______ As Myth
This project conceived by Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton, 2021-22 CERCL Artist in Residence and owner of Deep Ink, LLC, includes a community writing workshop centered on personal mythology (modeled after her forthcoming book Black Chameleon), an art-based project that interprets local mythologies into visual art, and a community exhibit highlighting student, community and professional artists at the Moody Center for the Arts.
The Children of the Road
Story by Madeline Gaffney
Art interpretation by Sophia Deleon-Wilson
There is a road that runs across the continental US from the Atlantic to the Pacific. It bends around the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, slowly twirls up every mountain, and whines through every valley, swamp, and desert in its path. On this outstretched road, on the spot where the warm orange setting sun, the pink-purple sky, and the deep gray concrete all collide, a girl was born. She emerged from a crack on the edge of the asphalt that uncovered the nutrient rich soil underneath the road. In this crack on the side of the road, life thrived. Grass, sunflowers, and now, a girl. The evening she emerged, with dark curly hair, bronze skin and high cheek bones, the sunflowers lowered their petals to lift and cradle her in their blossoms. The trees began to grow over her to provide her shade, and the frogs and cicadas sang solos and duets for her first lullaby. She was born a child of the earth, and from the moment she was born she was surrounded with love.
She was born from the earth, so it was only natural that she would be raised by nature. As a baby, the sunflowers were her rocking chair, and nearby nursing mammals provided her with milk. As a toddler, she crawled with the squirrels and lizards, and learned to sing from the birds. In childhood, she learned to hunt from dogs and cats, and gave back to the animals by picking up goodies on her walks through the rural area, mostly fruits from the nearby farms. One day, she got too ambitious walking through a farmer’s land. While she typically only gathered fruits that had fallen from the orchard near the edge of the property, that day she wanted to grab apples from the barn house to feed herself and her animal caretakers. She made it from the outer orchard to the barn house near the center of the property, but as she turned to leave she was confronted by the farmer, a tall man with warm praline skin and soft almond shaped eyes. His tightly curled hair had grown white with age, but his freckles gave his face an almost youthful glow. He had seen the girl playing by the road before, but never thought it was his business to intervene. In a rural farm community like this it wasn’t uncommon to see young kids out playing on their own. And almost no one drives on the road she would play near, unless they were headed far out of town. Now that he stood face to face with her, he asked gently “What are you doing in my shed?” The girl’s eyes grew wide and she stood frozen in place; she had never interacted with a human before. The farmer then got down on his knee to get eye level with the girl, “Little girl, what is your name? Where are your parents?” Seeing his face up close, the girl’s fear was replaced with curiosity, and she responded to his question by giggling and tracing her finger through each of the freckles on his cheek.
After a few failed attempts at communication, the farmer brought the girl inside his house to be examined by his wife. “Amba, come get this girl to talk” the farmer requested, interrupting Amba’s stew preparation for that evening. Amba was just as calm and gentle with the girl as the farmer was, and just as with the farmer, the girl only giggled and this time touched Amba’s nose with the tip of her index finger. After sitting with the girl for a while, the couple decided to have her stay with them until someone came looking for her. Once it was decided, Amba turned to the girl with a sigh, “better come help me in the kitchen then” and with that Amba and the farmer prepared for the girl her very first warm meal.
Weeks went by and no people ever came looking for the girl. The couple did notice however, all the birds, squirrels and other animals that would come to the girl’s window to watch her during the day. They also noticed the many evenings the girl would sneak away with food and run back to that grassy spot by the road to have dinner with the animals. After a few months, the farmer couple decided to adopt the girl as their own and named her Meadow, after the place she must have come from.
