Praying Mantis Green. And Lee Smith.

For various reasons, I haven’t been writing. I’ve been THINKING about writing, but not actually doing it. Part of it was health related (more on that later) part of it was a much-needed change in jobs, but most of it was because the urge wasn’t there. Something was missing to spur me on, to keep me going line after line.

But the health-related problems abated, the job changed, Spring came, and I found I was out of excuses. I made changes because the urge was there. I got that new job. Instead of Sirius or Itunes on the hour-long commute, I started listening to audio books. Began with Lee Smith’s, On Agate Hill and found that as I traversed the rolling hills near my home, snaking my way around them to finally emerge onto the main road, Smith’s words settled on my mind like a fine rain. She writes of Appalachia. Of doomed love, and tragic death. Real Southern Gothic stuff. The legends of my ancestors, both sides of which came from the very valley I reside in now. Her words sound like roots music. Like a banjo and fiddle. They lilt and yarn, twist and stretch themselves into a Southern langorous way, slowly meandering, taking its time. It calms me while at the same time inserts a longing, a missing of family in my heart. Family gone, and not gone. Because there are always memories. And so I’m urged to write by the sound of her words.

And as I sit here now at midnight, writing, up because of insomnia and because it is thunderstorming outside and my dog Lois is vitally afraid of thunder, I find I’m no longer afraid of insomnia. Or storms. I used to down benadryl like candy to fight the insomnia, to force myself to sleep. Now I sleep when it comes. If it comes at all.

I used to be afraid of Lois bolting during our walks, running away and never coming back, but when it happened today I wasn’t afraid. I laughed, gathered myself up, and started singing out her favorite word, “Ride! Ride!” (she loves the car). She had bolted after a squirrel, causing the leash to run fast in my hand and me to almost fall over. She took off into the woods, racing, galloping like a thoroughbred, at one point all four legs were in the air at the same time, her floppy black ears pointing straight back off her head like pigtails, her smile wide and grinning. She raced away like a little girl child. But when I called, she turned to look at me – she seemed to be giggling – before running back.

We had been out for an afternoon walk in the woods. It has been raining for what seems like years and because of that the trees have exploded their new spring leaves all at once. Overnight my woods are a jungle of new life. Trees are covered entirely with a fine mossy green down. Tiny little green leaves. Newly born. Brand new spring. The whole world is the color of a praying mantis, a bright acidy green. The air smells mossy and green too, like an old cemetery. Like the cemetery we found as children in the middle of the woods. Full of stones so old they’d been worn down to nothing and the tiny plot surrounded by a rusty iron fence.

As we walk I notice the new fiddlehead ferns on the forest floor, the tiny violets, the wild dogwood and azaleas that struggle to grow in this deep woods. Tiny white rosebud type flowers on a vine that I can’t identify. Everything is quiet and new and good. Even when I call out to Lois because of her running away, it doesn’t disturb anything. It’s more like a bird call.

I love Lee Smith’s book because it reminds me of this forest. Quiet yet wild at the same time. Musical. Green. Old. It’s a book I wished I had written because I have a feeling much of my family has lived it. But instead of me telling my family’s story, she did. It’s like she stole it away in the night. I love that she did it. But I hate that it wasn’t me.

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