“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” ~ John Muir.
The week between Christmas and the New Year has always been special to me, mostly because my birthday falls in this week. Today is extra special because it falls on a Friday, and I was born on a Friday, early in the morning. Like the rest of my siblings I was a home birth, delivered by a midwife, with the rest of family life going on around me. There was trauma associated with my birth. The lady who was helping to run the household while my mother was confined to bed (bed rest after delivery being thought to be a necessary practice in those days) cooked porridge (oatmeal) for breakfast, and true to her Scottish heritage, added salt to the pot. Hence the trauma for my siblings who were used to the sweet version.
For the past 14 years I have had a job where I am on vacation over the Christmas break, a situation unheard of in my nursing years. Like most nurses I was resigned to working either Christmas or New Year, and sometimes would have to work on my birthday. That was another trauma, since all through my school years I was off on my birthday.
This year, although I was technically off work for three weeks, with a big assignment looming I could only truly escape and disconnect for this magical week. I found a lakeside house in rural Georgia, and off we went. Fortuitously, the laptop bag was left at home, thus ensuring that my ‘disconnection’ was complete. In the heart of a cold snap we found ourselves in a magical woodland, winding two lane roads bouncing up and down like a roller-coaster, white-tailed deer liable to leap out in the gloaming.
Below the house a boardwalk led to a shallow pond, ice skimming the surface. In the silence, at first hard to hear above the tinnitus that accompanies me wherever I go, the chatter of birds could be heard, with the occasional honk of geese, and then, the rat-a-tat-tat of Mr. Woodpecker. It’s one of those place that make you wish you could recognize birds by their call, for spotting them requires more patience than I usually have.
Driving around in rural Georgia makes you think of historical figures: Jimmy Carter; civil rights icon John Lewis; and countless nameless descendants of the enslaved alongside the impoverished white sharecroppers. Not to mention the ones who had walked the land before all of those Europeans and Africans arrived on the shores. Place names recall Civil War heroes along with the Indians who first thrived here. Would we encounter racism?
I am happy to report we have only seen one confederate flag in the week we have been here. And when we stopped to eat in a cafeteria near Indian Springs (oldest state park in Georgia – once a thriving resort with healing artesian spring water), there was plenty of diversity in the customers. It is well to leave your preconceptions at home when you travel to new places. All we encountered was Southern manners, country people (of all ethnicities) calling to strangers with a ‘howdy’ or two.
When you travel with intention, you find all sorts of magic. From the Harriet Tubman museum in Macon we learned about hundreds of inventions patented by African Americans, and read the letter Frederick Douglass wrote for Harriet Tubman (she had asked for a letter of recommendation – he started out by saying he should be asking her for such a letter).
Yesterday we walked upon ancient mounds, created by societies that had lived in Ocmulgee (bubbling waters in Muscogee tongue). Like Stonehenge, or any of the other ancient world wonders, the Earthlodge was aligned due east-west – allowing the sunrise and sunset to shine through on those days of equinox. In the 1930s the area been the site of a huge archeological dig, one of the largest ever. It was awe-inspiring to think of the ceremonies that had taken place in that lodge. From the top of the Greater Temple mound it was possible to stare out over the surrounding area – the city below, the river, the woodlands. Walking through those woodlands, where Native Americans had thrived for millenia (before being relocated by the invading Europeans), the birds taunted with their calls, always flitting out of sight.
It is the time of year in the northern climes when the sun hangs low in the sky and casts long shadows. I found the thought of all of the people that have lived on this land cast long shadows also. And we should honor them.
On this birthday Friday morn, I give thanks for another circle around the sun, an opportunity to appreciate all of the blessings I have received. I give thanks that there are places I can travel to that will help me restore and reconnect to what matters: the rhythm of the earth; the beauty of nature; the lilies of the field that toil not; the crispness of a cool morning and the warmth of a home; the fruits of the labor of countless generations that came before me. I also give thanks for all of the people in my life who have made this journey on our planet so full, so complete. Have a wonderful weekend, Family! And may 2023 bring you health and happiness.