My pandemic epiphany: nothing compares to the natural beauty of Texas

Jennifer Toon
·3-min read

After spending half of my life in a Texas prison, I learned how to make peace with locked doors. So when a global pandemic hit and the worldwide order to stay at home began, I was frustrated but prepared. I was accustomed to not being able to leave.

Then I had an epiphany. The door wasn’t locked from the outside. I could go anywhere I wanted – excluding bars and crowded restaurants of course. For me, this meant a new opportunity for adventure.

Being trapped inside a cell for so long forced me to suppress my innate longing for nature and all the memories attached to it. But in lockdown, my childhood love affair with Texas could begin to bloom once again.

When I was younger, I used to visit the pond next to our house where snapping turtles poked their heads out of the water and perch jumped at dragonflies. I often lost track of time exploring the life brimming at the edge of those marshy banks and surrounding woods.

So early one recent morning, I stepped outside. I considered going back in for a moment, when I caught the scent of honeysuckles on the east Texas breeze. A distant memory of a different kind of peace urged me on. I was a child again, rediscovering the piney woods. Vibrant wildflowers, bursting with colors swayed to the side of each of my footsteps. I reached down and picked an Indian paintbrush and felt a surge of unexpected tears. I saw my seven-year-old self rushing towards my grandmother with a bundle of bright red flowers in hand. “I picked these for you Ma!” She swooped down and hugged me, exclaiming that they were the prettiest flowers anyone had ever given her. I had forgotten that.

I put the flower in my pocket. I was about to turn around when I heard the familiar sound of trickling water. An old curiosity drew me deeper into the woods. My heart leapt at the sight of a creek. I resisted the desire to splash through the water and scoop up tadpoles. I had forgotten this feeling of abandon, and unadulterated happiness. I sat on the edge of the creek bed and watched the leaves bounce along the current. I closed my eyes. A flood of long-forgotten memories washed over me. Hunting arrowheads, picking blackberries, collecting caterpillars in a jar.

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With shutdown orders not lifting anytime soon in Texas, where Covid-19 cases are soaring, many Texans have been feeling closed in, but I feel like my heart is reopening. Before the pandemic, I had known prison for so long that I had forgotten the joy of the outside world. But nature was my first refuge from the growing anxieties and loneliness that eventually overtook me as an adult. How deeply I have missed it.

And so, when I finally made my way home later that evening, I pulled the flower from my pocket and pressed it in my Bible, as my grandmother had taught me. She had said, “Jennifer, its beauty will never fade, we may forget it’s in there, but then suddenly one day it may fall from the pages, and what a nice reminder that will be for us!” She was right.