| the history of wake forest
reflection, for among many virtues, Missy’s best is silence,
and the teenager, deciding to punish me for uprooting her
life, broke security only to say, “A double hamburger with
everything,” or “See if this motel has color television.”
Leaving behind me such picturesque place names
in Oklahoma as Antlers, Bowlegs, Boggy Depot, Broken
Arrow, Gene Autry, Hominy, Ida Bell, Lone Wolf, Wildcat,
and Zincville, I drove toward North Carolina’s equally pic-
turesque place names: Alligator, Big Pine, Bullock, Climax,
Kill Devil, Manly, Chunky Gal, Lizard Lick, Why Not, and my
favorite, Sligo (a fork in the road which furnishes the deri-
vation, “Shall I go this way or shall I go that way?”) Place
names seem to stress the differences between the states.
My map recorded many more towns in North Carolina with
springs, lakes, water, and falls attached to a cognomen. I
noticed, too, that trees—oak, grove, and particularly pine,
appeared more often in place names as I moved eastward.
The nearness of mountains can be ascertained also from
place names. As North Carolina spread under the wheels of
my car, I found words like hill, forest, ridge, mount, rocky,
summit, gap, and point all appearing in place names. I
also noticed a change in the air. Form the clear dry air of
Oklahoma, with its scent of meadow grass, of cattle, of
acrid petroleum fumes, I came into the softer, moister,
pine-scented air of North Carolina.
The quality of the sunlight is also different. In the Mid-
west the heat and the dryness give all things a hard-edged
look; objects shine and glisten as if painted with acrylics.
Here in North Carolina the light is pastel and mellow; it
gives to objects the qualities of lovely water color paintings
or of delicate oils. Here there is light such as Gainsborough
painted by. Or Sir Joshua Reynolds. In Oklahoma, we have
Van Gogh’s light or Gauguin’s or Picasso’s.
The space I occupy is different in these two places. I
speak now of kinetic space—that sense of projection of self
into the air around me. I am taller and harder in Oklahoma
and I cast a blacker, longer shadow.
In a flat Oklahoma wheatfield with a strong southwest
wind flattening the grasses and with the immense dome of
the sky arching over him, a man stands at right angles to
the earth, the only perpendicular on a horizontal plain that
extends for miles in every direction. He is unprotected,
alone, but his spirit soars outward toward the sun, toward
the horizon lines in the distance.
In North Carolina the great trees—live oaks along
the coast and tall pines in the hills—dwarf a man at the
same time they protect him. The rolling hills, the wooded
mountains break up his line of vision, turning his thoughts
inward, increasing by the variety in the landscape, his
sense of mystery. The river valleys cradle him; the rush-
ing streams beckon. Here excitement and anticipation
come from the countryside; in Oklahoma the landscape is
predictable and permanent.
I had read Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass long before
I knew that I would one day call North Carolina home. Whit-
man spoke so appealingly of the Carolinas that my thinking
about the state is colored by his words. They are relevant,
if somewhat romantic, at this point in my comparisons of
landscapes and natural phenomena:
…In lower latitudes, in warmer air, in the Carolinas the
large black buzzard floating slowly high beyond
the treetops,
Below, the red cedar festooned with tylandria, the pines
and cypresses growing out of the white sand that
spreads far and flat,
Rude boats descending the big Pee Dee, climbing plants,
parasites with colored flowers and berries envel-
oping huge trees,
The waving drapery on the live oak trailing long and low
noiselessly waved by the wind…
Southern fishermen fishing, the sounds and inlets of North
Carolina’s coast, the shad fishery and the herring
fishery, the large sweep seines, the windlasses on
shore worked by horses, the clearing, curing, and
packing houses;
Deep in the forest in piney woods turpentine dropping from
the incisions in the trees, there are the turpentine
There are the Negroes at work in good health, the ground in
all directions is covered with pine straw…
You are familiar with the equally romantic view of
Oklahoma furnished by Rodgers and Hammerstein, where
“the corn is as high as an elephant’s eye,” where “there’s a
bright golden haze on the meadow,” where “the winds come
sweeping down the plain.”
My taste buds have been titillated by hot Mexican and
bland Indian food in Oklahoma; I have seen fire blazing at
the tops of wildcat oil wells; I know fish abound in farm
ponds and streams. But my Oklahoma experience had not
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