Marla Cantrell Headshot (2)
You guys, I’m so honored to introduce my friend Marla Cantrell. She’s kind of a big deal. An Arkansas Council Artist Fellow, she is the managing editor of Do South Magazine, and besides Flannery O’Connor, my favorite southern writer. She writes about our places, our people. I devour her stories in Do South like they’re expensive chocolate, only they’re much better for me. We’ll post some of her award-winning fiction here later but for now enjoy this gorgeous piece of personal reflection on the changing seasons.

“Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.” the Dalai Lama

On Saturday, as my friend Carla zipped through New England, I made my trek up the mountain, from Alma to Bentonville. We were both hoping to see the fall leaves blazing. I believe she won.

The trees here had not quite made it to glory. The Arkansas mountains, beautiful always, were not yet wearing their Sunday clothes. Here and there were clutches of gold and scarlet and orange. Here and there were promises of what’s to come.

I stopped at Artist’s Point, pulled over on the apex of the Boston Mountains, where there’s an overlook with coin-operated telescopes. I love it there, the kudzu-covered valley, the trees like fields of broccoli when you look down from above. While I was there, Carla sent me a message. A gorgeous poet in her own right, she’d been to see the Vermont house where Robert Frost wrote “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” and being there, where words fell in love, caused her tears to fall.

The picture showed the house, as sturdy and wise as Frost himself, and it sat under a cloak of brooding clouds. I understood why Carla cried. I am often overcome by art, by unbelievable beauty.

I looked at the photo, and then I looked around. This road, U.S. Highw­ay 71, is filled with treasure, some alive only in memory. Nearby is the old Smoke House where my father used to take me for lunch. The sugar cookies they served when they were open were so good I ate them first. There is a  tower not far beyond that used to cost fifty cents to climb, its frame like the metal skeleton of a looming windmill. How many times had I ascended those steps? How many times had I looked below and imagined how powerful it would be to walk in a giant’s shoes, to wear the boots of God?

While I was remembering, Carla was being overwhelmed by New England’s wonders. She sent a message and a photo of the trees, so striking they looked as if someone had swooped in with paint and glitter. “The locals say we missed the peak season,” she said, with irony.

Still later, “I just spent about a million dollars at the Vermont Country Store,” she said.

I put my phone away and drove straight up the mountain. There is a church, white, green-roofed, a cemetery beside it. I have passed it so many times that sometimes I dismiss it. There was a time, years ago, after a breakup that seemed insurmountable, when I would drive this road, crooked and steep, without regard. I was never suicidal, but I was not careful, and once, not far from here, I took the curve too fast, and I felt my car shudder and lift and skid. That shook me out of it, and dropped me back into my precious life.

Carla was driving to New Hampshire while I was remembering. She was heading to a dinner with her first lobster roll, where she would snap a picture and send it on. Later, with a view of the sea, she’d spend the night under covers, the wind from the Atlantic dropping the temperature to 19 degrees.

While she was heading back to her beach house, I was at the AMP in Rogers, at a Jackson Browne concert. He had been a favorite of mine way back when. When he appeared on stage and sang “Take it Easy,” I could have been fifteen again, and stunning in a way only the young can be, with all that health and high color.

Jackson Browne sang beneath whoops and hollers, the fans loud with praise. He sang some of his new songs, and at one point he qualified the decision. He told us how great we’d all been, to allow him to do this, when he must have known we’d come to relive those days when nothing but light touched us. He said his biggest hits had once been new, played to fans unfamiliar with the tunes.

I wanted to tell him that this is another time. We were babies then, I wanted to say, and we needed his songs to explain our lives, and we bought albums with money we earned at carwashes and in tomato fields and we influenced DJs and we played our music like it was a right we weren’t about to give up. Back then, when he sang “Somebody’s Baby,” I thought I was that girl. Now, I’m not even that girl’s mother.

The concert was winding down. My phone blinked. Carla. Another photo that made autumn seem holy. She was walking in a new world, its beauty overwhelming, and she was sharing it with me. At that moment she seemed to be the poster child for the Dalai Lama’s admonition to go someplace new every year.

I looked around. A dark-haired woman, maybe 50 or 51, sat in front of me. She was beautiful in a way that said her life had been sweet, and that she’d had the good sense to attend to her looks and to her teeth that shone bright white in this false light.

I realized I was caught. Half in Carla’s new world. Half in this place where one foot was in the here-and-now and one foot in yesterday. Click To Tweet

On the drive home, the night glistened above me. In New England, Carla was already sleeping to the sound of the ocean, her dreams crowded and alive. And I was here, 1,700 miles away, music surrounding me, even now that it was over, and both these things—Carla looking forward and me looking back—seemed important in a way I could not explain, no matter how many words I’d been given. No matter how many times I tried.

By Marla Cantrell

See more of her work at www.southernpencil.com and www.dosouthmagazine.com.

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