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When you prep all morning for the guided hike and leave home in plenty of time. When you hit I-40 and realize your phone is in the kitchen. When you turn around to get it, then change your mind and turn around again, then regret that and turn around a third time but not at the kind of exit where it is easy to do so. When you burst into the kitchen and surprise your family and grab your phone and start again but are now hopelessly late. When you enter the Cedars of Lebanon State Park driveway as a white government van leaves but do not trust your instincts to follow it. When you jog to the lodge to ask where the field trip went and no one knows. When you drive where you think the van went (based on the vague description in the flyer) and you drive and drive and drive down a dark gravel service road with brown puddles bigger than your car and perhaps too deep for your axles. When you lie on your back under the car to fish a three-foot stick from the chassis. When every gap in the forest is a cedar glade, but every cedar glade has been destroyed by off-road vehicles. When the map says the gravel will end at a junction with a paved road—which you will take no matter where it goes—but it dead-ends twenty feet before that, at a stack of boulders, a mound of Japanese honeysuckle, some beer cans, and what looks like a grave: two white wooden crosses wearing plastic poppies the color of blood.

When you stop rehearsing what you will say when you meet up with the van.

When you turn the car around and slide sideways through the same brown potholes. This hike in what the Department of Agriculture calls “the largest contiguous cedar glade–barren complex in public ownership in middle Tennessee” has been on your calendar for a year. You wore earrings.

When you start looking at those gaps in the forest.

When yellow star grass blooms from the crest of a tire track.

When the sun disappears and the sky shortens and rain taps through the window. You like it. Your husband knows where you are because, of course, you have a phone. And it’s the wrong time of year for hunters and the wrong time of day for hell-raisers, so you do it: you get out and get wet in a ruined glade in the moment, this moment, the only one you have, and hear field sparrows, hear a pewee, hear wind in the cedars, and smell more honeysuckle. You are not expected on that hike. You are not expected anywhere. You remember you are lucky to be alive. The rain stops. You like this, too.

When you search what’s left of the nearest glade and instead of habitat see hundreds of shotgun shells in turquoise, blue, green, red, and for some reason want them all. When you have leisure to note the contents of illegal campfires: beer bottles, clay targets, shoe boxes, particle board from cheap shelves. When yellow star grass blooms from the crest of a tire track. When you load a Ziploc with brass rifle casings because no one can ask you why. When you pee without hiding in the woods. When you spot three shotgun shells lounged in a clear puddle and they are a still life, though the water moves.

When you get back to the gravel and drive from flower to flower you suddenly see in the unmown verge—leaving the car running, turning it off, it doesn’t matter, no one’s coming—and you kick through poison ivy to kneel at green milkweed mobbed with milkweed bugs and at shooting stars twined with crossvine and you poke the pale, nodding heads of false gromwell and steal one little bloom of heal-all and you rub the red ribs of Gattinger’s prairie clover so you can breathe the spice from your fingers. When you remember oxeye daisies are on the “invasive” list but wonder, Who in the world can’t love a daisy? When the lyreleaf sage turns out to be Eastern white beardtongue and isn’t it amazing how sometimes redbud leaves are glossy red hearts before they grow to green? And when hot-pink rose verbena lures you so close you see the darling lavender spikes of vervain and the pouting blue lips of Gattinger’s lobelia and while you are still squatting you find your old favorite, glade sandwort, and you can understand why people call it wild baby’s breath but the name still sounds funny, as if it is the babies that are wild.

When the rocks are made of fossils, and the moss is made of stars.

When the one prickly pear left standing is in the lee of an uprooted cedar: a former giant of a tree that pulls you closer and, if you’re careful of the cactus, could make a good place to sit. The wood has worn to the same dull silver as the limestone of the glades, but is smooth under your sliding hand, under a now-cloudless sky.

When you hope the shitty road that was too long coming in will be longer going out, and with no one on it to tell you what, or how, or why, or when.

 

Guide to Names

Cedar glade: a globally rare ecosystem
Japanese honeysuckle vine (Lonicera japonica)*
Yellow star grass (Hypoxis hirsuta)
Green antelopehorn milkweed (Ascle­pias viridis)
Small milkweed bugs (Lygaeus kalmii)
Shooting star (Dodecatheon meadia)
Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata)
False gromwell (Onosmodium molle)
Heal-all (Prunella vulgaris)
Gattinger’s prairie clover (Dalea gattingeri)
Oxeye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare)*
Lyreleaf sage (Salvia lyrata)
Eastern white beardtongue (Penstemon tenuiflorus)
Redbud (Cercis canadensis)
Rose verbena (Verbena canadensis)
Narrowleaf vervain (Verbena simplex)
Gattinger’s lobelia (Lobelia gattingeri)
Glade sandwort (Mononeuria patula)

* = species on the Tennessee Invasive Plant Council list