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Saturday, January 19, 2013


Ever see a hospital on stilts?

You could have Friday ...

if you had driven with me down what I call "the Last Exit to Eden":

The Creole Nature Trail.

I don't often drive to the small rural hospital
at the end of its winding roads.
When I do, I take the opportunity to enjoy
the sights and sounds
of this last taste of wilderness that civilization affords us.

We've talked about symbolism before.
The first stop of my journey was laden with symbolism:
the gas station situated at a lonely crossroads, appropriately named
"4 Corners."

My half-Lakota mother told me often of the spiritual power in the crossroads spinning off to the four directions,
of the personal impact of our individual decisions,
and of the crossroads of my birth.

I was born in a small hospital
built at the hub of a crossroads.
As a young child,
I listened intently
to the story Mother repeatedly told me:
that for each child born at the crossroads,
an angel and a demon came for possession of the child's soul.

"Mine, too, Mama?"

"Yes, little one. Yours, too."

I remember swallowing hard. "What happened?"

"They fought, fought hard.
At first they used fiery swords."


"But each was as fast as the other.
Then, they wrestled.
But both kept slipping out of each other's holds.
Finally, they began to arm wrestle,
pitting the strength of their spirits one against the other."

This time I couldn't swallow. "Who won, Mama?"



"They are fighting inside you still."

"Right now?"

"Yes, right now. But soon one will win."


"The one you choose, little one."

"I choose the angel!"

"Not with words, Roland.
With actions.
With each dark action, the demon grows stronger,
the angel weaker.
With each hard choice of doing what is right,
the angel grows stronger,
the demon angrier."

She ruffled the hair on my head lightly. "Choose wisely, son. Choose wisely."

Sometimes in that dark night of the soul we all must face,
I can feel them struggling still.
And then, it is oh, so hard to choose wisely.
But I try.
I try.

But we began this post by talking about a hospital on stilts. They are more huge concrete pylons than stilts ...
yet, that little boy from long ago is still alive inside me.

Hurricane Rita scoured all evidence of Man
from Cameron Parish
with its gouging fingers of wind, hurled debris, and tidal waves of surging water.
So all the structures are now built on stilts of wood or concrete. It is so odd to pass a mobile home,
towering some 20 feet in the air ... so tall it takes three tiers of stairs to reach its front door.

Not that there are many structures to be found further along these lonely roads.
And down the misty stretch of concrete,
there is a long, winding "S" of a curve under
towering Cypress tree sentinels
that I love to drive.
It is beautiful beyond my meager power to describe.

After pulling out on the straightway, I looked for my old friends who seem to know when I am coming:
a small herd of wild horses.
And I was not disappointed.
There they were, alert heads up, tails swishing in expectation.

They happily took up our old game:
racing alongside my van ...
which I slowed to stretch out our fun.
I had a new friend for the second time in my wanderings here:
 a lone egret sailing gracefully above us
as if curious at this odd ritual between part-Lakota and horses.

It actually swooped down in front of my van and around it in an elegant dance of grace and beauty.
And as I always do,
I rolled down my windows to drink in the sounds of the pounding hooves, the gusting winds,
and the haunting cry of distant hunting hawks.
But as with all moments of breath-stealing beauty,
it was over,
the horses pulling off to other games,
other interests.
I waved a bitter-sweet goodbye to them and drove onto the strangest bridge I have ever driven over.

It sweeps high up, twirls like an "S",
then slowly descends to a road with water and isolated islands of vegetation as far as you can see.
At its apex, the clouds were dark and brooding as if Estanatlehi, The Turquoise Woman of Lakota myth,
was showing me her anger at Man's past ugly, oily destruction of her Gulf waters.

As I reached the top,
I slowed, taking in the scalp-tingling view of what the world must have appeared before Man,
and I seemed to hear The Turquoise Woman murmur in my ear:
"Be careful, Little Lakota.
Veer not to the left nor to the right.
For eight lonely miles there is no shoulder to this tiny road. Break down here, and I will show you all the mercy Man
has shown me."

