May 14, 1999
My paper journals from years back used to sit in boxes unread sometimes for years until I started this online journal. Now I find myself going back over them and trying to uncover clues to why I am the way I am today, how I've become the person I am, and how I've changed or not changed over the past 30 years. It is a daunting task.
I realize I wrote pretty selectively about myself in those past journals, as I'm doing now with this one, but still, it's all I've got to go on. That, plus a couple of batches of letters I've preserved in a metal file box from about the time I started college, as well as when I was just beginning to write entries in the black ledger book I've mentioned before. Also, I have a couple of manilla file folders of letters I photocopied and saved during the past 15 years. Maybe 20 or 30 letters total. Not much for posterity, but I continue to hold onto them.
A couple of days ago I wrote about a journal entry from 1971 and my observations of a family at a bus stop in New Orleans. I noticed how similar my writing style is to what I write now, and how I could easily record just such an entry in my online journal today. The same things fascinate me, and I'm comfortable with my writing style. I don't feel the need to go off on wild experiments with language, sentence structure or syntax manipulation for literary effect. My object is to get my point across as clearly as I can.
What has changed about me are some deeply personal things, such as the way I avoid writing about, or exploring, aspects of my spiritual journey. When I was recovering from my illness in 1979, I realized that I could no longer continue to put off the question of religion in my life. I had been away from any organized system of beliefs for many years, since before high school, and I was swept up in my 20s with youthful preoccupation with just about everything except those things that matter most in life. I was young and too wrapped up in my journalism career to deal with whether to join a church, or whether or how I should seek God. (I had been brought up in the Presbyterian and Lutheran churches).
But that illness smacked me in the face with the realities of death, evil, and human deceit and manipulation. It caused all my previous shaky foundations of self to crumble, so that I was alone on a wind-swept field, struggling for answers to why I had experienced what I had gone through, and how could I even begin to explain the emotional turmoil that had raced over me like a firestorm.
The only answers I could find came from the church and from reading spiritual writers and guides who, a year or so before, I would not have imagined could have such a profound impact on me. It was a gradual conversion, not a blazing epipiphany one night. As I absorbed peace again in the aftermath of the storm, I honestly felt my life guided and directed. That is how I got the teaching job in 1980, after I had been floundering around about what to do with my life, and, despite the fact that I had no teaching certificate or previous training. For several years this lasted. I joined a church. I went to classes. I read and prayed daily.
Then, in 1983, I left the teaching job and Columbia and embarked on a series of misadventures and failed work experiences that laid the groundwork for my next fall, years hence.
But the foundation was built permanently 20 years ago, and nothing can change that. Progress has been stalled by my stubborn and seemingly intractible inner conflicts, which I have alluded to in this journal, and which cause me much pain and keep me hovering along the coast, just offshore from the safe harbor I know is there. What prevents me from going in? It's a very complex and intricate story, and I keep adding chapters when I know, deep down, how to satisfy the longing in me.
I don't know where it will take me, this journey across the seemingly endless plateau of the present, but the pain of recent suffering has subsided and I'm putting together pieces of the mystery, once again. Sometimes, when I coming out of church and see the flowers just outside and the sunlight on the roofs and houses in old Charleston, and I think of what might be, I do have little epiphanies and moments of spiritual insight, but they tend to disappear like dreams once you awaken.
Here is something I wrote in the spring of 1980 about my spiritual pilgrimmage:
From my journal, April 24, 1980, Columbia, S.C., Age 29:
I guess the term "spiritual dryness" expresses the feeling well enough. It comes upon me when I dwell upon my difficulties, or decisions which I must make which seem to be centered on my well-being alone. I have had more time to myself now that I have left my job and will be concentrating on school for the next few months. It is a confusing period, though.
I look for and need graces from God, not only so that I may know more of Him and the supernatural order of things, but that I also may know why it is that I long for those graces. Sometimes it seems that I am inert in my spiritual progress, flung about here and there by caprices and unpredictable circumstances and trying to be content with explaining this away as the inevitable process of God's will for me. But then I say, How do I come to this conclusion when I have so little real faith?
