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Deep Southern Roots

I am headed home today. After being gone for what feels like a short lifetime, I am finally heading back to the people and place I love. I am changed. Not the same person that left. I have been altered by the landscapes and the experiences and all the leaving.

I wasn’t sure how or even why I needed to come home to Tallahassee. I think I resist the part of me that lived here, grew up here and even the parts of me that left here, multiple times. I guess on some level I am still searching for a synthesis of myself that incorporates all the fractured pieces of my heart and soul. Perhaps everyone feels this way. Perhaps it is only me. Doubtful as I have yet to have a feeling or even a thought that was completely my own....

I have noticed roots on this trip. Specially the roots of giant, sky reaching trees. Gnarled roots that tangle and curve their way deep into the earth. I have felt like I understand that twisted mantle of fiber and sinew encased in the dried bark that dives deep into the earth. I feel like that a lot. Like the whole of my tender being is encrusted with a protective outer layer that gives way easily and almost completely when you break the surface level. If you are capable of digging just a little you will see the tender shoot that is barely underground, the whiteness of my tendril that fastens me in place and time.

I said my goodbyes to my soul sisters yesterday, hugging them each tightly in my grasp. Holding onto the past and present with a forward thought to our futures. I took them all into my heart. And let them find their place much like a dog or cat might turn around in circles until the spot to rest is gently readied for its occupation. I walked away content to have them all sleeping quietly in my soul. This image provides so much more comfort for me than the idea of walking away. No goodbye, just a simple cat nap in a sunstroked afternoon until we meet again.

I felt the pull to move toward water. I needed to get to the Florida shore. But a virulent red tide made that impossible. Instead, I was called toward the wild rivers of the south. First to the Wakulla where I paddled my canoe down the spring fed wildness. I was blessed with feeding manatees, lots of them. Giant seacows silently making their way among the river grass. I watched them swim next to my canoe, wholly undisturbed by my presence. I just meandered with them down the river. There is something absolutely life affirming to be accepted by manatees. Something that one really should experience for themselves...

I saw a young gator sunbathing on a fallen tree. Eagles and egrets, kingfishers and ospreys. The mullet jumped as if a floor show was scheduled for the afternoon agenda. The sun lit up the river and made it into glass. Mirroring the sky and providing me a view that now lives deeply in my heart and mind.

But what held my interest even more than the fauna was the Cypress trees. Most specifically their roots. They emblematic of my own. Each knee pushing out of the water and pulling back into itself then plunging again into the clear, cold water. This is how my roots exist in this place. I was planted here a long time ago and my roots remain. But I am not like a live oak with deep roots that dive into the earth. But more like the Cypress whose tether in place feels more transitory. Like the roots are afraid to go down too far, making their location too permanent for their liking. Instead, dipping into the earth, only to pull itself out again to take another view. Later deciding that the locale is not so bad and going for another plunge, anchoring it more deeply to this place and time.

Those are my roots here. I return again and again to this place with spring fed rivers, replete with wildlife and flora that is dazzling and lush. There are those that may quibble with my characterization of anywhere in Florida being the Deep South. To those I say, you have obviously never been here...because if you had, you would know about the hanging tree in Cascades Park. The solitary memorial to the Deep South’s horrifically brutal past. The division between North and South, the color line that still cleaves humanity into black and white, rich and poor. If you came here, you would know.

I ended my day on the St. Marks River which is not spring fed but a tidal marsh where the sea invades the land. A great confluence of stream and tide. I saw a gator swimming, searching for dinner. I am always amazed at their stealth and grace and how they cautiously maintain their deadly presence, threatening always to ruin your day if not your life. I saw a giant eagle’s nest and ospreys on the hunt. I saw white Ibis flocks moving from tree to tree in search of a suitable place to do whatever Ibises do on lazy Sunday afternoons. I saw a deer dart across the road and disappear into the lush landscape of Florida’s coast.

I watched the lighthouse beckon in the distance, calling out a friendly warning that soon the land would give way to water. I watched the mullet leap and fly, chasing bugs across the surface of the water. Living unconcerned of their trash fish reputation.

I was amazed at how much I love I have for a place like this. This beautiful southern landscape that nestles its tainted past upon a shoreline that shocks you with beautiful. Slaps you into the presentness of your life. The Cypress trees lining the shore like stalwart soldiers whose only job it is to always threaten retreat with roots that refuse to go deep, yet never really ever get to leave.

This is how I feel about this place that has been the longest home I have ever known. My tentative history, anchored now in the presence of my view. The myth of my own permanence not unlike the Cypress’ ideas that their existence is really more temporal than they believe. Each of us being bound to this place deep in the southern landscape of our lives. Neither of us being able to eradicate its influence and bend. Both me and the Cypress always finding sustenance and countenance here.

Some root systems run deep. Others skim the coastal shorelines, pulling knees up to wooden chests. I am like that, a tentative inhabitant to a land that I both love and hate with similar passion. Anchored to myself with a furtive descendent that holds me steady in my life. Fettered to this landscape, this place, this time. My time away really just another shoot downward into often brackish water, waiting for the next growth spurt to send my rooted knee skyward again.

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