The second largest population of alligators in the U.S. reside here,
so it was not unexpected
to see one rise up from the waters beside the small road at the foot of the bridge.
Our eyes met.
Two species regarded each other in a moment brief
yet enlongated
as strange encounters sometimes are.

Its yellow-flecked slit eyes were cold windows
into reptilian memories of times
when Man was yet to be
and scaled monsters walked the earth as savage kings.
But I sped by, and the spell was shattered.
The alligator slipped silently beneath the dark waters, searching for easier prey.

I finally made it to the sprawling "hospital on stilts" as the little boy inside me insists on calling it.
It was eerie and quiet.
I remembered the last time I'd been there.

A mother and her little girl had walked out of the hospital.
I waved at the little girl and winked.
Catching me by surprise,
the girl giggled and ran staight to me,
wrapping her tiny arms around my waist in a happy hug.
The mother came up to me,
shaking her head in wonder.

"It must be that you have such kind eyes," she said.

I smiled at the memory and walked into my hospital on stilts.
And here is the song I listened to over and over again on my blood run along the last exit to Eden :


  1. This was one of the most beautiful posts I've ever read. Thank you so much for sharing this experience with us, so that we could--in some small way--experience it with you. In the hands of a lesser writer I wouldn't have enjoyed this nearly as much. You did a great job describing everything.

    And I LOVED the crossroads story.

  2. Tamara:
    I am so pleased that you enjoyed the cyber-trip with me along the Creole Nature Trail. The ghost of Mark Twain is claiming all the credit since he has been coaching me on how to write! :-)

    I can still see my mother's face telling me that story. And some dark times, I can feel the demon and angel struggling deep within me. Have a beautiful Saturday! Roland

  3. I think Tamara said it all. Truly wonderful post.

  4. Your post reminded me of Merritt Island on the east coast of Florida (NASA)- lots of wildlife beside the road. Lovely egrets and other birds documented by Audubon. As for the hospital - you mentioned a long curving drive, is there Spanish moss on the trees?
    Sounds like a great spot for a story.

    Enjoyed this post.

  5. Wendy:
    Thanks for writing such nice words. :-)

    Yes, there is Spanish moss on the trees. A quite beautiful region. Reader's Digest calls it one of the 20 prettiest roads to travel in America.

    This place is so special to me that I don't think I'll use it in any of my stories. It's my refuge.

    I am so happy you enjoyed this post, Roland

  6. What a wonderful memory. I could see your mother's love in your words.

    Children know.

    Perfect music for the perfect trip.

  7. Gail:
    Yes, her loving words are still with me like the ghost of a rose. Isn't Erin Bode's voice lovely?

  8. Leave it to Roland to find such poetic beauty and a little adventure the everyday. This was a nice distraction from my rush through my own life. This reminds me that sometimes we need to stop a while and reflect on nature, and all the glorious wonders of the world.

    You were blessed with a wise mother Roland.

    And I enjoyed the video too.


  9. Donna:
    A co-worker once said to me that I must live in an enchanted world the way I smiled during the crush of blood filtering and splitting.

    I tend to look at the world in my own unique way I guess. Erin Bode helps to mellow me out during the rush of my own days.

    Yes, I was indeed blessed with a wonderful mother.

    I am glad that you liked the video and my post.

    May the rush of your days grow slower and the beauty grow richer. :-) Roland

  10. This is such a moving post. I really enjoyed reading this.

  11. Gina:
    I am so happy that my post touched you. May your Sunday be healing, Roland

  12. A beautiful post that has stayed with me for a long time. I saw the road you travelled, I heard the sounds you did and I would thank you for sharing your experience so well with us. No wonder that little girl gave you a big hug!

  13. Sally:
    Thank you for those words. They made a weary morning much easier to take. I like to think that little girl saw in my eyes all the friendships that have touched me along the way - like yours. Have a beautiful day, Roland