Armchair Peregrinations


March 13, 1999


There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature -- the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter.

Rachel Carson


It is still cold, but it feels invigorating out. Never have flannel sheets and pillow cases been so comforting as on these brisk, late winter mornings. They make sleeping in, or what I call sleeping, that much more pleasurable. It's still a winter landscape outside, as the unseasonable weather has slowed the march of spring.

There's so much to do on Saturday mornings. I scraped together my quarters and headed to the laundry room, as I was down to wearing a pair of pants with a hole in the back pocket. When I went to see if the clothes had dried, I found they needed some more time, so I stepped outside for awhile and the air just seemed to be filled with birdsong. These beautiful melodies were so near and yet seemingly all around me. About 30 feet away on a fence was the source of this sweet avian symphony -- a lone mockingbird singing to its mate, which soon enough joined him. He ceased his singing and the very world fell silent, except for a few distant grackles or crows. How I missed that sound. With nothing to do but wait for clothes to dry, I leaned on the fence and just took a little time to observe the world, the trees all around me, the sky, the grass. The air felt good -- not too cold. How seldom nowadays does it seem possible to stop the ceaseless round of events and daily activities which build up to a crescendo of unnecessarily quick actions, and slow down enough to be aware of one's own existence and that of the ordinary objects and creatures all around.

Reading the Washington Post this morning, I came across this headline, "The Rich Find a Home on the Range," a story about how younger, newly weathy millionaires, such as the bicycle racer Greg LeMond, have been drawn to the open spaces of Montana, and specifically, to a private, 13,000 acre development called the Yellowstone Club. There will be just 864 memberships. Prospective members must have a $3 million net worth just to look over the place, with its "spectacular views of the Spanish Peaks just north of Yellowstone National Park..." A former timber baron put togehter the scheme with these features: a $250,000 initiation fee, annual dues of $16,000, custom homes that will cost up to $5 million, 4,000 skiable acres, eight high-speed chair-lifts, security provided by former Secret Service agents...etc., etc. People have made so much on the stock market in the 90s, they don't know what to do with it. Here's their golden opportunity.

This whole story just made me sick. Disgust can't begin to describe my feelings of revulsion for this kind of display of wealth and exclusivity. It is what makes capitalism such a mean and viciously undemocratic system. How many people are exploited for each ill-gotton million in wealth. How many millions of acres of pristine forest has the timber baron and his cohorts clear-cut and exported to Asia at well-below market values to make their greedy millions. These people have no shame. They are selfish beyond belief and will be dragging every last stock option with them to their graves.

Another mockingbird is singing outside my window. I look across at the next apartment building, but it doesn't matter that no grand mountain vista looms in the distance, across some river valley out west.

March 10, 1999

It has been an unusual March of late. Quite cold the past couple of days, and we usually are well into spring by now. It's definitely delayed. I read in Annette's journal how it was 9 below in Michigan. I can't imagine that kind of temperature in March. We had some rain sweep through here last night, and it got much milder as the day progressed yesterday. On my walk to Colonial Lake, and in other areas of Charleston such as along Anson Street, I notice the azaleas and dwarf azaleas coming into full bloom. This is always a very special and gratifying sight each spring. I can't even describe the color of an azalea in bloom. It's just so beautiful and delicate and rich and deep a color all at the same time. Each year at this time in New Orleans, our huge azalea shrubs in the back yard were often covered with blossoms, and for some reason they just thrived in that location and grew to an enormous size in a relatively short time. Azaleas bring back some of the best memories of spring in New Orleans. No other flowering plant seems to call forth the new season so vigorously.

*****

I have really been enjoying revisiting Nebraska through my travel journals from a trip through the state in 1984. I made a similar trip in 1987 as well, and it was just as magical. The state's allure has only grown on me. Nebraska is a place of many contrasts, something people who don't visit the state aren't aware of. In the east are deciduous woodlands such as found in Missouri and Illinois. Going west the trees thin out and the great agricultural areas make their appearance. The interior central and northern third of the state is comprised of the fabled Sand Hills, indescribable and otherworldly, and at the western edge are the high plains of the Rockies, including plateaus and rock formations. Altogether a fascinating place to visit.

