Armchair Peregrinations

January 30, 2002

I drove way out into the countryside Monday on a day off from work. The nature preserve was closed that day, which I had forgotten, so I headed farther up the road to the wildlife sanctuary. This place is a good bit harder to find, way off the main highway on the Dawtoo River (I love that name). I spent some time sightseeing in a small, historic community with old churches and houses after making two or three wrong turns.

Ah, what a reward when I finally got there. I drove down a 2 1/2 mile gravel road to the entrance and immediately saw beautiful trails on either side through winter woods. It was just a perfect day. Temps in the 70s. Plenty of warm sunshine. Nice clouds in the sky.

Leaves crunched underfoot as I made my way down one of the trails. Pine and oak woods on either side. Nice clearings so typical of winter when all the undergrowth is as bare as the trees.

The light that day was almost painterly. It had an unreal quality, it was so clear and transparent. Crystalline, yet golden warm in a light and airy, soothing and comforting way. The air is fresh way out in the country, and I love to smell the earthiness of everything.

At one spot on the trail, the startling green of short pine trees stood out in marked contrast to the prevailing brown and russet colors. The sky was a pure blue in between the clouds. It was a splendid day to be outdoors and good to be alive on such a say when I was feeling so good and my mind was clearer and less troubled and heavy than it has been lately.

January 27, 2002

At work the other day, I and two younger, 30-something colleagues, got off on the subject of our 20s. Those golden days of yesteryear. One co-worker said he could definitely go back and live those years again. They were fun. He'd done a lot of things. The other co-worker said, "No way I'd want to go back and be 25 again. I don't have any regrets." Now me, I weighed in with a comment that was sort of a mixed bag.

Yes, I could go back and relive some of those days. My early to late 20s were great years. I really came into my own then. I met some wonderful friends I would still cherish decades later. I loved the jobs I had. Life seemed to be on a roll. But would I have done anything differently? Do I have regrets? The real mistakes and misfortunes came in the next decade of my life. Of course there were things I would do differently. Different decisions I would make. But this exercise is nothing but sheer futility. We'll never have the chance to redo things, make decisions over again and the like, so why even come up with hypotheticals -- "If I could go back in time" or "If I could do it over again." It's nothing but bollocks. Ridiculous.

And, I don't know why people would ever say, "I have no regrets." I hear this from time to time and it amazes me. Everyone who's human has regrets. We all have things we are not proud of in our past. Plenty of things. We all have regrets. So let's not fool ourselves.

So the question, "Would you want to be 25 again?" is one which I can't just summarily dismiss. I would like to be that age again in some respects. Life didn't seem to have so many limits. Mortality was a far-off concept. It's nice to be young. But now I have many years of living behind me. I have had both great joy and great suffering in my life. Mostly, I have lived between the extremes, as we all do to maintain our sanity. But those low points gave me some measure of wisdom and humiliy I would never have had otherwise. The high points in life are so rare that we savor them extra sweetly in our memory. Most of the time, we're trying to just live life as best we know how. We're on a plateau. We've climbed to that height and there aren't as many steep inclines to labor up. Further, we don't make decisions in a vacuum. No matter how bad our earlier decisions and how we agonized over the consquences, they were in some sense destined to happen. No matter what.

Tonight as I contemplate some of the stressful and anxiety-inducing aspects of getting older, those years of my 20s seem impossibly far away. And maybe that is the point. A lot of water has flowed by under the bridge. There's no retracing my steps, and that is ultimately a good thing. Some day in the future we may be able to go back in time, but it's not something I can envision in any future I can contemplate for myself.

January 24, 2002

I noticed something yesterday about the clouds racing by not far above me as I sat in my usual spot by the waterfall in the college garden. It was a very windy day, and you know how you look up and see the clouds borne along by those winds? Well, it just struck me. Here are these ephemeral, airy, vaporous clouds and yet they float by truly like armadas in a fleet of ships, intact, not separated a bit into fragments by those strong winds. It just seems odd to me. The wind blows great batches of the ragged masses of clouds and they all hold together. One would think they would dissipate and scatter from the force of the wind. I think I don't know as much about clouds as I pretend to. I should read the book I recently bought about them.

Just some of the thoughts that went through my mind. It was a truly nice day, temps in the mid-70s. Very springlike for mid-January. I rested there for awhile during my lunch hour, gradually noticing that the hurried pace of the morning just past was beginning to seem like some distant memory. That quiet and peaceful place calms me down. I had been rushing and going at full-speed for two solid hours and was in a hyper-alert state of mind when I reached the garden. Everything went very well at work. I felt at the very top of my form doing my job, but it can be exhausting. But, it was a good feeling overall, and time sped by as if it was meaningless. It was so good to have that time to unwind and watch the clouds for a short while.

