By Danielle Buckingham

Sometimes it starts with something as simple as a sunflower.  And then obsession.

Buying dresses and rompers patterned with it. Googling images of it to stare at when you’re sad. Fantasizing about a home with strategically placed Sunflowers in cute little vases all around.

When the sadness births into a longing to disappear, to un-feel it all, you think of oceans and forests and fruit trees. You even recreate memories.

Like the peach tree from your childhood.

Nothing particularly pleasant is accompanied with that memory. But you reimagine it until it becomes something else.

You, your little brother, and baby sister are standing around a peach tree not too far from the house. Smiling wide with sticky lips and peach juice running down your chins. Your mother is there, not crying, but grinning with a camera, documenting her children enjoying a little gift from nature.

A beautifully conjured lie, too good not to remember.

Or the apple tree from your grandmother’s childhood.

That you learned about during one of ya’ll’s small exchanges about the past. About the family land and what it used to reap.

She remembers an apple tree.

One day when you are both standing in the driveway she points to the area where the tree used to be. And so when you are alone you become fixated on that spot. And you imagine the early ‘60s, four little black children dancing happily underneath a fully bloomed apple tree. Tossing apples to one another, taking large chunks out with their happy mouths, not thinking of the history being made around them. Not aware that the land and that tree is a small, but special kind of freedom.

To you, nature is a series of memories, real and imagined.

When the chemicals in your head threw fits and overwhelmed your body with sadness, you longed for bright colors. Maybe it’s because everything around you had been dulled. One of the few colors that popped out, giving you tiny releases of dopamine, was green. It reminded you that you were alive. So when you went outside and stared into the wooded area around your house, the green hypnotized you, slowed your breathing. And when you came to, after 10 minutes or so, your chest heaved, bringing you back to the present.

Mortality is the thing that led you to nature. Like it does for us all.

We were broken apart and created from the Earth. Dust to dust. So your longing, your plans, your intended escape to freedom brought you back closer to it. Now you have this discreet, but ever growing relationship with nature’s most beloved creations. The little things, a lone lady bug crawling across your bedroom ceiling, a storm that makes the windows in your house shake, or an isolated patch of daisies growing out of freshly cut grass, bringing you out of your head and back to Earth. Small gestures resting somewhere between a memory and a lie, reminding you that you are here among the living and this is exactly where you’re supposed to be.

Danielle Buckingham is a Black southern writer living and working in Oxford, Mississippi. In addition to being a VONA Workshop alum, she has been published in On She Goes, Raising Mothers, and BLACK STEW.