Armchair Peregrinations


November 17, 1998

Mild and misty, warm and humid -- the calendar says November, but the air outside says otherwise. I was sweating during my walk to the College of Charleston at lunchtime yesterday. It was not what I'd call a cool, crisp autumn day. I'm ready for some cold air again.

Ten years ago in my journal, I wrote about a day hike north of Baton Rouge, La., in the Tunica Hills area of southern Mississippi to an unusual natural area that had, of all things, small waterfalls along a gorge in the loess hills area of that state: A nice, mild autumn day with some leaf color. The woods were peaceful with tiny Clark Creek, cool and spring fed, trickling through the little gorge that's created in the loess hills of this region. Ate lunch in St. Francisville beforehand, and after the hike stopped for a drink at the Pond General Store and then drove along some Mississippi country roads to Woodville, one of the state's oldest towns and then back down to Baton Rouge. A very pleasant day, and escape from pressures here, however temporary.

Then, as now, I was in graduate school, the main difference being I was a full-time student studying journalism, whereas now I'm going part-time. I had a lot of time to mull over my classes and subject matter then. Maybe too much time. Today, I'm trying to juggle many more things, such as school and a full-time job. Ten years ago, I didn't know what all the schoolwork was leading to, maybe a teaching job in a community college, I imagined. Today, my studies are much more focused and goal-oriented. In Baton Rouge, I was very much in transition, and my entry of Nov. 19, 1988, reflects a state of mind which brings a shock of recognition to me today: I feel like a weary pilgrim searching for his place in a strange world to which he often feels he doesn't belong. That is the entire journal entry. It was a different emotional climate for me then. I was in my latter 30's, youth was fast departing, and yet, curiously, I still felt like most of my life was ahead of me. But I had no idea what was coming next after I finished a very finite set of studies.

Sometimes, ironically, I yearn to feel that level of uncertainty again, strange for me to say now that I've been here at my present job for four years. Now, my horizons seem much more circumscribed. Time is passing, and I'm not as aware of its passage.

I escaped to the beach briefly last Thursday afternoon feeling the need to ease some of the tremendous stresses that have been with me all semester. The beach was totally empty, not a soul around. I walked for awhile up the beach, and remember wishing there were at least a few people in the distance. It was too isolated. Normally, I wouldn't mind this at all. But last week it was all vaguely uncomfortable. I sat down on flat piece of granite embedded in the sand to control erosion and tried to practice a state of calm as I listened to the ocean break against the shore. It was soothing to let myself be one with my immediate environment. The wind felt good on my face. I turned slightly to my right at one point, and saw a seagull, wings fully outstretched, floating almost at a standstill to the ground near where I sat, not 15 feet away. It was the most graceful movement, and I was able to study and marvel at it only too briefly. He looked at me momentarily, then just stood there as if to keep me company. The wind was ruffling his feathers, and he just hunkered down for a visit. I really felt that this solitary gull was there to be with me in my aloneness, two creatures sharing a spot on the beach. When I got up to leave, he didn't seem too fazed, and maintained his place. I looked up to the far east end of the beach and saw a lone figure approaching slowly in the distance. There was at least one other person out there that day, and the knowledge comforted me on that early November afternoon that's only a memory now.


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