Armchair Peregrinations

December 6, 1998

I stepped outside early Saturday to a still-dark morning. Dawn was just on the horizon. I looked up and saw the most perfect halo around the full moon. It was surprising, mysterious and beautiful. I had never seen anything quite like it. Ten minutes later, I came back out to load the car for the trip to Columbia, and it was gone. The sky was lighter, fog had replaced the darkness, and it seemed like an altogether different place and time.

The day turned out to be one of those early December days that are situated squarely in autumn, but which feel like spring. The warmth of the past week has been startling for this time of year, but it has felt so good to be outside. The fog lifted about 8:30 on the Old Charleston Highway as I made my way to Columbia for a class. As usual, there was not a car on the road.

As the miles wore on, I just wanted to look out the window and see how beautiful the sky and clouds were. There was plenty of room for sunlight to come through, but enough clouds to make the sky real interesting to look at. The light was that subtle morning light, mild and golden, not at all harsh. The rural landscape through which I passed seemed to be bathed in this gentle light. Perfect for photography and painting. The farms and old houses, bales of hay, winter wheat just coming up, barns and fences all seemed perfectly fitted to the picture I saw out my window continuously. The countryside had that in-between autumn and winter look. The grasses and weeds in fields and along the road were russet-colored. Trees still had their leaves for the most part, but many were now bare, and the ones that weren't would be soon. The color of three weeks ago had vanished and the leaves were brown, curled up and crumpling on their branches preparatory to falling to the ground.

I entered the enchanting old Horseshoe on the USC campus, mindful as always of the magnificent old trees. Truly one appreciates the venerable oaks there because they can be seen in all their aged glory -- 100-150 year-old masterpieces of nature that reach up into the sky above campus. So rare a sight in today's world is this that I marvel anew each time I visit and walk through that shady park. It's a timeless place, too, just as I remember it when I first came to Columbia in 1973. Nearby is an enormous old white oak that must measure 12 feet around at the base. I walked among the trees like they were old friends, which indeed they were.

It's hard to describe how I felt this afternoon driving back. Again, a warm, sunny day with clouds almost looking like summer. There was a mood of serenity about the countryside, as if everything was as it was supposed to be. I felt caught up in a mellow and timeless feeling. The familiar landmarks along the way were comforting. They are always there. I look for them and then pass them, satisfied. Sometimes I wonder about the people who live in those houses way out in the country, but I rarely ever see anyone during this drive. It's just a lonely country road now, although it used to be the main highway. The road's surface is getting a little worn out, but won't likely be repaved any time soon. The fields, woods, and farmland I see outside my car window are quiet and empty, but they are well used show the indelible marks of lengthy human involvement with the land.

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