Here is a continuation of the 1984 Nebraska entries from my travel journal that year:

Travels in Nebraska -- Part 3

Valentine, Nebr.
May 11, 1984

A change in terrain was noticeable almost as soon as I was out of Kearney on Nebraska 10 headed north toward Broken Bow, a town I was eager to see because of the name. According to the marker in front of the courthouse, the founder of the town first submitted several names for approval, all of which were rejected because they sounded too much like the names of other towns nearby. He then recalled seeing a broken bow and decided on that name which was readily accepted. It's as undramatic a story as that.

Before arriving in town I crossed the South Loup River at Pleasanton, all the while aware of the gradually more hilly landscape. At a point outside Broken Bow, a road sign heralded the approach of the Sand Hills for the next 170 miles. Only later could I fully appreciate the sign's meaning. This was near Anselmo, a tiny town that contained a remarkable Gothic revival church that seemed like it belonged in a large city rather than in the middle of Nebraska cornfields and cottonwood stands.

A short while later I arrived at the headquarters of the Nebraska National Forest near Halsey. After getting information and maps at the office, I walked through a park area to where the Middle Loup River flows swiftly along the eastern border of the forest. Earlier I noticed how quiet the place was. The good scent of pine and cedar was refreshing. It is the largest manmade forest in the country, once consisting of 35,000 acreas before an extensive fire in 1966 destroyed about 11,000 acres. The hills are spotted with pines now, but they appeared mostly bare. Woodland is a very unusual sight in this part of Nebraska.

The Middle Loup is a quite picturesque prairie stream, fairly wide and shallow in some places. It meanders among the sand hills with here and there stands of cottonwoods just starting to show some green. The river has carved its channel through the clay bottomlands and is clear and greenish in tint. Evidently it is spring-fed, as are other rivers in this rather arid area where rainfall averages about 19 inches a year. School children had arrived for some sort of field trip and brought some life and evidence of human occupation to this quite empty area.

An employee at the forest service office explained that the river never flooded and is generally quite shallow. In summer there may be a few holes where it is waist-deep.

Thedford lies in the west-central part of Nebraska and is the last town of any size for 65 miles until that northern oasis of Valentine is reached. I could not have prepared myself in any way for this first ever experience of driving through such very empty countryside. Within many hundreds of square miles there are only a few ranches, windmills, and cattle. The rest is mile after mile of gently rolling sand hills with sinks and pockets of water that are refuges for migratory waterfowl and other birds. I saw ducks in these marshy, lake-like staging grounds, but not many. The miles rolled on and not a house or human being to be seen anywhere. Finally, I'd come upon a ranch or one or two-room schoolhouse with flag flying to remind me I was somewhere near civilization. I wasn't anxious about this part of the trip, and soon got accusomed to it and really felt swept up in the grandeur of the horizonless vistas of puffy white clouds and a sea of grass-covered, gentle sand hills. I couldn't imagine how anyone could live out there, however, but as I discovered a short time later, some people would have no other life. I became convinced of the hardy durability which these north Nebraskans must possess to survive and even prosper in a land where it can get to 30 degrees below zero and where prairie blizzards must be an awesome force to contend with. How very different these people are from those in the crowded East. I don't think you can understand just how different they are unless this immense land is experienced firsthand.

