oak is very noticeably of larger girth. The list is long, evidencing Nature’s dynamism. Sometimes, only by stepping away for a bit, can we see change and progress. Nature teaches the lesson day in and day out.

Monday morning, Big Blue did not greet us from his fishing grounds in the neck. Instead, after our breakfast and my trip to the gym, we sat in the sun room reading. I glanced out the window over Judy’s shoulder. There stood Big Blue rooftop, a couple hundred yards to the south. He stood tall and regal. I gasped, grabbed my phone camera, and snapped the shutter just before he took flight. Not much resolution, yet the photo captures the moment, puzzling as it is. Why would this wading hunter land atop our neighbor’s roof? Perhaps to occupy my field of vision, to signal, “Here I am; welcome back.”

After I depart this coming Saturday for Fairmont, I may not return until the Christmas holiday. What changes by then? The average daily high will drop from 91 to 53; the low from 69 to 34. Average precipitation would see 16 inches fall now to mid-December. Leaves will go from green to fallen. Now-dry, standing corn at eight feet will be combined. The cotton, now in flower, will have fruited, opened to lovely balls of filament, and been harvested. The night will last three hours and three minutes longer. Our flower bed annuals will have succumbed to first frosts and then deep freezes. We won’t need the covered patio ceiling fan to cool us morning or evening — instead, even on mild days we’ll don sweat shirts. All that, and yet day to day will bring only barely discernible change. As in all of life and business, shifts occur that only seasonally and across the sweep of time reveal patterns and depth.

As I’ve repeated time and time again, only when we consciously and purposely look, do we see. And only when we focus our vision, do we see deeply enough to evoke the feelings that stir our passion to act. Such is the secret sauce of Nature-inspired living, learning, serving, and leading. The sauce is an elixir for me. Nature fuels my life. Just today (August 21, 2017) the Great American Eclipse raced across the US from Oregon to South Carolina at 1,850 miles per hour.

Judy, Jack, and I watched the eclipse reach 98 percent here in Madison, AL at ~1:30. We viewed it through the special glasses we wore. We also watched live video and highlights on The Weather Channel. I admit to somewhat regretting that I did not head north the two-and-one-half hours (on normal traffic days) to experience totality. I rationalized that the return home could very well have taken twice as long. Even at 98 percent, I felt the magic. We reached near-dusk. The temperature dropped ten degrees. I was struck by how many of the Weather Channel meteorologists along the route reached tear-filled levels of emotion.

I felt it, too, even outside the zone of totality. So many of Nature’s wonders bring me to and beyond misty-eyes. The path of total darkness did not leave telltale signs in its wake. The Earth does not bear a scar. No vestige of its passing marks the land or vegetation. Yet, like so many events and happenings, the solar eclipse left its mark on the hearts and souls it touched. Many of the eyewitnesses interviewed said that the image and impact will live with them forever. My own threshold for “living with me forever” is one that I cross almost daily. I am grateful that my heart, soul, and spirit are so accessible. That I can feel Nature’s power and wisdom without waiting for years, decades, and longer (as in the case of a total solar eclipse), to feel the magic and wonder.

Are you feeling the magic and vitality of living, learning, serving, and leading in your life and work? Great Blue Heron can help you discover Nature’s elixir. Contact me to learn how we can find the magic within you, and bring it to the surface.


Featured Image: Big Blue found a perch atop our neighbor’s roof. He stood there for a few minutes, stork-like!