One of the perks of my work is getting to travel around the Mid-South and to see the changes that are continuously taking place in the landscape. Perhaps at no time of the year are those changes more evident than in spring, when the earth is coming alive again, and winter drab is being replaced by newness and freshness at every turn.
It is downright soul-restoring on an early April morning, following a nighttime rain shower, sunlight glinting in the raindrops still clinging to roadside grasses and blossoming crimson clover, to drive through the hills of north Mississippi under a cloudless robin’s egg-blue sky.
As the winding roadway stretches ahead, masses of dark green pines offer a striking backdrop for dazzling white dogwoods and gray-green new leaves of oaks. Here and there, a native yellow jasmine drips blossoms as it climbs a sweetgum tree, bright yellow coreopsis and purple phlox add swatches of color here and there, and at occasional long-abandoned house sites wisteria vines run amok, their pendulous purple clusters of blooms sweetly scenting the air.
Among the many native wildflowers adding color to rural roadways in spring is the purple phlox.
Turning off for a stretch on the historic Natchez Trace Parkway, it’s as entering a world within a world, the road wending through vistas of native hardwoods, pines, and grassy fields. This early in the morning, loafing along at the posted 50 mph speed limit, no roaring diesel-belching trucks to shatter the quiet, it’s not unusual to see deer grazing in pastures, or turkeys pecking away at the edge of the woods.
Bright yellow coreopsis brighten rural byways in April.
Exiting onto a highway I traveled many times in my growing-up years, a two-lane road now sparsely used since the parallel interstate was built a mile away, there are memories at every turn — the uncle who lived there, the schoolmate just down the way: houses, families, friends, in a world we thought then would never change. But it did.
One of the most beautiful small trees this time of year — and indeed, throughout the year — is the native dogwood, which has a rounder canopy and is less upright than nursery varieties. In full bloom in spring, almost always in synch with Easter season, they are spectacular; in summer they’re a nice small tree with interesting bark; in the fall, leaves are a lovely deep red; and in winter, their branching structure adds a nice pattern to the landscape.
A few miles outside the town where I grew up was one of the largest masses of native dogwood trees I have ever seen. They covered the hillsides and ditchbanks, in the lee of oaks and maples and hickories. When they bloomed in the spring, it was dazzling sea of white. I thought many times, with the naïveté of the young, how splendid it would be to have a house in that setting. Years later, having not traveled that way in many a moon, it was to find all the trees gone, bulldozed who-knows-when, and pasture in its place. All the natural loveliness of that unique grove of dogwoods now exists only in my memory.
“Time is like a river,” wrote Roman emperor/philosopher Marcus Aurelius, “made up of the events which happen, and … as soon as a thing has been seen, it is carried away, and another comes in its place — and this will be carried away too.”
And so it is to appreciate the here and now of a glorious April morning…
For another commentary on April, click here.