Armchair Peregrinations

April 29, 2002

Last night I walked to the end of the Folly Beach pier. It was about 9:15. The wind was blowing strong, whipping the waves and making them crest far from shore.

The constant crashing of those waves, and the sound of the wind made the pier seem like a wild and storm-tossed ship at sea, except that the pier was motionless.

All around me I felt the raw power of Nature. I had to stand against the wind. I looked down to the dark waters, illuminated by the lights on the pier, and it was a strange and exhilarating sensation. Almost nobody was out on the pier, so I had the long boardwalk out to sea almost to myself.

On nights like that, I have moody thoughts when I am alone with the elements. Other people seem like figurines in a moving tableaux. Not quite real. We ignore each other. I pass them by and at the end of the pier am alone on the ocean.

April 25, 2002

It seems so sudden now that the days are once again long, the sun casting its warm rays over the land until well past 7 each evening. The time has come once for the annual ritual of staying out on the beach just before, and then for a while past sunset, through that magical transition from light to dark when the stars begin to appear above me one by one, and I hear the ocean ever more clearly, and the moon is all of a sudden startlingly bright and luminous. As during my time there last night.

But I don't want to rush it. Yesterday was a high tide afternoon at Folly, around 7:15 when I got out to the beach, and there was only a small sliver of sand between me and my beach lounge. The waves woud push up in their final spreading out over the sand to just in front of the chair and then recede back to the ocean. But I came out just at the crest of the high tide, and soon the tide was retreating quickly, it seemed. I sat for a while reading a good book and looking out over the ocean, an evening ritual I plan to repeat many more times in the coming months.

April 22, 2002

Saturday I drove out of the city, far out toward Savannah to the ACE Basin. Past the Ashepoo River to the entrance to the huge sanctuary where I retreat whenever I need to find complete solitude and isolation -- no sounds of cars on distant or nearby highways, no trucks. No other people, really.

Before long, I was several miles into the preserve, driving along a dirt road, tall pines on either side, passing through pockets of upland woodland, and then. to the right, huge expanses of open water, marsh, and bird habitat. It was to one of these open areas that a trunk dirt road led, past a section of forest with large oaks, including live oaks, and onto a land bridge between two sections of the marsh.

I stopped the car and got out. There was a hot, warm wind that felt so gloriously nourishing and comforting, soothing my soul, taking the stress completely away. The sun and the wind. Red-shouldered hawks soaring overhead on warm air thermals.

These were moments to savor. Each minute I was out there, leaning on my car, feeling the wind, looking at the trees and delighting in the crystal clarity of the atmosphere -- everything about the time I was there -- about 30 minutes -- was apart from normal time, normal reality. I felt so much like all would be well. That this place and this feeling and this gift rendered everything else I had been concerned about smaller and less significant. No less real, but with less power to influence my moods and thoughts. There was a peace. A sense of having escaped for a brief time the fetters of this life. That is why I go there. That is why I traveled beyond where I normally go. I kept driving on that road until I knew where to stop the car and get out and have the experience I did. My instincts were correct.

April 20, 2002

Spring continues on its way during this spectacular seasonal parade of beauty. Everywhere flowers are in bloom. The trees are fully green and have their summer shade and coloring. Observing with astonishment, as I always do, those big, puffy white clouds that soar up into the blue infinity above me, I sense the carefree, tropical, hot season upon us. There is no doubt about it.

Along Anson Street on my walk to the college the other day, I smelled the unmistakeable scent of the most powerful evoker of memories of the past for me -- the legustrum bushes which arch over sidewalks and garden walls. I reach up to smell a cluster of white flowers at the end of a branch with its distinctive, shiny leaves. And I am transported back to my childhood in New Orleans and the huge legustrum that stood in front of our house in Jefferson Parish and which sheltered us within its cool interior on those hot summer days full of endless freedom from school and non-stop play. The enchantment of childhood before it is all gone. The simple, humble legustrum conjures it all up. So, I will savor the sweetness and the memories, for a couple of weeks more. Maybe less.

April 16, 2002

Beautiful day yesterday, the first really warm day of the year when hints of summer were only too obvious. Puffy, white clouds in the sky. A warm breeze. I knew it was just a matter of time before the really hot weather arrives. Time to make a couple of more trips to the nature preserve before June. Time to enjoy being outdoors as much as possible because in a month or so, it will be increasingly hot and stifling in our humid summer months.