At this time of Spring's rebirth when all is green and alive again after a barren winter, I should be rejoicing in the newness around me. And I am. From my balcony overlooking the woods, I have watched the trees cloak themselves in rich, new green. On Thomas Jefferson's "little mountain" near Charlottesville, Va., recently, and later amid the serenity and delicate spring colors of Dumbarton Oaks Garden in the middle of Washinigton, D.C., I sensed the presence of God and knew that the special feelings of awe and reverence I felt on heholding such beauty as was before me, could not spring from my naturalistic desire along. I am learning to see God in nature because there is such order and grandeur there, such sense of purpose. But how much more difficult it is to see Christ in other human beings, to the extent that we love them as we do ourselves. That is so much more difficult because loving others involves a response or action toward them as well as sacrifice, while nature is neutral, objective because we cannot reach deeply into her as we can the soul of a person.
I must also ask, what among my actions, desires, and inclinations constitutes a really charitable response to others? My own grievous ineptitude and intransigence in this area causes me continual concern. Fear of disrupting my own well-being hinders me mightily. Our actions should go far beyond meeting obligations or justifiable ends and into the realm of purposeful and caring response. I missed an opportunity to show my concern yesterday in a most unusual circumstnce that was a clear test for me. I did not meet it well, and for that I am truly sorry -- for myself and for the other person.
I have been reading the autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux. She writes: "this is how God looked after me. He cannot always offer me the nourishing bread of outward humiliation, but from time to time He lets me eat the crumbs under the table of the children. How great is His mercy." And, she cites the words of St. John of the Cross: "All good things have come to me since I not longer seek them for myself."
May 12, 1999
I had no real close friends my age when I was in high school, but I hung around with some of my brother's friends, two years younger than me, who lived in the area. By association, we became friends. Not that we had anything in common intellectually, but we played basketball, ping pong and football together. For years there was the proverbial vacant lot in back on my house, and we could play touch football there, although it was not a large area. This was in the pre-video game era, of course, so we spent a lot of time outdoors. No computers to distract us.
I didn't really mind the age difference that much because they were a lot of fun to be around. One them, Kevin, had a really great sense of humor. He was genuinely funny. He went to our high school. Jeff attended De la Salle, and Bill, Jesuit.
We'd go bowling together, play poker, go to the mall -- all kinds of things. But after I graduated from high school, I never saw any of them again, except for Bill. He suffered a stroke one day when he was in his early 20s, and was severely disabled by it. It was mostly a physical disability; his mind remained sharp. We saw him and heard about what he was doing off and one for years until about ten years ago.
Prior to knowing them, when I was 15 and 16, I did have a friend my age. In fact, he and I were in the same high school graduating class. In 1965, he and his family moved into the neighborhood in back of me.
The boy who moved in was named Scott. I had known him only superficially in the sixth grade when we both went to the same elementary school down the street. He stood out even then as kind of popular. He was good-looking. He had this roguish, good-natured quality that everyone was drawn to. And he knew it.
In high school, he was in student government. He played quarterback on the jv and varsity football teams. By the time we were juniors and seniors, he had reached the social pinacle -- popular jock, student body president, but smart and modest enough to transcend many of the stereotypes. This only made him more popular.
He obviously needed to be liked by others. Most people who achieve his status in high school have this need, perhaps even a craving. So there was this quality, but something else that made him so popular, as well as someone you would want for a friend even though you knew you really had nothing in common with him. He was just that -- the loyal friend, the good guy. He was known by the nickname "Boushka," a takeoff on his last name.
Now ordinarily, I wouldn't be the type of person to be in his circle of friends, but like I said, he moved in right in back of me. When he found out I was his neighbor, he'd often call me up after school to come over and play pool or visit for awhile. Or, I'd be looking out the sliding glass doors to the back yard and see him, energized as always, bounding over the azalea bushes, headed for my house. I have to say I was flattered that he would want to see me and do things with me, for socially I was not at all a joiner and I was not into any of the school groups or cliques. I was quiet, I kept to himself, and I had only the science and computer geeks as acquaintances with whom to eat lunch in the highly stratified cafeteria. True, Scott and I didn't mingle in school -- after all, he existed on a different social plane altogether -- but I considered him a neighborhood friend, and he, likewise. We knew it, although others might not.
