by Gail Tansill Lambert
While driving down Franklin Road across the bridge, I saw pampas grass glowing in the sunshine and swaying in the breeze over the Roanoke River. I couldn’t stop, but promised myself I would return with a camera and keep the scene forever. Several more times I passed same spot and yet again and again I was without my camera. Frustration grew. Surely I would miss the fleeting glory of those plants.
Finally, on a Sunday outing, I had my camera and we stopped quickly, my husband leaving the road and cautiously driving onto sandy ground. I took my pictures and they are perfect – close-ups, distance, groups, and single shots of the feathery plumes.
I like certain plants, but usually because they are associated with people or places I love; for example, the snowball bushes in my grandmother’s turn-of-the-20th-century house in Massachusetts, the fragrance of her tidy petunia patch, and the climbable mimosa trees at home. Only pampas grass seemed to appeal to my sense of beauty alone.
Really? Because on one of our last vacations before the children became far-flung, was at the Outer Banks where the pampas grass, as numerous as the seagulls overhead, waved in the ocean breeze on that Labor Day weekend. Was that the connection? No, because my fascination with pampas grass had already been established.
After much thought, my mind took me back to the summer I was twelve, and my family had moved into a house in a new neighborhood with great, tall pine trees in front, and a wilderness in the back to be tamed with a clothesline, trails, and a scythe. I noticed everything that summer and fall – the sky-blue heavens of a Deep South September and the muddy, mighty Chattahoochee River.
I explored my new land, riding my bike up the lengthy hills and scaring myself pedaling downhill so fast I left behind the humid heat by the speed of the wind. Seldom did a car pass by. The roads were mine for miles and miles, but I was alone, and in my other neighborhood there were always friends to share such adventures. I could have pedaled to the old street and I did, but not that summer.
Other than bike riding, I met a girl my age who lived in the large white house on the corner. The green grass sloped from the house beneath the lordly loblolly pines, but best of all, was the “plume plant” on the lower lawn looking like a circular water fountain in a public park. Mary Anne and I had something in common other than our age and living nearby. We both loved kickball. I worried about the ball falling into the “fountain plant” and getting cut by the “spray.” That happened, but a bleeding leg or arm was a small price to pay for such grandeur. That summer fun ended when a laundry delivery van ran over our white kickball right before school started.
That was the summer everything changed, as if scales from my eyes had been removed. Without anyone to share my discoveries, I began to set up a “studio” in the woods and attempted to copy tall, thin pines, the play of light, and shades of color with a paintbrush and palette. I wrote poems about the Chattahoochee and put them a wooden box with a lock. I came up with new names for paints: pine bark brown and its lighter cousin, pine straw brown. Remembering the effort was more rewarding than the painting or the poem.
Is this change why Jesus spoke in the temple at age twelve? Why confirmation traditionally takes place at age twelve? I wonder, because something happens to us around that age; when we begin to see the world and all that’s therein and not just ourselves. When we see something wonderful, like pampas grass, and never forget that sight, as if it’s a divine connection to something beyond that is unseen.
Pay attention to the twelve-year olds in your life. Pay attention to the twelve year old still in yourself.