In fact, during July and August I mostly don't even walk the five blocks to the college because I know I will just get very uncomfortable. Walking is a terrible exertion during the noontime hours in summer, well into September.

It's not as hot here in Charleston, however as in New Orleans where I grew up. I will never, to this day, forget the awesome and powerful, knock-down, flattening blasts of heat and humidy in that city on any given day in summer. And relentlessly. When a place is surrounded on all sides by water, there is bound to be some overpoweringly humid air that heats up in the sub-tropical sun.

So, as I did yesterday late, I will retreat to Folly Beach after work several times a week to find the cool ocean breezes this summer, as I did last night. I will plan to stay out past dark looking at the moon and stars, and drifting off into states of pure contemplation and relaxation as I listen to the surf and feel that wind buffeting my face. My summer escape.

April 10, 2002

It's been heavily overcast and raining off an on all morning. Such a contrast to yesterday when I left Sumter for the back roads leading to Four Holes Swamp and the inland nature preserve I savor visiting each fall, winter and spring.

A true cypress-tupelo tree-creek swamp, the water levels were up and the clear, tea-colored water flowed gently among the cypress knees and in braided streams through the expanse of swamp along the path. The reflections of the trees in the water were fantastic. Gorgeous. I felt like I was looking deep down into some inverted sky. Everywhere spring songbirds were letting me listen to their sweet melodious sounds. I heard them up in the trees, but they were hard to spot in my binoculars. Butterflies, wildflowers, including lilies, turtles moving about under water, spider skimmers, wind rustling the new-green leaves -- spring at its finest.

It was mild, almost warm, but the afternoon's walk among those tall trees and birdsong restored my spirits in no time and had me fortified and ready to face the outside world again. This is what makes taking vacation from work so invaluable -- having the time during the week to visit places like that wondrous swamp. Summer is drawing near, and it will be quite a different and less hospitable place soon. So I am glad I went yesterday.

April 6, 2002

Went out to the beach this afternoon, and it was too cold to walk or do anything much. Brrrrr!!! It felt like winter. I was so disappointed. I am ready for warm, summerlike afternoons at low tide, reading and looking out over the ocean at the sky and clouds. I have missed it so much. Winter always seems to linger at this time of year.

Tomorrow will begin Daylight Savings Time, and I can plan to start going to the beach after work and coming back about 9 pm after the sun has set. When it is warm this summer, I hope to spend many such early evenings that way. Dreamy, relaxed, listening to the surf. Feeling the day's stresses fade away in the ceaseless, unchanging moods of the beach.

A little while ago, I watched the sun set over the marsh. My sister and her children are here for a spring vacation, and we fixed a delicious seafood dinner and are now lazily spending the evening together at my brother's beach house, the same house my aunt for years owned and where we spent so many beach vacations and visits when we were younger. This is our "family" place to enjoy and savor.

April 3, 2002

On my sporadic walks in the neighborhood, especially late in the afternoon almost at sunset, I enjoy observing the trees and leaves in the special light of these afternoons. When they built the subdivision in back of me 20 or 30 years ago, many trees were left standing, to the credit of whoever developed the area. Consequently, there are some mighty fine and tall trees to admire, and a very wooded feel to my immediate surroundings. Although it is, of course, a suburban tract housing development, It does have a certain character and charm to it, however, which the years have bestowed, and of which I am very much aware .

When my walks take me farther off to the edges of this neighbhorhood, to a very beautiful street which is thickly wooded and landscaped, I make a point of passing a vacant lot, behind which are several acres of what must be the last uncut little remnent of the original forest in this part of James Island. It is a pristine parcel of woods, anchored by the most mangificent old oak tree, towering up over the surrounding trees and of massive girth and circumference. I always see it from a slight distance, and it's usually only visible in winter and early spring when the surrounding woods are bare.

I gazed at it the other day in utter gratitude, for it is a beacon in this suburban, developed world I live in, a relic, a remnant of the original forest. As I looked at the tree, I could imagine what this spot on the map must have been like 100 years ago, or 50 years ago -- how lovely and beautiful to contemplate a world where civilization had not yet irrevocably altered the landscape.

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