In the sitting room of our home in Hattiesburg in Southeast Mississippi, a large bay window looks out over the drive on the north side of the house – that and the neighbor’s house and drive and a section of the house across the street to the northeast.
In between are lots of shrubs and trees both large and small, so that there’s no view of a horizon. Views of the horizon, however, are rare in this territory, an area once covered by towering virgin loblolly and longleaf pine trees that rivaled the redwoods of the west coast.
“How can you stand not being able to see out?” asked my aunt one time when she was visiting us from her home in the wide-open spaces of Southwest Nebraska. “Being shut in by all these trees would drive me crazy.”
As someone else who grew up in the flat lands with horizon to horizon vistas, it took me a while to get used to being surrounded by trees and to come to appreciate the heavy tree cover. The torrid days of the hot, humid summers made such appreciation easier. Having big trees that shade the house helps keep the power bills down when the air conditioner is running day and night.
One disadvantage, however, is not being able to see approaching storms while they are still miles away. I was thinking about that the other day while looking out my bay window to the northeast to a patch of sky framed by the tops of crepe myrtles and the lower leaves of towering oaks.
When I first noticed it, the patch was bright blue – clear – but as mid-day moved toward late afternoon, the patch began showing the edges of white thunderheads. Those fluffy tops soon turned to light gray, than darker as the clouds filled the patch. The wind came up, whipping the shrub branches against the window and the crepe myrtles along the street.
The outside light faded as thunder clapped in the distance, then closer. Large drops of water splattered on the drive, then quickened to a downpour that settled back to a light steady rain.
The thunderstorm had actually come up from the southeast, but because my sky view was limited to that smallish patch, I only saw it coming when it had traveled some distance north. Just minutes had elapsed since first sighting of those storm clouds to heavy rain.
If I had been in my aunt’s home in Nebraska looking out a window, I might have seen the beginning of the formation of thunderheads along the southwest horizon, many miles away. If I had kept watching, it would have taken maybe an hour or more for those clouds to appear overhead, stirring up the wind and darkening the terrain.
In South Mississippi getting a good sky view day or night just isn’t as common as out on the Plains, where sometimes you truly feel as if you are under a large dome, one that stretches miles and miles from one horizon to another. Here, a ribbon of road you travel is all too often lined with tall trees, and the pavement doesn’t go straight out and away but rather curves and winds, hiding the views in all directions.
I’ve heard folks who’ve traveled east to west across Nebraska or other Plains states say it is awful – mile after mile of nothing with no trees in sight. On the other hand, those who’ve lived on and loved the beauty of the Plains will say, “How do you stand being closed in by all these trees?”
At this point in my life, I’ve lived in rural areas, small and medium sized towns and cities and major metropolitan areas. I’ve lived on the High Plains and in the coastal, forested regions of the Deep South. I’ve lived on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and in the English countryside. I’ve lived along the great rivers of Germany. In Eastern France I lived in an area that might pass for rolling terrain. It was actually grown-over shell and bomb craters that dotted the landscape, punctuated by rows and rows and rows of white crosses at every village
The point is that wherever you live and whatever its characteristic terrain, it’s not hard to find beauty and meaning; you just have to take it in and make it part of who you are.