Shortly after leaving the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge, I neared Valentine and crossed the Niobrara River for the first time. I felt a surge of elation. I had read a lengthy article on the river in Audubon magazine and knew I wanted to see it some day. It is considerably wider and larger than the other rivers in the Sand Hills, and its swift, sping-fed waters rise in eastern Wyoming. Along its banks in the bottomlands are deciduous trees, and clinging to bluffs and higher areas are pines. It is an imminently beautiful river, and, as with my trips to the Buffalo and Current rivers in the Ozarks, it is a highlight of this whole journey West for me. Like the others, too, it is a much-enjoyed canoing river, and that is the only way to really experience and savor the stream. I wished I could have floated down it for a few miles, but it was quite enough for the present just to see short stretches of the river. One of its tributaries, which I photographed, is Minnechaduza Creek, a fine-sounding Indian name. This whole area was once Sioux country and is not far from the site of the Battle of Wounded Knee in South Dakota. Fort Niobrara was located on what is now the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge where buffalo, elk, and long-horn cattle roam. The fort was established in 1880 to help with the containment and assimilation of the Indians into reservation life, an experience which had diasastrous consequences for Sitting Bull and his followers at Wounded Knee.

In the town of Valentine, I ate a quick lunch at the Buttercup Cafe, recommended to me. It was quite good and a welcome change from hamburgers and other fast food.

I decided to spend the night here and visit the wildlife preserve tomorrow as well as Fort Falls before going on to Chadron, Crawford, and Fort Robinson.

I visited the Sawyer Sand Hills Museum and there discovered one retired rancher's 26-year long accumulation of a wide assortment of Americana: old plows, butter churns, foot warmers, an old telephone switchboard, harnesses, glassware, postcards and a thousand or more other wonderful old pieces of the past, most dating before 1930, according to Mr. Sawyer. He's a very likeable and talkative gentleman of 73 whose pride and joy is the collection of antique cars he displays in the center of his warehouse museum building. He told me he never has been able to throw things away, and this must account for his prodigious collection of antiques, junk, and treasures among the neatly arranged exhibits. He's traveled to auctions and has frequented antique shows. He decided after semi-retiring from ranching to devote himself to his passion for anything that is typically American and which dates from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His ranch near Valentine has 3,000 acres, but he and his wife now live in town.

Mr. Sawyer spent almost every day of his life on a horse when he was younger, balked occasionally at churning butter and other chores, hunted down coyotes that were attacking cattle, fished the lakes in the sand hills wildlife refuge area, and survied despite all the later worries and tensions connecting with ranching. He wouldn't trade the prairie for anything, and he has never tired of living in this wide-open area. His parents came to this part of the country from Illinois and his wife's people were homesteaders. Their ties to the land are long-standing and firmly entrenched. I wished I could have plied him with other questions, but about 6 his wife came to get him for dinner. Before going, he couldn't resist showing me his arrowhead collection. I left with great appreciation for all the information he had given me and with a much larger understanding of the Valentine area and its people.

March 9, 1999

Travels in Nebraska -- Part 2

From travel journal
May 9, 1984

...It was exciting to drive through two more states I had never visited before. I completely enjoyed the town of Marysville in Kansas. There are many brick-cobble streets, a very elegant old courthouse landmark, and the first Pony Express barn outside St. Joseph where the Express originated. The original 1859 heavy, wooden structure still stands on its site downtown.

I stopped in at the offices of the "Marysville Advocate" for more information. It was another typically bustling, small-town newpaper office. I was given a supplement to the newspaper detailing primarily the history of the courthouse. The newspaper is an excellent, strongly community-oriented publication.

From Marysville, I crossed the Big Blue River on the outskirts of town and entered Nebraska a short while later. My destination for the night was the capitol city of Lincoln. On the way there I drove through Beatrice and delighted in the old buildings and marvelous church architecture in this city 40 miles south of Lincoln. Took a brief side trip to the Homestead National Monument four miles from town alonside Cub Creek. Here was a section of original prairie grass sod in its natural state where no plow had torn it up for cropland. There are supposedly few such areas like this left in the Midwest.

Arrived in Lincon about 7 pm and was immediately impressed with how neat, clean and orderly the city is. The capitol building is the kind of structure you just want to look at and admire for awhile. Tomorrow I'll head into town for a closer look and then on to some pioneer life museums and the wide Platte River in the southern part of the state and the scenic upstate river, the Niobrara.

