Where I live, folks joke about the oppressive humidity. “It’s air you can wear,” they say. And the smell of it either envelops or assaults you, depending on the air quality index.
On good days, I savor the scent of jasmine, honeysuckle, gardenia, and sweet olive blossoms. On bad days, I get smacked with a snootful of noxious fumes, compliments of Exxon-Mobile, Formosa Plastics, Albemarle Chemicals, and the other industries chug, chug, chugging petrochemicals from their smokestacks along the Mississippi River.
But I leash up my mutt anyway, and we head out for a run around the vacant swath of land several blocks away, where a grove of ancient live oaks arch and crisscross their mighty branches into a canopy of green green green.
“I used to play in those trees,” my mother tells me one day when we walk there together. “Swung on ropes from tree-to-tree like a trapeze artist.” I picture her, squealing, sailing through the air, brown braids aloft.
White egrets, grey possums, a red fox and her kits play here, too. I’ve also seen elegant blue herons tiptoe across the mucky gully bordering the grove. Heard the plop, plop, plop of a row of turtles dropping into the chocolatey water. Cringed at the sight of a copperhead as long as my arm lounging on leggy cypress roots. And just yesterday I spotted momma and papa owls’ newborn twins, snug in the Y-nook of a grandaddy oak, their fuzzy gray heads swiveling left, right, left, right. Did they notice the surveyor peering into the prism tripod? Did they wonder why his buddy was stabbing the ground with pink-flagged stakes? Did they realize that those men were plotting a path for the scraping and hollowing out of the earth below their nest?
“Next week we break ground on a 4,000 square foot house,” the builder said to me, grinning.
You’re breaking more than that, I thought but didn’t say. Instead, I turned, called out to my dog, and ran away.