The waiting places

Our favorite waiting places lie dormant during the cold months as the trees become living skeletons of themselves and winter changes these Ozark hills to a place familiar yet alien. Outside, there is challenge, not invitation. Before it is over, there is a weariness - and then, a quickening, no less acute because it is expected. The stately procession of quail no longer seek the charity of grain thrown on the ground; and overnight it seems that cardinals on the snow have changed to robins in the grass.

Nevertheless, the splendor of spring does not accompany the first freedom and it is still not time to go seeking. Adornment requires sunlight and warmth and gentle rain, and the waiting places are not ready. The springtime calendar is not marked by stress, however, as once begun we know the unfoldment is most surely coming.

When it seems time, we drive down a lonely lane to the first waiting place. It is past a deserted church on the slant of a hill and a pioneer's cabin, now gray of board and collapsing. People were here who lived and worshiped and are gone. Indians strayed across these hills, escaping the pain of the Trail of Tears, and Civil War bushwhackers crisscrossed the innocent countryside in patterns of violence.

All but the land itself seems as a remembered dream, as church and cabin seem to be blending with the landscape, as the wooden bones of their building return to earth.

We cross over the river on the cement slab at the ford and leave the car and walk into the green shadows. The trees are tall and old and what light there is comes through the roof of branches, and although at times there are fans of sunlight, it is not constant. Maidenhair fern crowds the hillside and the bright white shapes of wild hydrangea stretch from the ancient loam toward the light.

As we walk along, the shadow beauty of the little glade turns into a world of blue stars and white doilies as chicory and Queen Anne's lace decorate the sun-drenched fields. Bright butterflies come as close as trust. No sound but the hum of bees and birdsong alters the silence above and below, and the melding of earth and sky and us seems all but complete. There is a sense of being in life, surrounded by it, made whole by it.

Another waiting place is a short stretch of the Gasconade River where there is a beach, piled deep with rounded stones, carried there on countless floods. In the green grass at the edge and around islands, we find mussel shells opened and enjoyed by feasting raccoons. No shell can be ignored because, tossed aside by the satiated animals, their interior colors remain. The richness of purple, rosy pink, peach, gold, and ivory may lie shining in the shells, beautiful as a king's crown. Looking up, as we walk along the river, we see caves in the cliffs where Indians lived centuries ago. Sometimes we find arrow and spearheads, tangible evidence of the other people yet strangely mysterious.

And there is the wonderful bowl of hayfield, verdant then seasonally golden between the shallow hills. It is here that the evening sun transmutes the plain fields to a sheet of glowing metal and it seems there must surely be no more dross left in the whole wide world.

The places are, all around us, full of remembered experience and each year there is both reunion and introduction. Going to the old, we find the new. Once, looking for a carpet made of purple violets, we found some rocks of emerald moss. Once, looking for a familiar stand of sassafras, we saw twenty wild turkeys and a red fox. There is no tumult and no shouting here to die. There is only the renewal of the seasons which invite participation and only an old land, waiting.

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