Sunday, January 8, 2012

An Empty Canvas

A little over nine years ago I began working in Tullahoma and stayed with the same organization until I accepted a position in Juneau Alaska two years ago.
Not long after I started working there a woman was also hired.
She and I had adjoining offices and we quickly formed an easy-going and relaxed rapport with each other.
Although she was about 14 years younger than me we hit it off both personally and professionally, and so I was disappointed to see her leave after only one year.
She had accepted a position at the University of the South up on the mountain in the small, isolated and very beautiful community of Sewanee.
Sewanee was her home.  Her family had a long history in Sewanee. 
The woman had been raised on the mountain, gone to school up there including graduating from the University of the South, and was ecstatic to be offered a job at the university.
I was happy for her but missed her after she left.
We saw each other socially a few times over the next few years and then lost touch with each other...............

When I first met the woman's daughter the girl was just a very young thing.
A laughing, dancing, musical, athletic, shining eyed girl with a head full of long red hair.
She was very cute.
 A bundle of creative energy and youthful enthusiasm.
She liked me very much for who-knows-why and I liked her in return.
She made me laugh in bemusement, because as the mother of two boys I had no experience with the rhymes and rhythms and sounds and ways of little girls............

This morning I spent a few hours with this woman and this little girl.
The woman, a tall and attractive woman, has not changed at all.
The girl, now a junior in high school, was almost unrecognizable to me.
The woman and I met at a small cafe close to the university and as we ate a late breakfast we quickly fell back into easy conversation. 
Eager to catch up with each others lives it was almost as if we picked up exactly where we had left off.
Almost as if it had not been five years or more since we last saw each other.
The daughter arrived at the cafe about fifteen minutes later and as she walked in the door she smiled at both me and her mother.
The little girl has been replaced by a young woman who is very tall.  Who now has shorter and dyed dark brown almost black hair.  Who wears the stylish clothes of a hip young woman.
She has the air of the fashionably-rebellious. 
Or the rebelliously-fashionable.
If I had simply walked by her on the street I am not sure that I would have recognized her if it had not been for the eyes.
Even eyes now carrying makeup are still the complex-teenage-bright-eyes of that same laughing, dancing, creative young girl................

After eating and talking and laughing and sharing stories for a long time, the daughter headed across the street towards her truck, and I left my truck in the parking lot having decided to go for a drive and walk with the woman.
We drove through the campus and pulled into the parking lot where her office is located, climbed out of the car and began to walk aimlessly along paved walkways that are located throughout the campus, still talking and still catching up.
There was much to catch up on.............

Pictures taken close to the cafe of only a few of the structures in the area and a few of the decorative touches that were so welcome on such a wet and cool and grey day. 
We met for breakfast at this place.
It is called The Blue Chair and it is a small, eclectic, colorful, friendly and welcoming sit down cafe............
I liked these "sculptures" very much..............
The woman and I drove only a short way, pulled into a parking lot and the woman happily showed me the place where she works.
We took a walk in the coolness and drizzle, wandering slowly around parts of the huge campus and continued to talk.
It was good to spend time with someone who I had known for only a short time, but also someone with whom I had such a good rapport.
I listened and talked, and she listened and talked, both of us wandering along the walkway and each of us automatically placing our hands inside the pockets of our jackets to keep our hands warm.............
While eating brunch the young girl had talked about her great-grandfather and the woman smiled as she told me that great-grandfather was going to soon be celebrating birthday number 99.
As we walked around campus later on, and as we were talking about nothing and about everything, the woman absently pointed to different buildings and told me that her grandfather was the architect of this building and of that building.
I did not say anything, but at the time I was stunned to learn this, and stunned that the woman took that information so for granted.  I did not know.............
A phone call from the daughter cut our walk short, and we headed back to the restaurant so mom could attend to truck problems, and we parted ways with promises to do this again soon.
After leaving the cafe for the second time this morning I headed to the cross.
The last time I visited the cross was in October with LC and James, on a very warm and very sunny day.
I wrote about that visit here:
Today, in early January the weather was much different. 
Grey.  Pouring with rain.  Cool but not cold even at this time of year.  The valley in front of the cross was completely obscured by fog and the place was completely quiet and people-less.................
I took the pictures above from inside the truck, and then climbed out to try and take a picture of the valley far below that is also surrounded by mountains that are part of the Cumberland Plateau.
Covering my camera and trying to protect it from now driving rain, I took this picture.
Somewhere.....down the valley...............
And then turned around to quickly snap this picture before heading back to my truck.............
10 minutes from Sewanee heading back down the winding paved road that eventually leads to Cowan and then  Winchester I stopped at this rock.
The rock likely has an actual name or title but I don't know what it is, and I have passed by this rock a thousand times by truck and by bicycle in the past, and have never stopped at it.
I know that there is, on a sunny day, a stunning view of the valley below because at this time of year when all of the trees are leafless, you can see the valley through the trees.
Because I had never stopped there before I decided, on the spur of the moment, to stop here today...........
It was still raining and so I was still trying to protect my non-waterproof camera from the rain.
After taking a picture of the rock above I walked closer to it, looked down into the gorge and saw this heart painted on the side of a huge rock.
There is rock everywhere here..............
I carefully climbed the steps leading to the table top of the rock..............
The entire table top (the entire thing) was covered with graffiti..............
The mountains, the valley, the homes, the towns and water towers all mostly obscured by the rain and the now very heavy fog.
It was time to get off the mountain.
The weather was deteriorating rapidly.................
Standing on the table top looking down at my truck.............
The road leading down from the mountain is a sometimes four lane, sometimes only two lane, long and winding and steep downhill drive.
Once down at the bottom the drive is straight and flat through first farm land and rural homes, then the small town of Cowan, then more farm land, and then the town of Winchester.
On the way up to Sewanee this morning I was hoping that by the time I came back down the weather would be better and I would have time to stop for a while in Cowan to take some pictures.
I had stayed up in Sewanee longer than expected and the weather was horrible so I decided to hold off on those plans for another day.
But unexpectedly I did make one more stop before heading home..............
Once I was off the mountain and I no longer had to concentrate on slick winding road, I had the chance to take a good look around me.
I could see only ghostly images.
Barely there mountains and barely there trees and farm houses and farm animals.
I found a side road, pulled onto it at the last minute, drove only a short way and pulled the truck off the road and onto the increasingly muddy grass alongside the road.
Still protecting my camera I climbed out in the pouring rain, stood in the dense fog and smiled to myself.
There was no sun or blue sky or green grass but this was a beautiful place none-the-less.
Quiet and isolated and grey and ghostly and solitary.........and beautiful.............
The sky, a perfect empty canvas, offers clouds nonetheless.  They shift and drift and beg interpretation... such is the nature of art.............Jeb Dickerson

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