The pond that laughs so loud

We, my family and I, spent the first part of the week walking down seemingly forgotten trails in the Wheeler Wildlife Refuge. In mid January the water oak leaves that paved most of the winding routes felt undisturbed as they crunched beneath our feet and those of our 17-month-old son.

We did this for about an hour for three days — retreating into the woods to feel our muscles flex, laugh at the dog and baby and marvel at the sun. It is not an opportunity that typically comes along in winter so we let the weather rule us, lure us like a magnet onto our feet and sometimes into the cold.

There are at least 10 things we could have done and should have done, but this, like a prayer, felt as natural and essential as bathing or kissing a child goodnight.

Winter is beautiful in her own hard-earned way, but as far as seasons she is usually upstaged by spring. But winter dazzles quietly, swaying her bare branches against afternoon sun, guarding a mighty river that they say sings. After all, aren’t the most pleasant people those who at least feign ignorance of their good looks?




Give me the dark chocolate, please


As a writer, oftentimes I scold myself for not having a wider vocabulary.

In his book “On Writing,” Stephen King urges novelists to refrain from using large words for their own sake when you would never say them in conversation. I agree, I just wish my word well ran deeper.

But words are like food. Eating the bad stuff is so easy and so filling, for a time. Then the body yearns for substance. It yearns to see “misogynistic” or “unscrupulous” on a page. Sorry, those were the biggest words I could conjure.

Do not panic. You can have your kale juice with your biscuits most mornings. Just remember to ingest that kale juice.

I’ll blame my word palette, as I do most bad habits, on the hedonistic pleasures of the newsroom. Scanner blaring police mumblings in your ear, pizza every other day and birthday cake every week, you gain weight in these joyful, windowless caves, but you lose words. You are, after all, writing for an audience that should understand paragraphs an eighth grader can comprehend. So-called 50-cent words are rarely allowed in news stories. Maybe once or twice a year you can sneak in “sublimate.” I’m kidding, you would never get away with that.

The average reporter will in many senses, dull a vocabulary she built reading Kierkegaard and Shakespeare in college so the masses will understand her. (I haven’t touched either of them since graduating). Yet, it must be tiring, even for readers at an eighth grade level — insulting even — to only be fed mostly flavorless white chocolate. Why must we save all the rich, dark chocolate for when we read late into the night? Dark chocolate words feel good on the tongue, sound expensive and are good for you. And they usually smell pretentious. Too often we write and read milk chocolate. Confession: I am currently reading “Life,” by Keith Richards, so there is more delicious, salty popcorn to be found than dark chocolate.

Perhaps subscriptions would increase if we threw readers a word bone, I mean cartilage? At this point, why not step it up and see. We have nothing to lose. There is little denying that journalists bear direct responsibility for promoting good writing and fair reporting while educating readers about a subject and the mechanics used to convey that.

Praise the Lord it’s fall, y’all


If the South followed the Chinese and dedicated the year, we would praise vegetables and this would be the year of the pumpkin. As I strolled my son past houses that have become as familiar to us as our clothing, I realized that somewhere, the sun was setting on a bare pumpkin patch. At home after home — mostly one-level ranches — pumpkins sat on steps, porches and on bales of hay trucked in especially for the honor. ¬†Even at houses where the garbage cans never leave the street or where the closest thing to a flower is patch of early winter rye, squat Cinderella pumpkins sit perched beside a painted wood scarecrow that holds a bunch of sunflowers. My husband and I took our son to a pumpkin patch outside Huntsville last weekend, the first below 80 degrees this fall, to find ourselves one of at least 200 families riding a train shaped like an ear of corn, posing in front of a round bale of hay painted like the Cookie Monster. We hollered with glee as we watched a woman shoot near rotten gourds into an open field with a pneumatic cannon.

Southerners have never needed an excuse to celebrate anything. Give us mud and a jeep and we give thanks for the earth. Give us a grill and a pig and we will claim we make the best barbecue in the state.

I have concluded that all this pumpkin joy arose from our arch enemy that we love to hate, but would leave us little to gripe about if she went away: the heat.

We are really just beside ourselves that summer did, in fact, end. Finally we can push our shorts and sundresses to the side of the closet and open an L.L. Bean catalog without utter jealousy of New Englanders. See, autumn is our secret here, because the contrast with summer is so stout that it feels and looks like God has opened his hand and shown us a glimpse of a quiet, content world bathed with a golden glow. If we are lucky will last until December.

The stack of pumpkins on my porch will not last that long, but perhaps that is the point.