The goat farm was tucked in a valley with mountains rising all around it, like pillows on a giant bed. June happily followed the four of us to where the goats were gated together in their pens, her small boots kicking up big clouds of dust from the dirt path. That afternoon the wind blew deep breaths into the valley, knotting our hair and making the dried grasses dance circles around us. We stood outside the fence watching the goats like a reality TV show as they ate their hay and climbed atop the bales. June pointed her chubby fingers at them and mimicked us as we fed them through the gate. It is true that children are always watching you, a sponge to your actions. Saying goodbye to the goats, we stopped in the country store for some samples of cheese and some take home, too. My sister in law would never leave without a purchase of goat cheese. Then into the car and down the valley we went. We were on a great adventure and this stop was only our first stop of the day.
Sunlight, an uncomplicated force without the competition of clouds, warmed our bones and the core of our bodies, too. And with its warmth, I felt the release of stress evade my body like a balloon the day after a party, slowly at first then quickly deflating until nothing remained but molten memories of yesterday’s energy. I had forgotten the way my shoulders could sit without the pressure of piling seasons upon them, like heavy cinder blocks stacked one on top of another, or freshly cut wood rising tall as it waits for the pending cold, or perhaps more accurately, it was like rocks forged against the shore, a family bonded together as the harsh winds strike bitter waves against them. All of these things and more, the sunlight released from atop my shoulders with one great “oomph” that soon echoed into the pit of my stomach and produced a smile from the emptied nest.
The park sat vacant of people, waiting for attention: swings drifting aimlessly in the wind, beside teeter totters just in front of slides that were down the row from a rocking duck and a squirrel in springs, one after the other, lined this way, each patiently waiting its turn in the afternoon sun. Baron tree branches hung above us, a reminder of the changing season that would have otherwise been easy to confuse. We let June out of the car and into the space, giving it purpose again as she explored and we all took the opportunity to play. Joy is an easy emotion to welcome when you stop inhibiting yourself from possibility and simply play.
Afternoon now, we left the park and continued our adventure downtown, where the buildings were painted with murals of the outdoors: golden streaks of sunlight reaching the second story and painted mountain tops that mirrored the landscape around us. There was a gray train that caused June to “choo choo” as we passed and largely scripted names of restaurants designed to stand out against the brick.
We followed a rock garden path to the city’s old jailhouse, now a brewery. Laughter snuck out of the doorway until it was spinning with dust particles on the patio, challenging ghosts from long ago. It is possible to omit bad memories with positive energy, I have always believed, and so this dichotomous environment proved. My sister-in-law wondered aloud what these walls could have seen or known, and I took pause to wonder myself as June waved at passerbys.
I ordered the darkest beer on tap, a brown brew that filled the glass until froth hit the rim. Outside again, we sat down at a picnic table, the four of us watching June stumble up and down the path, goldfish in hand. There was nothing to complain about in our group of five. The day was as perfect as the world around us. I could have stayed there forever like that. But since I couldn’t, I’m planning my return from here in Michigan.
Regretfully, we loaded June in our van last weekend and traveled home. How happy we had been in Florida during our working vacation in Pensacola. Now, home and almost settled back into our normal life, it is safe to say we miss the southern breeze in the morning. I walk June around our neighborhood in the afternoon, circling around our yellow house, searching for signs of coastal living I know do not grow here, aching for the place we left behind. How can the neighborhood we left behind feel so much like home, but our actual one feel like a broken link? We miss the southern breeze in the afternoon, too.
The palm trees linger heavy in our memories, along with our sandy feet, the heat from the sun hanging above us, charred tuna on the grill, Sean’s short afternoon breaks to stand with us in the backyard, evenings spent at the beach with June trying to eat the entire shoreline and us frantically swatting the sand from her mouth, a blanket spread outside where June and I read books, the splashes from June’s pool landing promptly on my legs, the sounds of the neighbor’s lawnmower cutting through the evening air, the whistle of the train just three blocks away, the green of plants, the blossoming of life around us, the blossoming of our own beings, too.
It is easy to miss the world you leave behind sometimes. We cling to the memories and hope for return. Living North can be tough, we’re ready to head south down 65 again.