I sit on the back deck in the sun, shade and wind. All I hear is the cottonwood, tall and leaning a little toward the house, the leaves half green, half shine. To my shame, I must admit that in my mind I hear the song “Honey” recorded by Bobby Goldsboro in the 60s (voted on CNN as “worst song of all time”) and its lyrics of “See the tree, how big it’s grown/ But friend, it hasn’t been too long, it wasn’t big.” The song came out in 1968 when I was eight, and I thought it was the best thing I’d heard, excluding all recordings by the Monkees. And no wonder: this cottonwood volunteered up when we moved here 15 years ago.
I’m digressing, but then again, death will make a gal do that. Mark is gone, and just today I got word from one of my closest friends that her mom, also my friend and a exquisite landscape painter to boot, died after outliving her cancer prognosis by years. One of Joan Foth’s paintings wraps around my book The Sky Begins At Your Feet, but most people know her work from the cover art for William Least-Heat Moon’s Prairyerth. She had a way of seeing the sky particularly that changed how I now see the sky, especially when I’m in the mountains. Joan pointed us toward the horizontal stretches that reach across ranges of rock or the tall expanses of color and movement towering up from the Flint Hills.
What moved me the most, though, was what Joan and I talked about a year or so ago on the phone: the birds and the trees, the wind and the sky — what you can see right out the window when you stop enough to look. She was positively ecstatic about watching, which was a bonus for her in her final years when moving and doing weren’t so easy. The more you watch, the more you stop seeing what you expect and start expanding your perceptions beyond the confines of your thoughts and thinking.
So today, I’m watching the big cottonwood, the wind coming in waves, and the biggest waves so loud and so light-dappling that I can only look up in awe and let it sweep clean whoever I think I am. I’m also saying to both my friends, Mark and Joan, and with no disagreement that “Honey” is probably the worst song ever written, “Honey, I miss you.” Already and always.
Photos: top one is the base of the cottonwood early one spring, middle is my book with Joan’s painting, and bottom is Joan’s painting, “The High Road.”