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Spring-Like Day Is Good For Gazing

The snub-nosed blue truck, dull with caked mud, slid around the bend on Lafayette Street and shot past #62 headed over the smooth road leading toward Boyd Street. The hour was midday, neither morning nor afternoon.

While most Water Valley drivers pause politely at all the stop and wait traffic signs, some move forward with hunched shoulders and great purpose once their vehicle is again in gear. Was this driver hungry and in need of lunch, was he late for work and wanting to avoid a reprimand or maybe he was in love and thinking about a rendezvous with his sweetheart?

A wraparound porch on the gift of a spring day in the middle of winter invites a sit-down in the swing and aimless speculation on the wider world. The sun bores its warmth into the earth, softening the dirt around the edges of the stone steps that bridge the mud from car to side door. The first green shoots of snowdrops have appeared, reassuring the doubtful that spring will return. A song sparrow greets David Frizell’s red mail truck and the incoming mail.

Two turkey buzzards sit gloomily on a high dead tree trunk waiting in solidarity for their chum who has somehow impaled himself with wings spread wide below. Not seeing much progress, I move along to the shed and sort through my garden tools, easing their joints with a few drops of WD-40 oil. When I again look up, all three buzzards have moved on to better times.

During a day of gazing idly at the passing show, I realize after two years on Lafayette Street, I have assembled, quite unbeknownst to those involved, a cast of characters I depend on. A passing truck, the silhouette of pecan trees, the whistle of black starlings, the stare of the turkey buzzard, the dance of a squirrel atop a high wire, the prancing walk of a black cat across the yard: all play their part in my Mississippi days.

When you pack your bags, strip your life of the familiar, vital things get left behind. On an unexpected New York warm day in winter, I would snag a seat on the M4 bus to ride up Madison Avenue. One avenue over, near 105th Street stretches an often-visited section of Central Park.

A tall black iron gate made in France marks the entrance. The gate once belonged to the highfalutin Vanderbilts, guarding their mansion against the riffraff. Now it lets anyone in, allowing all upper Fifth Avenue strollers a path through the six acres of the Conservancy Garden.  

Bronze statues of Mary and Dickon, characters from the children’s book The Secret Garden, stand in a fountain. Quiet and gray in winter, the flower beds hide under mounds of leaves and the naked tree branches form a black tangle against the sky. Come summer, water lilies float in the fountain, the pergola drips wisteria, pale pink anemones spill over the fence. Volunteers from around the city, wearing matching blue shirts, will be found bottoms up pulling weeds and keeping order.

A woman in the big town is unlikely to spot a turkey buzzard and a citizen of Mississippi travels without an M4 bus, yet both know the unexpected warmth of the sun in January.

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