Pine Trees and Heat

August 6, 2008
By Katey McClenny, Tallahassee, FL

South Georgia is known for two things: pine trees, and heat. I've stood at many places and marveled at the beauty of mountains, beaches, and other things of God's hand. But none feels quite like home and is as beautiful as the long leaf tall pines in the woods of South Georgia. I believe God was smiling when he made that part of the country. And I know he's proud of it. As for the heat, there's nothing as strong and powerful as a July sun beating down in the summer. Those rays will keep you inside with the air conditioner blasting, trying to keep up, and a glass of watery sweet tea next to you because ice doesn't stand a chance. Those days pass lazily. But not for me, or my sister, or my friend who might as well be a sister. Nope, we could be found outside in the woods or in the creek. Summers, weekends, after school: we were outside in those pine trees and heat.

I can still remember those woods like an old friend: the boxwoods, the bamboo, the spider webs. Though only a small patch of woods that we played in, it was a forest to us. There was a way to easily get there where the fence was down, but that would have been too easy. In the manner of kids, we hopped the fence. We made paths through the trees, and made a game of hiding from the neighbors. I'm certain that countless times they looked out their windows to see three ponytails bouncing through the woods, thinking they were hidden. So many hours were spent back there, so many games made up. We found turtle shells, feathers, deer tracks, empty shot shells: all things Mama wouldn't allow in her house. So, like any kid, we found a place to hide our treasures. And we came back to them again and again. We would play back there until the sun went down and Mama would come out in the yard to call for us. Sometimes we met Daddy coming in from work. But when the sun sank behind the trees, the day ended for us.
But the next lucky chance we got, we were back out to the woods or headed to the creek. Off the paved road we would go, walking the short distance to the creek. Our neighborhood looked like any other from a Southern Living magazine, but to us it was much more. That road was an adventure, because it led to our creek. Although it was just a small stream that wound its way through the neighborhood, we loved it and called it ours. The creek might have been more fun than the woods, but it's a close call. I know the neighbors saw us many times: three kids, missing various items of clothing, trekking up and down that road barefoot and dirty. We were going to our sacred, secret, special creek.
"C'mon!" I'd call.
"We're coming!" came the reply. Always the ringleader, I'd lead us into the creek, jeans rolled up, shoes left on the bank. Empty beer bottles, soda cans, cigarette packs, and other litter occupied the bank as well, but we didn't notice that. We saw the sparkling water which quickly clouded the second we sunk our toes in the ooze at the bottom. We saw the pine trees which shone a vibrant green when the sun hit them, their leaves nestled against an azure sky. This was the beauty I was always attracted to.
At first, we would just play around at the part of the creek closest to the road. We'd peek back through the brush to see what might lie beyond, but the creek wound to the right and we could only imagine it past there. But one day, we decided to find out. So we crept along quietly, knowing we were probably in people's yards. We followed that creek for about a half mile, a canopy of trees following us the entire way. To a ten-year- old kid it felt like the jungle, and we were on a dangerous journey. We found a small, yet beautiful waterfall we played in, where the water trickled over about five yards of large, algae covered stones. We also, arbitrarily, found a hole about three feet deep, (the deepest part), which we would jump into from the bank. We would scramble up the grassy incline, me leading us, and look down into the murky water below. Then we would splash into the cold water. It's a wonder we didn't break anything, jumping into such shallow water. Not much farther past that the canopy of trees left us and we approached the main road. The cars roared overhead, not noticing the three children below them. None of us liked it here, so the waterfall and jumping spot, as we called it, became our destination in days to follow. And they were many. How long we waded up and down that creek, day after day, until our toes became wrinkled and we heard Mama yelling for us from the street.
That creek holds so many fun memories. I went there all the times: the three of us, or just by myself. It's where I went when I found out we were leaving it behind. I sat there and reflected on the many good times spent in that water, and the woods behind our house where we played. I recalled all those times with my sister and friend, smiling that it had happened, crying that it was over. I later found out it was called Olsen Creek, but it will never be that to me. It was, is, so much more. I've moved away now, but I still remember the best days there. Just the pine trees and heat.

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