Later, when he was running for student body president our senior year, and had all this attention showered on him, I could only look back wistfully to our times spent together, for we had by that point gone our separate ways and didn't even see each other after school.
It's curious to me, now, all these years later, how I skirted the edge of that more popular group in high school even though I never needed, or wanted, to be part of it. Yes, they were primarily jocks and Key Clubbers, but I sensed a certain bond with them, I guess mainly because we came from the same social strata and lived in similar middle class suburbs. There was a whole other group, just about as large, who lived in the older and poorer neighborhoods, some of whom did well and were in the advanced academic tracks, but many more who populated the business and industrial arts tracks.
Scott's friends would, however, have always been essentially alien to me, if I had not known Scott and shared good times with him and his family. He definitely had charisma. I fell for his charming way of making me feel special in his company. He wasn't a friend I could have known on a deeper level, I don't believe, but he represented something I wasn't, and this was a large part of the attraction.
Shortly after we had completed high school I heard the bad news. He was working a sales route in some distant state one summer, walking along a road, when he was hit and seriously injured by a hit-and-run driver. He almost died from loss of blood, but he was young and strong and survived after having to have his leg amputated below the knee.
I think I only saw him once after that accident. He learned to use a prosthetic device and carry on a near-normal life. He marrried, and basically that was the last I heard about what had become of him.
I'm not giving a complete picture of this friendship here. That will have to come at another time and perhaps in another forum. I write this account here to offer a glimspe into my life in high school, and to hint at other mysteries about adolescence and identity.
May 11, 1999
It's amazing to me how much I've changed, and yet haven't changed, over the years. Now that I'm regularly keeping up with this online journal, I wish I had recorded my thoughts more frequently in my paper journal, which I kept very sporadically over the years since the first entry in that fearful black ledger book dated July 3, 1970.
I have assorted spiral-bound notebooks and blank journal books with nice covers on them, such as waterfalls. I guess there's an obvious reason why I did so little writing in journals in past years. For one thing, I think I knew deep down I wanted to be writing to be read. It wasn't one of those private, locked diaries that no one is ever to see, wherein are recorded the deepest, darkest secrets of my life. However, the first few years I kept that journal in the black ledger book, I was quite candid, for me, that is. I was hard on myself, my family, New Orleans, the university I attended. It was a journal filled with lonely entries of retreat and withdrawal.
But it was also filled with observations that are so reflective of the person I had become, and was becoming, that re-reading them today fills me with many little shocks of recognition. It scares me sometimes. I can see the future reporter and journalist writing in those pages, although, of course, I didn't know it at the time. I often feel that the person who wrote those entries is exactly the person who, 30 years later, is reading them now. If you have been reading my online journal for awhile, you will see exactly what I'm talking about in the following:
From my college journal, May 24, 1971; New Orleans, Age 20:
This semester is almost at an end, and I feel relieved and again anticipate a satisfying summer, a chance to escape and enjoy a vacation ful lof nostalgia for the good things of the past that I can relive again. Summer always strengthens my outlook, but this summer, perhaps more than any other, things won't be the same. I'm already through with nearly two years of college, and since becoming 20, I seem to feel for the first time that my life is proceeding too quickly. I want it to slow down some while I encounter new experiences that I think I must undergo soon.
I enjoy very much observing what goes on around me, making mental notes of the responses of people performing the commonplace duties of life, routinely and casually. I was waiting rather somberly for a bus this afternoon, allowing my impatience to grate on my nerves, when I happened to observe a young family. Husband and wife were around 20 or 21, and their three boys were probably 4,3, and 2 year old. The group was evidently journeying to visit relatives or brothers or sisters across town because they were dressed meticulously. The two oldest boys were the special pride of the father who stooped down to straighten their identical, brilliant red safari jackts and socks up to the knees. Both were repsectful and quiet, and stood quite straight while the father carefully pulled up their socks. They didn't flinch when he even checked their ears for dirt. Their mother, quite as uninhibited as the rest, held the youngest brother in her arms after he had walked to her, encouraged by the prodding of his obviously proud father.
