Friday, May 6, 2011

CONFRONTING CHANGE

When I moved to Sewanee, Tennessee to take up dual residency, living part of the year in New Iberia, Louisiana and part of the year on The Mountain at Sewanee, I felt rather schizophrenic during my first year of living this way, jitneying back and forth between the two “cultures.”  This year, just as I’d adjusted to this lifestyle, a few financial reverses caused me to look at the “extravagant “ lifestyle, and the other day I was forced to consider the reality of keeping both homes open for my pleasure -- each piece of real estate stayed vacant for part of the year, generating no income, as I struggled to keep up on a fixed income.

Yesterday, I bit the bullet and decided that I’d give up access to my home in New Iberia, would rent it out and begin breaking up my household there, overloading the cottage here with furniture from the New Iberia home.  I had to accept that if I rented out the property, I’d become a tourist to New Iberia, visiting there only a few times a year to celebrate holidays with my children and grandchildren.
At 76, the idea of moving for approximately the 15th time in my lifetime caused me to mope about for a few days, resisting the change but knowing that I was at least free to make this choice and could move past self-induced limitations.  I picked up a copy of “Science of Mind,” a magazine I read monthly, and came across a meditation on spiritual liberation that featured a fable about a bird.  This creature slept in a withered tree every evening, and one night a blustery wind blew down the tree.  The fearful bird was forced to fly miles and miles to search out a new residence.  After traveling a long time, the bird reached a wood in which fruit trees flourished.  If the bird’s tree had fallen, the bird wouldn’t have been forced to give up its security and seek a new home.  The article stated: “We change when the pain of remaining who [where] we are is greater than the fear of changing…”

Three years ago I wrote a young adult book about the Spanish settling New Iberia entitled FLOOD ON THE RIO TECHE, and in the introduction I included a prose poem regarding my feeling for this lovely city on the Bayou Teche: “It is a fecund city on the banks of the Bayou Teche.  The air, fungi-laden and humid, presses down on us all the time.  Jays squawk incessantly in the magnificent oaks, the stand of trees like somber umbrellas overshadowing day-to-day commerce.  On the Teche’s banks are dagger-shaped plants; in the fields, the drooping cane grows thickly.  The place seems somnolent and enclosing.  I fell in love with the trees, the air, and the vigor of many cultures living alongside one another.  I was inspired by the lordly oak and complaining jay, meandering bayou, and pale green light of Spring.  I can never leave this place for long.  It has a voice, a liquid voice, husky because of the mist above the brown water and the decay, dark banks loamy with decay.  The people came down, in exile, and made their music, sharp in the heavy air, laughing confidently, laughing away the somber history of their exile and rejoicing on the banks of muddy water, birthing many infants, the making of children rich and life-giving.  They plowed the loamy soil, poled in the backwaters of the swamps looking for food, always the wild animals lurking, the mosquitoes, and the stifling curtain of heat, behind which they sang and told stories.  Its voice is a very old voice and its history is one of struggle…”

As I said in the introduction to FLOOD ON THE RIO TECHE, I have received many happy years and inspiration to write, living in the wonderful culture of Teche country and can’t imagine I won’t succumb to the old legend that whoever tastes bayou water must return to sample its waters and “appreciate the mysterious call to live in this compelling culture nurtured by the slow-moving waters of the Bayou Teche…”  And I might add, to engage in Teche country’s joie de vivre.
Note:  Painting by my brother Paul, drawn and painted from his memories of living in Louisiana.
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