January 22, 2002

Saturday afternoon, late, in Sumter at Memorial Park, I got a good glimpse of winter. The sky was that heavy-set January gray, and the air was cold, but not frigid. It's never too too cold in South Carolina. But with the bare oak trees and the branches outlined in the gray sky, I felt the presence of winter as I only do at this particular time of year. It was a January day. And I liked it. I was glad. We have had too long an Autumn.

On the Old Chareston Highway earlier, I noticed that the recent cold weather has transformed the woods into what one would expect them to look like at this time of year. The countryside was beautiful. The sky was streaked with clouds. The fields of cotton and corn all stubble and faint reminders of the past growing season. The grasses and weeds in fields were russet-brown. The cows were settled down in the pecan tree orchard I always try to see as I pass on Highway 15. All the comfortable landmarks along the road were in place. Time passed. The two-hour drive was a comfortable reverie of passing road and rural landscape. I would like to see some of it close up, but that's usually not part of the plan. Taking side roads and exploring them requires a leisurely day of driving. Aimlessly. Doing this has its own rewards. But I''ve gotten very much out of the habit.

January 18, 2002

College of Charleston,
12:10 pm

It's a springlike afternoon, and I have just finished lunch while sitting here in the garden at the college. I'm listening to the waterfall in the large goldfish pond, in my customary spot where I can hear the flowing water quite clearly. In fact, it is such a fine, shirtsleeves day that the mere fact of it being the middle of January seems preposterous. The trees are all bare around me, but a cluster of azalea bushes near the garden wall is lit up by a covering of brilliant, dark- pink flowers that makes it seem even more like early spring. These flowers have lasted for some time now. It is quite remarkable. How beautiful to look at every time I come here.

I never tire of listening to the water flowing over the ledges into the pond below. I can truly say that this completely underutilized sanctuary in the midst of a bustling college campus reminds me of some secret garden that few seem to know about.. Or else, they never take the time to appreciate its special charms. In winter I have it mostly to myself. I have spent many long and quiet moments here in thought and contemplation.

January 14, 2002

It rained a lot Saturday night, and was cool and windy. I liked it. The air was being cleansed and refreshed that night. And we need every bid of rain we can get all winter to relieve the drought.

Yesterday, it dawned clear and beautiful, and the low winter light on the trees was golden-hued. I love those colors at this time of year.

I looked out the window to the big oak tree and noticed that at last its leaves were turning and becoming gold in that light. I have never seen it change color like that and this late, either. Finally, in the middle of January, it is like autumn all over again. The pear trees are turning red, the oaks are golden. It took some cold weather to finally set in motion the finale of what began last Fall. it is a sight to behold. Makes me not think of winter at all. Yet, I do love winter. I enjoy the very cold, brisk, invigorating air, as I savored on a walk yesterday at the beach. The winter beach draws me to it as much as the summer beach. It is a totally different place in the cold weather. Lots of people were out yesterday. Bundled up. I had my head and ears covered. I listened to the surf, which was low and subdued. I did not think of too much in particular. Then I went back to the house to watch the sunset over the marsh.

January 10, 2002

I was recently at the wildlife sanctuary about an hour's drive from here, and I drove on a most beautiful access road -- a dirt road through very tall pine trees -- to the marshes and former rice fields. Hundreds and thousands of acres surrounded me. This is truly like a wilderness, far from the highway, from noise and traffic. Far from people.

I stopped the car at the trail I usually walk for a short distance, the one that starts by the abandoned house. Perhaps it was once a hunting lodge. I don't know. It is in the middle of nowhere. It wasn't a farm. But it looks like a normal house, just slowly fading away into the land.

Each year, I look for changes, for some indication that it will be crumbling soon, but it always looks the same. I can peer into the empty rooms and see the bare walls and floors, the ghostly interior. Weeds and vines have grown up around the doors and windows. I don't go inside. I just observe the house from a short distance away. I wonder what it was like in its prime. It's a nice house. And, in its abandoned state, it is endlessly fascinating to me. I have always been intrigued by these structures left by their owners to the wind and elements. They are silent testimonials to the passage of time. And at the preserve, there is no one around. No cars. Just hawks soaring endlessly high above the marsh. I watched them for awhile.