The whole family was so curiously unaffected by the impatient group at the bus stop, that I had to smile and absorb the impressions. They seemed to be irreplaceable figures in the tableaux of that street scene, but who moved through it as if they were one free unit, totally self-contained and unmindful of anything outside their own world, which at that moment, despite the crowds and traffic, was a private existence.
May 9, 1999
"Endless summer" -- it's here. I knew it for the first time yesterday when I drove out to Folly Beach and saw all the cars and the traffic by the Washout. People were outside barbecuing, couples and families had parked near the rocks to look at the ocean and walk on the beach, and, of course, there were the surfers, joyfully casting aside wetsuits and greeting the sun. This is really their stretch of beach, and has been for decades.
A big banner over Center Street announced the Southeast Atlantic Surfing Competition, and when I got to the Washout, I knew the season was in full swing. Cars were parked on both sides of the road for about a mile. It was a near-perfect day -- just a slight touch of cool in the air. Billowy clouds practically announced that summer was here.
I made my way to the beach house where my brother was working on shelving and paneling, got my stuff out of the trunk, and headed for the beach. Ah, summer at last!
I had a little trouble setting up the beach umbrella, for it blew down in the strong wind once, and I thought it was going to go flying down the beach. It's always embarrassing to have to go running off after a beach umbrella that's taken wing in a stiff breeze.
Once in my chair, back to the wind, book in hand, I settled down to do some reading. First there were just the distant sounds of people's voices, the waves breaking on the beach, the cries of seagulls -- the usual wonderful beach sounds. Peace and relaxation.
But all of a sudden, like in some kind of bad dream, I heard the dull roar of a jet ski offshore, its mindless and selfish riders getting a thrill with their wretched, gasoline-powered toy churning up the water. For their entertainment and amusement, and to grab a little feeling of power, they attached themselves to that machine and disturbed the peace of countless people minding their own business on the beach. It's not like a motor boat or a plane, bad as those are, which noisily cruise by and are gone. No, these waterborne pests zoom back and forth in a loathesome cacacophony of growling engines. I see the figures in the distance on these things and just get angry, and sad, too. What gives them the right to do this? I'm glad they've banned jet skis in all the national parks, or are trying to anyway. Let's ban them to beach ghettoes away from people and wildlife, if they have to have their pathetic sport at all.
After awhile, fortunately, they went away, like those obnoxious horseflies at the beach finally do after they've honed in on you like aerial bombers and you've had to swat at them right and left. Eventually, they either get squashed against your skin by the palm of your hand, or they fly off to inflict their biting torment on others. Jet ski riders are like these biting horseflies, except you can't swat them in self-defense. You're at the mercy of those juveniles and juvenile adults who get such a blast out of doing this.
I was trying to pretend I didn't hear them, trying to read my book, but not having any luck, and just about ready to call it a day when the sound disappeared and they were nowhere to be seen. Lost at sea? No, they had been hugging the coast, cowardly people that they are.
Anyway they were gone, and I spent the next hour in relative peace and quiet enjoying the sun, surf, clouds and sky, as they were meant to be enjoyed.
May 8, 1999
I'll never forget my third grade teacher. There are some you remember all your life. She was one of them -- a caring and patient woman, who took a real interest in me and expected much from me, in return. I felt almost an obligation to succeed in her classroom (that, coupled with a an unspoken creed on the importance of doing well in school and keeping up with homework that was instilled in me from the earliest possible age at home).
One of my third grade textbooks in language arts I remember to this day. And from it, curiously, comes my lifelong interest in grist mills. It was a reader and workbook called "Singing Wheels" and was written around the theme of a pioneer village in the early 19th century, one of those little settlements rugged Americans carved out of the wilderness as the moved west through Kentucky in search of "elbow room."
The reader and workbook exercises featured vocabulary words and sentence-building practice from paragraphs about this example of a prototypical early frontier town. There was the general store, harness maker, blacksmith, sawmill, and , of course, a grist mill on a small river along which the settlement was laid out.
This entire tableaux of the village in the wilderness fed my young imagination and I could see the stagecoach pulling up in front of the small inn/tavern. That village, with its grist mill and tailrace canal, stayed in my memories of that school year, I'm not sure exactly why. But from a very early age I've been interested in small towns, I guess because they appeared so different and far away from the big city of New Orleans and its suburbs where I grew up.