Aurora, Nebr.
May 10, 1984

I'm parked on the courthouse square of this attractive little town of 3,700. One approaches from the seemingly endless open fields and, typically for this area, the first landmark is the courthouse tower.

Kearney, Nebr.
May 11, 1984

Thomas Jefferson wrote: "Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable of citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bonds."

Although extremely idealistic in his attitudes toward the American farmer and small landowners, one can begin to grasp what Jefferson was referring to when considering the history of this remarkable farming region in southern Nebraska.

While driving down a long, flat stretch of highway, I stopped at a roadside park and there, preserved, was a small patch of native prairie. I gazed at the hardy, ruggedly matted grass and could more fully appreciate the extraordinary effort it must have taken those early farmers and homesteaders to break that hard ground. It was, after all, cut in strips and used as building blocks for their sod houses or "soddies." A whole new type of plow had to be invented just to get through it. This was referred to as "breaking the ground."

Of course, the lure of 160 free acres of land in the new frontier following passage of the Homestead Act led to a large influx of settlers in the 1860s, many of them German and Scandanavian immigrants. But often the backbreaking labor, the desolate, windswept prairie, and what must have been frightening loneliness became the "sodbuster's" master, and he packed up family and belongings and headed back east. One saying went, "In God we trusted, in Nebraska we busted." Even today one can get a clear picture of the land's emptiness because it opens up for miles in every direction, relieved only by streams and river courses along which the only substantial tree growth occurs. There's nothing much to stop the wind from racing across this central part of the continent. The chief virtue of the land, for those who could stand this form of solitude in the homesteading days, was the earth itself -- a rich, clay soil that when planted in wheat and corn yielded abundantly.

I was greatly impressed with the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer in Grand Island where I spent some time looking at the museum's collections and immersing myself in the re-created frontier village called "Railroad Town." It consists of 60 homes and buildings authentically furnished and laid out along a railroad line to duplicate as closely as possible a 19th century prairie town. A visitor truly walks through the past here and is very much aware of something quite special about the place. There is not one thing about it that seems out-of-place or unrealistic. You can walk into the bank, livery stable, hotel, newspaper office, town hall, post office, doctor's office and living quarters, and peer into the general store. In sum, you can become an 1880s time traveler for awhile.

Several Victorian-style homes are open, and one is the Milisen House, built in 1879 and moved to the Stuhr Museum from nearby Grand Island. I had a long conversation with the house guide, an enthusiastic and very knowledgeable person whose grandparents came to Missouri around 1885 and who grew up in rural Nebraska in the days before electricity got to many of those remote areas. I had so many questions, and she had so many glimpses of her life to share, that I could have talked to her all afternoon. I was surprised when she told me that rural electrification had not come to her area until 1948, so everything around the house was done the old-fashioned way. Coal stove heaters and kerosene lamps were used, and the family of eight were quite close-knit. She described plains winters that got very cold, and recalls waking some mornings with a dusting of snow over her bed. The fine, powdery snow got in through windows and doors. A particular treat was "storebought" white bread or homemade bread with sweet cream on it. The family ate what they raised on the farm and there was a nourishing German diet of grains, meat and potatoes. As with Mrs. Cora Miller of Arrow Rock, this very hospitable lady revealed her great love for her home and an eagerness to share her experiences with others.

Later in the afternoon I finally crossed the fabled prairie river, the Platte, and visited the grounds where old Fort Kearney was situated for 23 years from 1848 until 1871. It was the first fort built to protect travelers on the Oregon Trail and was an important stage and Pony Express station and way stop for many thousands of westward-trekking settlers and adventurers. It was also a supply outfitting depot for numerous Indian military campaigns. Its usefulness as protection against the Indians delcined so that the fort was discontinued by 1871 and dismantled. Unfortunately, none of the original buildings remain at the village site on the parade grounds. The area is now a quiet park with some large cottonwoods that were there in the 1860s.

