Due to a spiny cockleburr that got lodged in the mouth of a friend’s dog, I recently found myself driving down some pitch-black country roads in the middle of the night while trying to locate the only emergency vet willing to help us at such a late hour. Of course this couldn’t have happened while we were in New Orleans where scores of emergency vets are rubbing their hands together eagerly waiting to charge $500 for just such a visit. Oh well, the details of how I ended up in what felt like a real life version of the Blair Witch Project are not important.
But there I was driving down these deserted gravel backroads occasionally passing old, dimly lit country houses. I kept expecting to see Boo Radley in my headlights. Sometimes a pair of eyes reflected back at me from the bushes. An opossum? Who knows? The point is I felt like such a stranger, like I was in a private world where even the trees we drove past were asking “Who are they?” I have to say it gave me the creeps.
When we eventually arrived at the old barn that was the vet’s office and which only Mr. Edgar Allen Poe could have described with any justice. I was thoroughly apprehensive. But of course, we opened the door to find a state of the art clinic with a perfectly lovely country vet who fixed the dog right up.
Driving back I felt a little sad realizing that I was now a sort of foreigner in what was exactly the kind of place in which I was raised. I began to remember riding in pickup trucks down just such roads on just such nights, smelling the honeysuckle and getting sleepy. I thought about how I used to be able to walk barefooted down a gravel road and feel no pain. I used to wade through ditches and fields without worries of spiders or snakes to pick bunches of Black-eyed Susans for my grandmother. I would eat radishes right out of the ground or fruit right off the trees without washing them. I have no memories of wearing mosquito repellent or band-aids on my cuts.
But I have not lived in that world for a long time now. I get little glimpses of it when I walk on the pea gravel paths in my garden or when hear cicadas buzzing in the late afternoons. I mainly go there now in my paintings and there I don’t feel like a stranger.