When I was traveling across the country, I'd always be on the alert for places where I could see old mills. I'm now a member of an organization that seeks to identify, preserve and protect them. To me, they are the last vestiges, along with covered bridges, of a gentler, pre-automobile age, an age about which I am hopelessly idealistic and about which I romanticize a golden past, often choosing to ignore all the evidence of what life could be like in those raw little places out in the middle of the country. (See Sinclair Lewis's "Main Street," for example).
Nevertheless, I hold onto and cherish visions of simpler times when people knew each other in communities and worked to hold those places together. It's a far cry from the sprawling, isolating cities of late 20th century America.
The last time I visited a mill was more than two years ago on the final leg of a trip to Ohio when I was coming back through the mountains of southwest Virginia and made a trip out to White's Mill in Washington County, near the small city of Abingdon. It's a beautiful old structure with a nice water wheel, fine, weathered old wood siding, and a swift mountain creek to turn the water wheel. It's also in one of the prettiest sections of rolling foothills and mountains I've ever seen. I immensely enjoyed the drive out to that mill and the conversation I had with the mill owner, who was trying to carry on the tradtion of keeping up the mill as authentically as possible.
I also liked to write stories about such places whenever I could during the years I worked on newspapers. One such story about Barfield's Mill, that was located in rural Kershaw County, S.C., can be found here. I don't know if it's still there or not, as the story was written in the late 70s.
In my travel journal of exactly 15 years ago today, I recorded these words in which I describe some grist mills which I had planned to visit on that long journey to Seattle.
From my journal, May 8, 1984, Columbia, Missouri:
I slept well last night a Smalley's Motel in Van Buren. The day on the road started with a breakfast of scrambled eggs, hot hash browns, toast, juice and coffee at the Float Stream Restaurant. All the locals seemed to be there talking and having their coffee.
I drove a scenic hilltop road to Big Spring, four miles out from town. This is the largest spring in the U.S., and it is amazing to see the clear, green water bubbling up from the depths and forming a small river that merges with the Current about a thousand feet from the base of the spring. The area is part of the Ozark National Scenic Waterways, the current and Jack's Fork rivers both included. It was quite cool and windy at the spring, and the Current was running high and flowing fast because of recent rains.
In Van Buren before I left the area for Alley Spring, I stopped in at the local National Park Service headquarters. There Millie Wast told me about the blue-green waters of the Current and that she grew up in the Jack's Fork area. She indicated that it's a special tint of blue, unusual in a river, and people who've moved away come back years later and float the stream to make ksure it's still as blue as they remember it. She added that the river is wall-to-wall floaters in the summer, starting about the time school lets out.
I rather hated to leave Van Buren, but knew many other stops lay ahead. Soon I was on my way to Alley Spring and mill, a notable landmark just off the Jack's Fork River about 30 milles from Van Buren. The Jack's Fork is a tributary of the Current.
Before arriving at the mill, I passed thorugh the town of Eminence and stopped there at the Rexall Drugs on Main Street to get postcards and also bought a local publication, "Reflections at Alley Spring," by writer and artist Tanya Gray. It's filled with descriptive stories and accounts of the area. Above the drug store was a sign that read, "Soda fountain service available."
Alley Spring surges up into a round, rock-rimmed basin adjacent to the very fine old, red-frame mill built around 1870. On the site also is a fully and authentically furnished one-room schoolhouse called Story Creek School.
So fascinated am I by mills that I will go to some lengths to find them. I took a 50-mile detour to visit Dillard Mill Historic Park right in the middle of the Mark Twain National Forest at the tiny community of Dillard. Huzzah Creek is nearby, and the mill, built around 1907, is in good shape, but not quite as attractive as Alley Spring Mill. Hodgson Mill, which I visited yesterday, is the most rustic and truly eye-appealing of the three. It has a very distinctly aged appearnace, and there is a time-tested ambience about the whole place, not just the mill, but the entire surroundings as well.
The road to Dillard Mill was empty, to say the least. For mile after mile it could have been wilderness to all appearance. Not a car, house, sign or even mailbox by the road. I was jittery for awhile as I zipped up and down wooded Ozark hills, often with the sensation of being on a roller coaster.
