By the side of the road | Guest column

By the side of the road | Guest column

Submitted by Kimberly Mayer

I have been joined by fox on my walks recently. Red, black, or silver, they’re always singular, stepping out onto the country road before me. We keep an eye on each other. But before I get too close, the fox slips back into a culvert or into the thick of the woods. I think it must mean something but I’ve no idea what. According to Stephanie Rose in Interpreting the Spiritual Meaning of Seeing a Fox, “as a spirit animal, the fox reveals itself during times of great and unpredictable change.”

Queen Anne’s Lace is abloom on island in fields, meadows, and roadsides. I can’t tell you what that wildflower means to me. My first marriage was in a church built in 1846 in Suffield, Connecticut. I had no affiliation with that church, I just liked the look of it. Small, white, wooden, an interior without ornament, without electricity. A hand-pumped organ, a lectern, and pews. And on that day upon every window sill, homemade arrangements of Queen Anne’s Lace. A young bride in a white cotton dress—I wish I could stop her, but there was no stopping her.

Alongside Queen Anne’s Lace is the wild blue flower I mistook for an aster when I was first on island. In fact, it’s Common Chicory, a woody perennial herb in the dandelion tribe. It was at the Master Gardener Demo Garden that I stood corrected, and I remember shrieking with joy that this little flower, all over San Juan Island, is chicory. What came to me then and what comes to me now are memories of The French Quarter in New Orleans. Dishes to die for—“first you make a roux,” bougainvillea growing to extraordinary heights on wrought-iron balconies and the texture of crumbling brick walls. Squares, courtyards and patios, the smells of mossy trees, gardenia, and sweet olive. And the distinctive taste of the coffee. The ground root of Chicory used as a coffee substitute in The Depression, and today, as a matter of preference mixed with dark bean coffee in New Orleans.

Growing in sunlight where everything gave up ever trying to grow—for they seem to come out of rocks—the California Poppy. The state flower of California, native to the entire Pacific slope of North America. Small and demure with a vibrant orange color, reseeding itself if happy, the California Poppy expresses the optimism and free spirit of the state. Flowers that close at night and on cloudy days. I experienced that when I first moved to California from New York, continually calling people too late at night, not realizing that Californians more closely follow the sun.

I am coming home from my walk. This is where I turn in: a shrubby lot by the side of the sea. The tide rolls out, the tide rolls in—and everything comes back to us. It never leaves. A great state in a seed, two days in New Orleans, a brief marriage, and a knowing fox.