I posited at the end of my last post that my perspective on time derives from my disconnect with nature. Of course I would be ok with Daylight Saving Time–I unplugged my body from nature’s clock at a very early age, just as I unplugged from its TV, its radio, its realtor, its grocery store, its… well, you get the idea.
I get all my stuff manufactured. pre-packaged, and human-made. I bought into DST just as I’ve bought into numerous other products over the course of my life, at the expense of a meaningful knowledge of the natural world.
My earliest sense of being unSouthern was the disorientation I felt in one of my earliest homes: North Springs, Tennessee. My parents, in a crushing irony, moved me out to the country before I was a year old. Previously, they had lived in Nashville for many years, but they felt they owed me a secure, unsullied upbringing far away from the evils and distractions of the city.
They returned to the tiny hamlet of North Springs as a sort of compromise between their two neighboring worlds. My father had grown up in the same county, only a couple miles away on Haydenburg Ridge, which is exactly as scraggly and remote as it sounds. My mother had grown up down the road in the more developed town of Red Boiling Springs, just across the Jackson County line in Macon County. (When I lived near there, Red Boiling Springs had almost 1,000 residents!)
North Springs nestled itself in a valley at the foot of the ridge where my dad grew up. From a development standpoint, it was literally a wide place in the road, with about 80 people, two general stores, and a church. It seemed to me everyone who lived there at the time was retired, except for one family that farmed and the two that owned the stores. A couple of the women may have been teachers in area schools. My dad was the preacher of the church. We were enveloped by rolling, lush, green hills, and I was surrounded by all of nature’s splendor. It was the first world I knew.
But to me, that world was unfinished and foreign and unrelatable. My earliest memories of it are not of a fond attachment, but a surreal detachment. The something I really wanted was further down the road in Cookeville, the nearest medium-sized town, with its *mall, its Rose’s department store, its Shoney’s and other restaurants; and especially in Nashville, which was a vast metropolis I would never fully explore. (Seriously, to this day, there’s chunks of Nashville I have never been to and probably never will.)
Until we finally moved to Nashville when I was 12, my mind never stopped fidgeting. Small-town life fit me like a shrunken tank top and annoyed me like the itchy label in back. I was relieved to cast it aside in time for my teenage years.
Consider the following instances:
- I remember the shared fascination and horror I experienced at the age of 5 when I realized that the chicken I had been eating was the same as the chicken that clucks in a henhouse. I had assumed it was all just a big con-flew-ence and that we called them chicken legs and wings because that’s what those pieces resembled.
- I dreaded walks outside, even in my own backyard, where I could pick up chiggers and ticks and get sweaty. The inside had wall-unit air conditioners that would blast the sweat clean away like a frigid hair dryer, and TV to watch. None of these things made you itch or feasted on your soft tissue, which was a big mark in the pro column.
- I knew of grass and trees, and I read the books about chlorophyll and how energy was produced and consumed in nature. But I tuned all the way out when I was faced with catalogs of leaves and blades, delineating one from the other. Ditto with birds, frogs, and snakes. Even the most casual taxonomy blew right past me–to this day, I know about five types of flowers by sight and only after much research am able to distinguish one bird call — the mourning dove. All others are just a blur of birds chirping and pretty petals.
I revisited North Springs and many of my other childhood homes on my 30th birthday, and I kicked myself for not realizing what a beautiful place I had grown up in. Of course, I would have kicked myself harder had I attempted to spend more than a few minutes there. I was wise to admire the beauty, take a few pics, and keep driving to Cookeville, where there was a semblance of urbanity.
Now that i have clearly diagnosed this disconnect, what is there to be done? Has my life suffered from this lack of connection to the bounty and diversity of nature? Should I attempt to re-establish it?
Part of the unSouthern project is getting to these answers. But right now, my answer is: nah, I’m good. When I am ready to accept these things into my life, they will come.
Occasionally, I will do something for myself that feeds my inner outdoorsman. I go to Unicoi State Park here in Georgia once every few years and walk the trails. I love visiting Chattanooga and soaking in the riverside parks. When we cruise, I usually take one excursion that plunges into the lush tropical interior of one or another of the Caribbean islands or nations we visit.
I know my limits. I take my nature in small doses. I always have an air conditioned hotel room or cabin to scurry back to when it’s over. Most importantly, I focus on immersing myself in the beauty and serenity of the setting while I’m there, and not on judging myself for relishing the comforts of a spoiled American urbanite.
Plugging into nature is not my default, and maybe I suffer several syndromes because of it. But I like my life, with its synthetic time, its barcoded produce, and its high-speed internet.
Call me detached, but at least I’m connected.
*mall – this is one of my favorite memories of all time, a memory that I share with one of my loyal readers and friends. On a high school trip from Nashville to Knoxville for a Latin convention, we stopped at Cookeville for food. Cookeville was a big town to me growing up, so it was jarring to hear a busload of kids making fun of how small it was. The topper, though, happened as a result of our bus being parked next to a side entrance of the town’s tiny mall. The sign over the entrance was entirely too large and bright for its modest purpose. It loudly proclaimed “*mall” in what I remember as thick blood-red lettering. My friend, judging the size of the sign, interpreted it to be the main entrance and therefore drew the conclusion that the name of this shopping center was simply *mall. In a town this small and remote, why bother giving it a name? My friend exhausted herself laughing about the poor nameless mall for several miles down the road and intermittently for the remainder of the trip.