I lay on my back in the rough grass looking up, the sharp blades poking through my shirt and prickling my shoulder blades. It reminds me I am alive. The live oak canopy hangs above me like the tentacles of a squid or octopus. The graceful, sinuous branches, spreading wide and intertwining, making it hard to see where the first tree ends and the next begins. These trees and this park have been here for hundreds of years. I think about all those who have travelled beneath them. The southern belles and fine gentlemen who have strolled, shaded from the hot sun, hand in hand, discussing plans for the future and gossiping about friends and neighbours. It is regal, the state tree of Georgia, its curved branches were once used to build ships. The USS Constitution, nicknamed Old Ironsides for its impenetrable hull, was constructed in part from the Live Oaks from this island. I find it fitting to admire these trees, in this park, in this coastal village, at the edge of the peach state.
The limbs of the trees are draped in Spanish moss in a commensalistic relationship. It lends them an ethereal presence. The gossamer, branching stems hang upwards of twenty feet down from the higher branches. The slender wiry strands of bluish grey streamers catching the breath of a gentle breeze cause the drops of morning dew to glimmer in the dappled sunlight beginning to break through the thin cloud cover. Last night had been cold, but today would be hot.
I watch a grey squirrel leap from limb to limb, scrambling nimbly along the branch. He stops from time to time in a cluster of ferns, poking up like tiny forests from the cracks and crevices in the bark, and chatters loudly. Perhaps it is me he is scolding for invading his morning. Or more likely it is my Golden Retriever, Sam, who has offended him, sniffing about in every crack and divot he can find, pushing at fallen leaves and clumps of dirt with his cool, wet, inquisitive, nose.
This is our established morning routine, weather and tides permitting, a long run along the beach as the sun creeps up over the horizon. The wet sand is hard beneath my bare feet. Ruthy used to scold me for not wearing appropriate foot wear, but the feel of crushed shells and fine granules remind me of my childhood and makes me feel closer to the earth and time. The wind ripples the waves, and Sam runs near me along the waters edge, stopping from time to time to investigate a crab, a jelly fish, or a foreign object newly washed ashore. He is independent of me on our runs. He lags behind briefly to greet other dogs or people as he wishes and hurries to catch up when he feels I have travelled too far without him. He is eight now, and the tether of his puppy days are no longer required. Long ago unspoken parameters were agreed upon and established. He has chosen to be my companion and I his.
Where the beach ends, I stop to wash my feet with the hose the village has so generously provided before slipping on my sandals. Sam has a drink of water, and we walk at a slowed pace through town. Sam stays close by my side as we wind our way through the quiet streets and alleys. The tourists have not yet arrived; the coffee shops and gift stores won’t open for another hour or so. Only the bait and tackle shop and hardware store show signs of life with the business of local fishermen and oddjobbers preparing for their day. I nod and smile, exchanging greetings as I pass, and Sam happily accepts a scratch or two behind his ears.
It is not far to the park where Sam will read the scents like a morning paper, gathering reports on the comings and goings of all who have recently passed through. He is a detective collecting evidence for his own unknown purpose. I am envious of the way he lives blissfully in the moment, while I find myself trapped in the memories of past, memories of Ruth, and worries of the future.
Sam licks my face and nuzzles my neck. He is hungry and ready to return home for breakfast. I am reluctant to break from this moment, from this place and its brief reprieve from my sorrow. I miss Ruth less here for this was always my routine and not hers. Our house is hollow without her; its views are less splendid, its fires less warm.
I stand and brush the leafy debris from backside, stealing myself for the solitude of my kitchen, and begin to walk, too slowly, back home.
I am less photogenic than my dog.