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If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer. But if he spends his days as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is deemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.

-- Henry David Thoreau

For some time now, I've been in no danger of being regarded as a loafer. Having started this life in a small green house on the side of a hill, amid a forest on three sides and a vast valley on the other, I now find myself in a loft surrounded by asphalt, concrete and rooftops. Why, if you'd told me even a decade ago I'd be living in my office parking lot, I'd have thought my life must've hit the fan. I looked judgmentally toward red-lipsticked girls with purebred rat-sized dogs on leashes picking up tiny excrement in designer bags. Now, I pick up after Baxter around the square. Hell, I even go to yoga.

The deep rural life is dirt roads and stray dogs, screen doors and box fans. It's radios and wood stoves, lightning bugs and mosquitoes. It's the roar of the wind through a million oak leaves without nary a building to tame it. It's unleashed, but not free. It's rugged and earnest, as are its people.

Saturday evening, I walked with a couple of my pals to the "Chihuly Saturday Nights" event at Crystal Bridges. Perfectly manicured paths laced with carefully spaced plantings guided patrons to a small stage tucked in the woods. A long strand of glowing bulbs illuminated a mulched open area, beckoning folks to sit in lawn chairs or lie on blankets and be serenaded by local musicians. Along the way, huge glass exhibits by artist Dale Chihuly shone like beacons through the darkening skies.

It was truly beautiful. The music was superb, the conversation lively. Children danced in front of the stage with their plump sticky cheeks thrust into what remained of watermelon slices. Folks were not buried with their heads in cell phones. They looked into the tree tops and faces around them.

Perhaps if we told children that playing unplugged in the woods was illicit, we might grow a generation which rediscovers a world I took for granted as a child. Still, these are not the untamed woodlands of my youth. They are sanitized re-creations sprinkled with million-dollar pieces of art among benefactors sipping wine. And while I think an ounce of pretension is worth a pound of manure, I could not deny its beauty.

The woods grew quiet as the event drew to a close. Lightning bugs flickered. A breeze rustled the tree canopy. I'd soon lay my head in a room full of bought air and dream of dirt roads with glowing glass orbs. Perhaps a well-groomed forest is the result of a successful negotiation between the loafers and speculators of our day. I wonder where they landed about the skeeters.

NAN Our Town on 06/22/2017

Print Headline: Lightning bugs, manicured lawns, glowing orbs

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