Meadow grew up fast, learning how to speak, read and write from Amba and the farmer. She went to school, she made friends. She helped the farmer harvest his crops, and she helped Amba in the kitchen, all the while stealing playdates and evening strolls with her animal friends from the road. Meadow was a fast learner and she did well in school. When she got old enough – although the couple was never quite sure how old she was exactly – the farmer even taught her how to drive his old hatchback. Meadow always had an adventurous spirit, wanting to explore outside more than anything else, but her love for her parents always kept her anchored to the farm. Everything seemed to be going well for the unconventional little family on the farm until the evening after Meadow’s graduation. Earlier that day, Amba and the farmer had planned a celebration with all of their neighbors to celebrate Meadow’s achievement. All of her local animal friends were in attendance as well. It was a great outdoor party with food, drinks and merriment. However, as the sun began to set, the animals began to become agitated. As Meadow was hugging one of her friends goodbye, a group of squirrels began to bite at her pants in an attempt to pull her away from the farm. Meadow shook her leg with slight annoyance “not now guys, I am in the middle of something,” as she apologetically smiled at her friend. “They usually aren’t like this” Meadow reassured her friend. But only a few minutes later, a group of birds began to grab at her hair to pull her off the farm. Meadow began to get frustrated. She shooed the birds away and ran inside the house. The party was over anyway, and she was too tired to go to the road to play with her animal friends tonight.
The animals were persistent. They stayed in the windows, staring at Meadow as she moved from room to room. Meadow did her best to ignore sounds of chirps and scratches at the window as she sat down with her parents for dinner. “You aren’t a kid any more, baby” Amba placed her hand on Meadows cheek and smiled, trying to hold back the tears in her eyes. Meadow placed her hand over Amba’s and smiled, “I still feel like a kid though.” At dinner the family reminisced about Meadow’s childhood, all the funny moments, and the fact that fate brought them all together. From the table, they watched the sunset. As the sun glided closer towards the earth, the animals grew louder and louder. As the farm grew dark around them, Amba frowned at the growing uproar in the window, “I’ve never seen them act like this” she said looking concerned. “I’ll go out and deal with them in a second” Meadow reassured her. “But first, Mom, Dad,” Meadow said, feeling sentimental. “I just want to say, I’m glad it was your farm that I came to when I was a little kid. I love you guys.” And with that, the farmer and Amba got up to embrace their daughter. However, when Meadow went to stand she fell to the ground. Her feet were heavy as concrete.
Suddenly, a wonderful evening turned panicked. Meadow couldn’t even move her toes. Her parents were dumbfounded. The animals at the window, however, suddenly grew calm. They silently moved to the door to show the parents the way. Unable to think of anything else, the farmer picked up his child and carried her outside. The animals lead him back to the patch of grass in the crack in the asphalt. Squirrels and birds circled the area where Meadow had once emerged. The farmer placed Meadow on the grass and she felt the familiar caress of the sunflowers. Within minutes the feeling returned to her legs and Meadow could stand again. Meadow jumped with joy and went to hug her parents but they didn’t return her warm smile. “What does this mean?” Amba asked with concern on her face. “What are we supposed to do?” the farmer asked, turning to the animals now for guidance. The animals and the sunflowers simply turned their heads towards the road, looking into the distance. Her parents seemed confused, but suddenly Meadow knew what she had to do. “I think I have to go.”
Meadow had always had a connection with the animals, not so much with words, but with feelings. And now, the feeling was very clear: she had to travel down the road. If she didn’t start traveling, she would slowly turn into the very cement that she stood on. She had come from the road, gifted with the ability to connect with nature and animals, and with this gift came a cost. To find her life’s purpose she had to listen to her inner knowing and travel down this seemingly never ending road that gave her life. Through tears, she explained her situation to her parents. Her parents went back to the farm to pack Meadow’s things for her. When they finished, her parents came back to the road to spend their last night with their daughter sleeping on the grass on the meadow she came from. She would leave in the morning.
In the morning, after a tearful goodbye to her parents and animal friends, Meadow set out on the road in her father’s hatchback with no destination in mind. She just knew that she had to travel, stopping when the time was right, and leaving when the time was done. Meadow knew she would she would see many things, and meet many people. Potential was all around her. Part of her feared the lonely journey, traveling on her own. But, at her core, she knew she would never truly be alone. Love was all around her, from the people, to the animals, to the plants growing on the edge of the road. The earth had provided for her from the day she emerged, and she had a feeling that what she had experienced so far was only the beginning.