March 7, 1999

Travels in Nebraska -- Part 1

In just a month or so, this coming May 6 will mark 15 years since I embarked on the trip around the country that has had such a profound influence on my life. My destination was Seattle, but I was in no hurry to get there, having planned out this trip for months and thought about and imagined all the places I would see. So I pay tribute once again to William Least Heat Moon whose 1982 book "Blue Highways" lit the way for the adventure, and also to the folks at Reader's Digest who produce the best series of backroads guide, bar none. Their publication, "America From the Road: A Motorist's Guide to Our Country's Natural Wonders and Most Interesting Places," led me to more beautiful and fascinating places than I could ever fully recount, but which are mentioned throughout my travel journal. Their work has only gotten better over the years, and the latest, "The Most Scenic Drives in America" is just too grand a book for mere words. I don't know how they do it, but every few years they produce one of these gems.

I will reproduce here, and in several future journal entries, the journal accounts of days 4,5, and 6 of that trip in the spring of 1984, and those portions will recount my experiences in Nebraska, a state that has long fascinated me, and to which I plan to return, possibly this spring on a long vacation trip west to the edge of the Great Plains. At this point in the trip, I have driven north from New Orleans, through Mississippi, Arkansas and Missouri. I had come from Jefferson City, Missouri, through Arrow Rock and Lexington to St. Joseph, and thence over to Kansas and north into the southeastern corner of Nebraska. The first entry is from May 9, 1984 and was written in Lincoln, Nebr. Near the previous entry, I had written these words, "It's getting cool tonight -- down to 37 degrees. I still can't believe this trip is for real."

Wednesday, May 9, 1984
Lincoln, Nebr.

This morning couldn't have started better. My first stop was the small village of Arrow Rock which was established in 1829 on a beautiful overlook facing the Missouri River. Its 82 citizens inhabit a community which looks much as it must have in the 19th century. This is due to the efforts of many, including the Friends of Arrow Rock, to preserve the old homes and the Main Street structures. These include an old tavern and 1839 courthouse, antique shops, country store, and more. Buildings in this tiny hamlet date to the 1840s. Graceful silver maples line the streets which are slightly hilly and narrow. The atmosphere conveys the impression that the town is way off the beaten path, set apart from the 20th century.

Had a very nice conversation with Mrs. Cora Miller, a lady who seems to know everything about the town's history. Shortly before she was to give a tour to some school children, she told me about restoration and preservation efforts going back to 1961. She said Lewis and Clark and many other early explorers and adventurers had noticed the site, Clark observing that it was "a nice place for a town." And so it is. Utterly peaceful and ucommercialized, and that's the way Mrs. Miller wants it to stay. She is an ardent proponent of "living history" as exemplified at Arrow Rock, and she is especially glad to share this true link to the past with young people. "I dearly love this place," she said, and it shows. I was enchanted as I walked along the streets and saw no trace of 20th century architectural intrusion on the integrity of the town...

I departed from Arrow Rock about 10 am and continued on along the Lewis and Clark Trail (Missouri Highway 41) to the historic town of Lexington, located about 40 miles east of Kansas City. It is also a town intent on preserving its heritage, as is evidenced by the wonderful restoration of the original, elaborate brick fascades downtown. It was settled in the 1820s and was for a few years the most western settlement outfitting wagon trains for the Sante Fe and Oregon Trails. Many homes and public buildings were built in the 1840s and 1850s. It is also located along the Missouri River and has an imposing courthouse building in the center of town.

