Stories Of The South: At The Center Of Things
The Green Country of Oklahoma is where real life happens.
He spoke with conviction untainted by bravado, so I knew that after a decade, my brother-in-law's heart had at last taken up full-time residence with him in the bustle of Los Angeles: "I like living here at the center of things. This is where things are happening."
We were darting down I-5 on our way to the always-packed Burbank airport, where I'd catch my flight back to Tulsa. I had plenty of time ahead of me to think about living at the center of thing, about living where things are happening. That, I knew, was exactly where I was headed.
We are at the center of things. We live in eastern Oklahoma in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. We're near the center of the country from east to west and near the center, as well, of the migratory bird flyway from Mexico to Canada. Upon the low plain just west of us sits Oklahoma City, described repeatedly as our nation's heartland.
This is where dark V's of geese, silhouetted against mauve and peach sunsets, impose perspective on the endless skies. Here in the quick autumn chill, the tall broom grass burns as orange as a prairie fire, willow branches glow the color of plums, and cranberry-maroon-deep rust-orange-yellow becomes a continuum rather than a clash among the million leaves lighting the horizons. Paris of ducks fly so low over my home that I can feel the thumps of their wings beating in my chest, and if I peek from under my porch roof, I can see their shiny-black bead eyes and the little fans of webbed feet fattened against their plump bodies.
I, too enjoy living where so much is happening. Farther north, where snow and ice cover winter life, short days and stillness end the frenzy of other seasons. With our days more gently turned here in the South, life continues in winter at about the same pace as in fall. During the rare times when ice frosts the ground and fog crystallized into diamonds on bare braches, it feels more like the opening of an art exhibit than the snowy imposition of solitary confinement. Winter sparseness only heightens redbirds' startling color as they compete at the feeder. Fluffy-tailed tree squirrels demonstrate acrobatic genius with dives, flybys, and slides toward the birds' winter stash.
Easily rested after a mild winter, spring wakes early here. Daffodils, jonquils, and crocuses sound the first lyrical notes of the season as they pop up to dance with robins in the moist March air. Tulips and phlox join in, accompanies by pink flowering crabapples and delicate, melodic apricot blossoms. Then by early, Ireland-green April, the full symphony joins in: azaleas, dogwoods, redbuds, lilacs, apples, and iris. Spring in this part of the world is loud, showy, and breathtakingly rich.
All that richness ripens to a summer that is, I have to admit, a slower time. And while L.A.'s temperate climate is air-conditioned through the unchanging months, in Green Country Oklahoma we find ourselves rendered sleepy and sow from too much dew-soaked sunshine, from heavy blossoms spilling scent. But even with most people caught in summer's honey, the green world doesn't slow. Grass, trees, vines, waxy magnolias, and droopy-sweet roses flourish.
Five years ago, even two, I wouldn't have considered eastern Oklahoma the center of things. If I, like my brother-in-law, were a professional musician, I probably still wouldn't. But I've been lucky enough to live in this geographic center at a time when my eyes are open wide enough to see how very much happens behind the human shield of doing. This, I've learned, is where real life happens.