The iPod played Brown Sugar as we rolled back up the jagged hills of Tennessee.
I sat in the back seat of the Volvo wagon and stared out the window at the trees on fire with leaves of crimson and goldenrod and sunset. I've always been one of those staring out the window people - I guess it's what happens when I'm easily distracted and not interested in my surroundings. I used to stare out the window on the school bus and am equally amused staring out of the glass on a train in Amsterdam in my adult years.
But yesterday it was all down-home, Southern spun Tennessee, complete with Mother Nature's own way of showing her pride in the damned Volunteers.
The woods were full of fallen logs and drifting leaves. I gazed at the natural surroundings, yearning to put on some boots and crunch around in the earth and dried up foliage.
That's how I spent the autumn afternoons of my childhood.
I'd trudge outside to the big hill behind our house and wiggle my way through overgrown weeds and vines beneath the massive black walnut tree. Those woods were full of clean, black dirt, and if I close my eyes and focus I can still smell the fresh scent of faded chloroform and virgin earth. I'd poke at wet, wiggly worms with a stick and dig my fingers through the dirt to pull out pretty weeds and unusual vegetation. I'd gingerly climb up and down ravines, holding on to branches and rocks, making my way to creek beds full of fossils and tadpoles.
I'd inhale deeply and smell smoke wafting from a chimney on a nearby home.
Those were the days before cell phones and Amber Alerts and sex offender registries. Those were the days when we had to be home before dark. Those were the days when a little dirt on the pants wouldn't get in the way of a good time.
Those were the days when we'd lean up against a tree to pee if we knew we wouldn't make it home in time.
Coat pockets would get stuffed with vibrant leaves and sparkly rocks and other treasures worth their weight in gold to a little girl of nine years old. We'd make special markings and bend branches in skewed directions to make paths through the thicket behind the house. Our random trails would wind behind homes and subdivisions and neighborhoods - a little kingdom of our own just footsteps away from the rushing reality of Montgomery Road.
These days I spend more time in the car than I do in the fresh air.
I enjoy nature from the plate of glass that separates my dashboard from the great outdoors. I spend five, no, three minutes walking the asphalt terrain of the parking lot at the office. I begrudgingly flick on my windshield wipers to wave away maple leaves and I shutter at the thought of dirt under my fingernails.
But am I any happier?