Leaving Lexington on my way across the Missouri to St. Joseph, I noticed a sign which said water was over the road. Sure enough, right after I had crossed the span over the Missouri River, a highway worker stopped my car and I found myself waiting for a line of cars from the opposite direction to use the one lane that was not covered by overflow from the Missouri, a considerably wide river at this point. This was a new experience for me, but it happened yesterday as well, I recall, where I passed along roads that had just recently been sections of stream bed. The highway worker and I spoke briefly. I asked him about flooding on the river. He asked where I was from. When I told him, "New Orleans," he replied, "Long way from home, aren't you?" It then struck me how far I had come, and I felt a bit apprehensive being out here in the middle of the country. The feeling passed a short while later as beatiful roads and only a little traffic swept me onward to Kansas...(To be continued)

March 4, 1999

I'll never forget many details of my senior year in college. I was finishing up an English degree at the University of New Orleans. The August preceding the start of classes in the fall of 1972, I had found my first apartment in the Gentilly section of the city, about two miles from school. I was liberated from the dreaded dorm and felt a sense of freedom that I had never known before. It is indescribable except to say that you knew you were on the cusp of some great adventure or journey. Finishing college was the culmination of years of hard work, papers, tests, getting up for 8 am Saturday classes, cafeteria food, and lonely hours in the library. Now the end was in sight, I was taking some pretty heady courses such as philosophy of literary criticism and upper level English lit courses, and I knew that the goal was at last attainable.

It was also in that particular fall of 1972 that I had my most affectionate acquaintance with the city of my birth, a period of months when I began to explore parts of the lakefront and Mid City sections of town that I had never seen before or hadn't known much about previously. It was as if, because I would soon be moving away to start a new life, those places suddenly became mellower in my imagination. The rough and grimy edges of this city I've had a love/hate relationship with for so long seemed more tolerable, the people more familiar, even endearing. Paradoxically, it was just when I was getting ready to leave that I developed a kind of fondness for the city that had so often depressed me as a teenager.

Part of the reason everything seemed a lot better was having my own place. I remember just surveying the scene of the one-bedroom shotgun apartment in half of a house on Wisteria Street (near Clematis Street), looking over the beat-up furniture, turning on the huge window exhaust fan in the kitchen, sitting out on the small front porch and, saying to myself, "Wow, this is my neighborhood." It was almost like I had grown up on that street. It was real quiet, although it was right off a major thoroughfare, Gentilly Boulevard. There was an art cinema about a mile away, a small supermarket just blocks distant, and a nice straight shot up St. Roch Boulevard, a pretty and very typical old New Orleans street with a neutral ground down the middle, to the college. I drove my car or rode my bike those two miles twice each day. I had a serviceable, not too fancy, Royce Union ten-speed bike, which I used to explore countless city blocks and neighborhoods I was seeing for the first time. As I said earlier, it was as if I was in a new world, and yet no place had ever seemed so much like the homey neighborhood I had been searching for all the previous school year and summer.

That fall was a turning point in other ways as well. It was when I first came in contact with the work of the photographer Walker Evans at a major exhibit at the New Orleans Museum of Art. It was when I took the first tentative steps toward doing the black and white photography that was to become my passion in the coming decade. It was when I discovered literature in a really significant way and started reading the novels of Balzac and other writers and felt terribly educated and cultured. I spent hours in the small, crowded book-filled rooms of the Maple Street Book Shop thinking lofty thoughts about art, literature and the meaning of life. It was when I first began to really know what it meant to be part of a "place," to have established at last a home of sorts, only to have to give it all up in a few short months and "make my way in the world." My plan was to live some place other than New Orleans, and that place was going to be South Carolina, the land of all my youthful dreams of escape.

It is all those experiences I look back on fondly these many years later. It was a brief time of innocence. New Orleans fairly glows from this nostalgic perspective. That's one of the nice things about not having been back for so long. I'm sure that if I walked along a certain street in the middle of the city, that memory-tinged year would come back to me in particularly fine detail. It is Moss Street, one of the few winding streets in a city of straight, grid-like thoroughfares. It follows the course of Bayou St. John to its beginning point in Mid City. It is the only place in New Orleans, other than, of course, along the levee beside the Mississippi River, where you can imagine you are near a flowing stream or river. This bayou, about five or six miles long, is the remnant, I'm guessing, of a waterway that flowed at one time out of the heart of the ancient cypress swamps that surrounded the old city 250 years ago and which were gradaully cut, cleared and filled in as the city spread beyond its original French Quarter borders. Today, it's really just a wide, winding finger of water that snakes through the city, no flow of water discernable, but which seems like an actual river. On Saturdays, I'd occasionally drive to where it ended along lower Moss Street near City Park, get out of the car, and just walk and explore the area. I took pictures there one day and still remember many of the frames from that roll of film. I just liked the area and recall thinking how much I would like to live there. After all, it actually had something that looked like a river, old houses and inviting porches, and all this in the middle of a big, sprawling city.

