On a Friday, I sneezed and choked on a wasabi pea as we crossed over the Mississippi river. I fell into a fit of coughing, with bits of spicy wasabi stuck in the back of my throat and missed out on the enormity of our transition. ”I will never live east of the Mississippi,” I said to Roy in the early years of our relationship. ”I’ve lived east of the Mississippi, and no good came from it.” Yet, here we are, on ta-other side a da’ river as my grandmother would say. I am determined that choking on a wasabi pea portends no ill omens.
“Are you enjoying your dinner?” Our host at Wills Creek Winery leaned back on one foot, arms folded across his chest, the other foot relaxed in front of him. He wore his tossled gray hair brushed back and pulled into a loose pony-tail. His hawkish face tilted, studying us.
”I love the fried green tomatoes,” I smiled. ”The fig baslamic is a wonderful touch.”
“You have the Swiss Tea.” He smiled in return. “I make that myself, with our own Muscadot.”
He spoke with a southern accent, but layered underneath was something else. ”How long have you operated the winery?” Roy asked.
”About 20 years.” Our host shifted to the opposite foot. “I worked here in Alabama in the aerospace industry. I met my wife here. I dreamed of retuning home to Switzerland to open a winery, and my wife and I thought we would do that. Then we inherited this place, the cow farm, from my wife’s grandparents. It is a lovely place, no?” He gestured toward the fields and pond.
”Lovely indeed.” I said.
”I hope you both enjoy camping here,” but be careful if you go walking down by the water. There are zeese ’napping turtles.”
”Turtles?” Roy and I said at the same time.
”Yes. Zeese ’napping turtles. They are huge, and they bite.”
I looked out at the pond for evidence of pre-historic size turtles, and processed his words. ”You mean Snapping Turtles.”
”Yes. Zee z-napping turtles. Once, zee grandfathers cow got stuck in the mud over yonder, and zee z-napping turtles grabbed it by its teets and pulled it under.”
I began to feel the story was a stretcher, but at that moment, our hosts attention was drawn away by a father and two young boys throwing ball out in the field just past our airstream. The ball rolled into the tall grass at the edge of the pond and one of the boys ran to fetch it.
“Excuse me,” our host said, and dashed off toward the pond, waving his arms. ”Don’t go near the pond,” he yelled. ”Zee turtles. Der are zee turtles!”
I sipped my tea-wine. “We just never know what we’ll find out here.” Roy and I grinned at each other.
We paused for a couple of nights at Harrison Bay State Park, just north of the Tennessee border. Roy and I leveled the LSH, then set up our camping chairs next to a slough off an arm of Harrison Lake. The slough looked like a dark brown-black tidal flat. Occasionally, a chorus of frogs erupted in song, and hopped hither and yon across the mud. A curious squirrel approached to inquire if I was a two-legged food giver. I am not a giver of food to wildlife, so it ran up a tree. Two chipmunks raced one another back and forth across a log. I held an article on Davey Crockett on the iPad in my lap, but the critters captured my attention. A cacophony of birds fluttered from branch to branch in the trees. I recognized the flash-red of a cardinal, and to my delight, I spotted a blue-bird. Bluebirds disappeared from Oregon almost 100 years ago. The rest of the tiny finch-like birds are new to me, and I couldn’t find the wood-pecker that rat-tat-tated nearby, but I felt enraptured with the woods alive with song. The forests of the Oregon High Desert are comparatively quiet, except for the brash call of arrogant stellars jays and the high-pierce of red-tail hawks.
I looked up and up to the top of a tree, following the path of the Cardinal. I nudged Roy. ”There’s something furry in the top of the tree.”
He set his iPhone down and looked up. ”I think I see it. Something curled up, like it’s sleeping.”
The furry thing had gray stripes and was the size of a large cat. ”I think it’s a raccoon.” I handed him the binoculars.
The breeze picked up about this time, and the top of the tree swayed in the wind. Bits of leaves around the raccoons nest fluttered off.
”It’s like sleeping at the top of a pendulum,” I said. I accepted the binoculars back and studied the furry creature.The wind picked up, and the with it the amplitude of the swinging tree. I nudged Roy again. ”How can it stay up there in this wind?” The top of the tree moved about five feet away from center on either side.
”Maybe it’s soothing.” Roy said.
We heard a rumble in the distance. ”Thunder,” we said at the same time. ”Time to go inside.”
We no sooner closed the door of the LSH than fat sheets of rain smattered the aluminum walls. Rumbling sounded over the lake, then a flash and crack of lightening split the air, then Thor’s hammer again, this time closer.
After 25 years in the Pacific Northwest, I am intimate with rain. Soft mist, drizzle, a light downpour, steady precipitation. Not torrential rain. Not thunder rocking the LSH. I glued my face to the window and watched the spectacle move across the forest. The farther we move into Tennessee, the more it feels like home and the new-ness and discomfort feels fleeting. The lightening passed, but not the rain. I turned and curled my legs up, wrapped my arms around my knees pulled my green fleece blanket over my feet. “I’m glad I’m not a raccoon in a tree.”