Morning on country roads


IT'S quiet and unbelievably cool down my country roads these mornings.

You have to start early to get it at its best, and I've settled on 6:30 a.m. before the world is fully awake and what Job called "God's eyelid," the sun, is not open.

I see the sun usually when it begins to glow over the tree tops down at the end of the road. But it's still in a benign mood, color contained in that orange disk, cool and distant, and it graciously waits till my walk is over before it floods the Earth with light -- and heat.

Most mornings, gray scarves of mist drift over the fields and woods. The woods are still dark and mysterious -- and very quiet. One day I heard a bobwhite start his musical inquiry -- and then withdraw it. One day a field lark sounded over beyond the old pasture. But mostly it is a time almost magically silent. No katydids, no tree frogs, not a cicada stirring.

My running shoes on the rocky hills make some noise; so does my dog sniffing up earthy scents along the roadside. But when you stop to catch your breath -- and I still do that on the big hill that goes straight up from the creek -- you can almost feel the Earth turn, a gentle, cool, early morning turning.

Flowers along my road make a scattered graceful garden of Queen Anne's lace and black-eyed Susans and wild fern. Horse mint with its pungent leaves and dusting of silver is beginning to appear. Joe-pye weed towers along the ditches, no purple plumes yet but really stately stalks with promise. Evening primroses are in bud and will be fully open soon.

The lacy little sleeping beauty with its airy leaves that fold if you touch them and its pink pompon blossoms drapes a red clay bank.

There is a patch of dodder that I admire but carefully skirt, not wanting a fragment near my yard. It is pretty and it has an aura of magic. Take a tendril and wave it around your head three times, kiss it, and name the person you love and throw it on a bush.

If it grows, your love is returned. If not -- well, I never saw dodder wither and die. It is as invasive as kudzu, if pure gold, and given to sorcery and to strangulation.

As much as I like the flowers -- and I sometimes pick a few for the little green pitcher on the kitchen table -- I think the weeds are even more beautiful. Grasses I don't know the names of lift silken feathery tops. Some weeds I never bothered to look up in any book are emerald spikes. There's suppleness and symmetry about most of them.

The old fence row that once defined pastures has grown and filled out to thicket proportions, enclosing the little gravel road with sweet dark green walls of trees and bushes like the hedges of England. I never smelled a hawthorn hedge, but I remember the lilacs along English roadsides, and I am grateful for our honeysuckle. It has had its day for this year but there are always late bloomers that send out a faint, subtle fragrance here and there along the road.

After the rain, the earth itself smells wonderful and I am tempted to follow my dog when he scrambles up a bank in pursuit of some elusive scent. But I don't. Two miles up hill and down with no detours are enough to help me greet the day. Maybe next week I'll be up to that steepest hill.

Celestine Sibley has been writing for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for more than half a century. She wrote this article for Cox News Service.

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