I haven't been to New Orleans in more than four years now, but if I do go back anytime soon, that is one of the first places I'll visit. I'll relive a time when all the possibilities of life seemed to be just around the corner, down the road and along that bayou, waiting to be discovered.

March 2, 1999

Daffodils

I see the first batches of daffodils
Launched on mats of dead grass,
Prying loose from winter's grip.
The little yellow flowers
Are cups of glowing sun and energy,
Always capable of surprising me
With their optimism and their joyously
Brief abundance.
They cluster around trunks of big oak trees
And greet me with a sweet and hopeful
Sign that life renews itself.

It's March, but the winter has seemed short. Saturday in Sumter, the pear trees along the streets have white blossoms just beginning to come out, and soon they will be a spectacular display of snowy petals, creating a spring fantasyland all over town. Camellias are covering the large shrubs in Memorial Park. Birdsong is everywhere in the park, and the feathered creatures seem to be welcoming the new season. Theirs is a wonderful sound each year in late February and early March.

Although still bare, the branches of the trees brim with promise of new life -- new green leaves are budding.

March is the welcoming month. I really feel that winter is over by the time it arrives. That psychological divide has been crossed. The months don't sound like winter anymore. It has been cold some this past January and February, but not much, thus the real brunt of winter has passed us by here in Charleston.

It's been real windy the past two days, and that's another sign of March. The beach is becoming more inviting each day that passes, and I see myself out there listening to the waves and reading a good book. The black grackles will be sounding off, and the rustling fronds of palmettos will bring me back in time and memories to days gone by, when I was younger, but not necessarily more carefree.

March 1, 1999

Someone at work the other day wondered, "What was John like before the Internet?" I jokingly replied, "Normal." A telling comment, nevertheless, and one which had me thinking again about this whole realm of cyberspace.

I _was_ different. My routines were different, as were the very means by which I relaxed, read, and thought about things. It seems I have less time for introspection now. That's both good and bad.

I remember in Edmonds, Wash., back in 1992 and 1993, how, each morning before going to work at the law firm, I'd spend 20 or 30 minutes reading a book in bed, peaceful, quiet and perhaps listening to one of my favorite CDs, "Autumn Dreams," by Danny Wright. I'm listening to it now at 2:30 am on a Saturday morning in late February. It weaves its magic even now, as many times as I've heard it. It takes me back to those early mornings before work. I'd relish every moment to myself, knowing I'd soon have to drag myself out the door, step out into the cold Pacific Northwest air, and walk to the bus stop. I recall reading one of Sue Hubbell's delightful books about beekeeping or other experiences from the natural world she inhabited. I vividly remember savoring entries by Dan Price in his illustrated journal, "Moonlight Chronicles," wherein I'd go along on a journey with one man as he wrote about the simple life in the mountains of eastern Oregon. I'd ponder some of his very profound and eloquent words, and I'd be fortified to face the deadly dull work that lay ahead of me that day.

In those days, there was no computer to turn on each morning and sit in front of with breakfast while reading the online versions of The New York Times or The Washington Post. No clicking hypertext links to other articles and publications across the Internet. No e-mail. No online journals. No farflung world at my fingertips.

I sometimes miss those pre-Internet mornings. Maybe I'll have to go back to it once in awhile, although there's no real returning to those days. I miss it, but things are different now.


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