Then I went back to the grounds where the house is situated. All around are the most magnificent old live oaks. This would be a perfect spot for a picnic, underneath those grand old trees. I always feel a sense of being apart from the world out there. Far away from everything. And the abandoned house makes it seem more otherwordly. I had not been in nearly two years. I wonder if, when I go there this spring, I will notice any changes in the house. Somehow, I think not. I don't know why, but it seems to endure and hold on. It is a very mysterious place. I like coming in the day when the sun is high and the canopy of trees don't make it seem too dark and foreboding.

And the birds -- what a feast for the eyes to watch them. Silent. Floating on thermals. Circling. Flying higher and higher. Never seeming to come down to earth.

January 6, 2002

The Nature Preserve
Saturday, Jan. 5, 3:30 pm

I'm sitting down for a minute after about a mile of walking at the nature preserve. I decided to come here this afternoon for my first visit of the new year. It is only fitting that I come as early in the year as possible to this place of such stunning natural beauty.

The sky today is quite remarkable. It is filled with high clouds that are like thousands of puffy cotton balls separated by little insterstices of blue sky. Directly overhead, the clouds are bigger, or appear to be, and there's more blue. Far in the distance, past the waterfowl haven of marsh and former rice field canals, the cotton balls seemed tightly packed together, and the sun is a bright patch of light behind them, brilliant white, nevertheless, because the clouds are so thin, but subdued just a bit by that gauzy, patchwork of vapors. Those same clouds are reflected in the still waters in front of where I am sitting. There is hardly a breath of wind. The water is like a mirror.

Just as I wrote those words, the wind has picked up, and it feels gently cool on my face. It has warmed up significantly from yesterday's high temperatures in the 30s. One day, and such a startling contrast in the weather.

Along the trail a little while ago, I passed a group consisting of two couples and some children, bundled up and bird watching and observing Nature. One of the men shouldered an infant on a pack on his back. They were looking up into the tall, dead loblolly pine that is a landmark on the trail, a tree which eagles nest in and take off from in majestic flight. When the time is right, you can see them, but it is rare.

Here we were -- I, a lone man walking steadily toward them, trying to get past them and into the clear. It seemed as if two parallel worlds passed each other on the path. I had no inclination to say a word in greeting, and neither did they, apparently. I am the only one by himself out here. There are small groups of people and couples, and families with children, at various points in the distance walking the long trail around the waterfowl area. Most people come with others. I always come here seeking solitude.

January 3, 2002

Ah, the winter beach! Took a walk at Folly New Year's day, bundled up against the cold, which was quite bearable, actually, because there was so little wind. The first thing I noticed when I got to the beach was the air -- it was so fresh and clean-smelling. The air off the ocean from the east, coming from the African side of the Atlantic, is supposedly some of the cleanest air in the country. This I read in a newspaper article a while back. I can believe it.

I spotted a group of two or three dolphins lazily surfacing and diving in the gray, cold water about 50 yards offshore. Such ease. Such grace and contentment in their element. A world unknown to us.

There were a number of people out walking, not surprising since it was such a pretty day, and it was Jan. 1, after all. Lots of people, myself included, make it a point to come to the beach at the beginning of the year to continue a tradition. The wind being nearly non-existent, the surf was almost calm, with the waves just above the ripple stage. But still, that eternal sound... the surf sound, calm and restorative always to my soul.

Going back to the house, I busied myself on the computer. My brother asked me to stay for supper, to which I gladly assented, although I had been planning my usual solitary repast. But it was nice. Afterward, we spent some time in the living rooom gazing at a nice, warm fire in the fireplace. On the stereo were Celtic Spirit and Carlos Nakai. Mood music for a winter's day.

January 1, 2002

To my few but loyal readers out there in the vast reaches of cyberspace, and to whom I am mightily grateful for your persistence in wanting to visit my small corner of this much larger world, Happy New Year! And, thank you!

I hope the coming year will be a good one for you and those you are closest to. I always feel the sense of new things opening up at this time of year, and I truly mean that. There is hope and possibility, and putting up the new wall calendars for 2002, an annual ritual of mine as you may know, affirms that.

I am looking at two of the January scenes now and they are nostalgic, of course, and redolent of idealized times in the past. There are sleighs transporting people down snowy roads between rows of bare, winter trees, approaching lit up houses, cozy and secure on a cold winter afternoon. Waterfalls and sandy paths. A gristmill. I have them all up, telling my with assurance and comforting familiarity that the cycle of life endures, time flows on, and the new year always holds in store for us the beauty of life, and the new experiences we seek.

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