When it started raining I walked down off the railroad tracks through briars into a dense stand of sweet gum. This will be just fine. Just like the deer I had seen near the trestle would likely do, I’ll wait out the storm here under the trees.
In a rare burst of exuberance I had decided to walk to the Island by way of the old trestle, something I had not done in a long while. It had been warm and sunny with no sign of rain when I left home.
I had zigzagged through Southside, past Linda’s flowers, Mother Goose’s white front porch, across the grassy field in front of Puckett-McGee, down the railroad tracks past Roger’s tag plant and Wil’s sculpture garden. Past the bamboo grove below Carrier Lodge, the origin of which Billy Hairston revealed in Catfish Alley a year or so ago, to the rusting, graffiti-festooned trestle where we as boys — Bill Boggess one of them, now a preacher of the Gospel in a church of his making outside of Paris — spent untold hours watching the river flow and waving to smiling boys and girls in passing motor boats, their wakes forming perfect “Vs” behind them.
Standing beneath the gums — there were oak, cottonwood and red maple, too — I flashed back decades to the 10 days I spent at a Boy Scout camp in the mountains of northern New Mexico. I was one among a school bus full of rowdy boys from places like Vardaman, Sturgis and Noxapater. What I remember about the camp other than the stop at Six Flags on the way out and Juarez, Mexico, to see a bullfight on the way back, were the rain-showers, just like this one, every afternoon around 4 o’clock. We welcomed the drenching and either donned our Scout ponchos and trekked on or took shelter.
I had no such amenities on this Wednesday afternoon and was soon soaked to the bone. I wondered how the deer was faring. Had he found shelter? Was he standing wet and dazed like me? The formerly dry creek bed in front of me began to fill with water. I wiped the rain off my face. Like a newly baptized parishioner in Brother Bill’s church, I felt cleansed and somehow renewed.
Thinking I might as well be walking, I struck out for home, tennis shoes squishing with each step. As the rain began to slack up, an unseen conductor cued the frogs. Back on the railroad tracks, I stepped over a turtle shell bleached white by the sun. Somehow turtles are able to climb over the first rail of a railroad track, but in doing so they often flip over on their backs, helpless until they cook in the heat or become prey for raptors.
Overhead it was still thundering and lightning. That morning I’d heard on the radio someone walking on a beach in Florida had been struck by lightning. Not wanting to add to that statistic, I walked briskly beside the tracks and scurried back across the trestle.
By the time I reached Second Street, the rain had turned to mist. Mary Peek, standing in her front yard with a great grandchild, welcomed me back to town. Closer to home a lone boy wearing a dark T-shirt with something on it like “Take your best shot” was practicing dribbling a basketball behind his back in a driveway.
A warm shower is going to feel good, I thought. After that some watermelon from the Gilmer’s and an omelet of eggs from Black Creek Farm garnished with tomatoes from Joyce’s and Coolidge’s garden.
And that, I figure, will be enough nature for one day.
Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.