Native Places: The Archive
“I Don’t Know what to call him,
But he’s mighty like a rose.”
Lyrics by Frank Lebby Stanton
Music by Ethelbert Nevin
It was New Year’s Eve at Duke University Hospital emergency room in Durham, North Carolina, and my friend Perry was dying. Few places have the adrenalin rush and high anxiety of a hospital emergency room at night. There was nothing anyone could do for Perry but make him comfortable.
I stepped outside under the canopy where the ambulances unloaded.
A mother and her eight-year-old son offered me a place to sit beside them on the wooden bench underneath the canopy. Then she walked away to talk on her cell phone.
As I sat thinking of Perry, a tiny voice from behind me asked, “What did you get for Christmas?”
It might as well have been Elijah; I was so startled.
I told the little boy that my favorite Christmas present was a book about the oldest living things in the world. And what did he get, I asked? His favorite gift was a football.
It seemed as though Perry had dispatched an angel.
let the bees send the message
I’ve watched students walking past my house to the university for years, heads-down, dodging traffic, all the while texting on cell phones. I saw one student eating cereal from a bowl he held in front on himself, a new wrinkle of behavior the World Health Organization calls “distracted walking.”
Here’s a path where no one is distracted, mown into a prairie in Franklin County, North Carolina. Two months ago the prairie was burned to the earth. Today it’s bursting with blue stem grass taller than a person.
Explorers as early as 1540 reported prairies, or “savannas,” in Piedmont Carolina. This Franklin County prairie was established 15 years ago. On a recent June morning, dragonflies flitted over milkweed flowers and honeybees reported their location with a natural GPS predating cell phones by 100 million years or so.
In Xi’an, China, the city manager has ordered brightly painted sidewalk lanes specifically for cell phone users. And in Augsburg, Germany, stoplights embedded in the curb prevent cell users from walking into traffic.
Do we really want to walk in a digitally tethered bubble? For me, I think I’ll visit more prairies and let the bees send the message.