Finally, I emerged back into civilization and proceeded on to the state capital of Jefferson City.
(A good link to information about grist mills is located at the Pond Lily Mill Restoration site.
May 6, 1999
Fortunately, I saved a lot of the stories I wrote for various weekly newspapers over the years. However, they are not too easy to find among all my file folders and boxes of documents. I really need to collect them in one place, because they are quite valuable and revealing. I consider them part of my autobiographical source material. Almost all of the feature stories and columns were on topics, people, and events I chose to write about because I pretty much assigned myself what I wanted to look into, or was interested in.
That's one of the advantages of working in community journalism. Budgets are so tight that when they get a person who has some news and feature "sense," they pretty much give him or her free rein. That was the case with me.
And then, when I was actually the editor of two small papers, I had no one but myself to be accountable to. That was a tremendous responsibility, but it gave me great freedom. My writing experiences would have been much more limited had I been a reporter on a daily paper.
One of the types of stories that really intrigued me was doing interviews with older people, getting them to talk about their lives and what it was like when they were growing up. I've always been fascinated by the early decades of this century, and I had an opportunity to contribute in some small way to the store of collected first person histories of people in the communities where I lived and worked. If you'd like to read an example of one such story, I have linked to it here.
The first feature story I wrote for an actual newspaper out in the "real world" as opposed to the laboratory paper at USC, or the student newspaper, was a feature on a 96-year-old former former vaudeville entertainer, living at the time in the Sunset Manor Nursing Home in West Columbia. I had just started my first newspaper job at the twice-weekly in that city, and was nervous about doing the story. It was kind of a test, a challenge to see if I had what it took to write for a newspaper.
It was a moving experience doing the interview. I found out many things about the entertainment world those long years ago. For one thing, the person I was interviewing had been a stand-in for the great silent film star Clara Bow. She had many anecdotes to relate, and I scribbled notes as fast as I could. We even ran a picture of her taken in the early 1900s.
I evidently passed that first test, as I received some nice comments about the story. I was very proud of it, and I felt it was a means of preserving her legacy, which otherwise might not have been shared with a larger audience.
A wonderful and growing repository of oral history and the collected words and stories of people is located at the Library of Congress's Web site (American Memory), especially the manuscripts from the American Life Histories Project produced by the Federal Writers Project from 1936-1940. This is a growing collection, and is well worth a visit.
May 4, 1999
12:30 pm --This morning coming over the James Island Connector, joined to the flow of rush-hour traffic heading into town, I looked to the side over at the marshes and the wide mouth of the Ashley River. It was like two adjacent worlds -- one natural, one man-made.
The surface of a tidal creek I gazed at for just a few seconds was unruffled and calm, smooth with only the barest trace of movement from the incoming tide. Out across the water, beyond where the Stono River enters, the harbor glistened in the morning sun like millions of quartz particles, shimmering, moving back and forth with the wind and the water, bright, brilliant and momentarily beguiling. What a contrast to the preceding days when the sea matched the sky, a monotone of lead, dark as a mind in a similar mood.
On the expressway, I was not unusually tense, just alert and fixed on the goal of getting across that expanse of wetlands and inlets and down the commuter chute known as Calhoun Street. It's kind of like I'm being carried down some river rapids when I'm in that commuter zone of reality. Only I perceive that I have more control. But generally they're Class I rapids, unless the rains have flooded the intersections. Then, cars back up on the Connector, drivers' eyeballs begin darting back and forth looking for escape routes, and a general sense of what passes for equilibrium vanishes in hostility, anger and impatience. I dread those times. I just sense it all around me. (Or maybe I'm really sensing it in myself).
As I write this, I'm listening to the calming sounds of the fountain at the college, surrounded by sunlit ferns and impatiens, and people passing by off and on. I'm thinking back to the morning at work and all the day's bad news about the horrible tornadoes, including the half-mile wide one, in Oklahoma, and the picture in the paper of the woman cradling her daughter, both hiding behind a concrete pillar under a freeway with the killer storm approaching as a black funnel in the distance. Then there was the woman and the group of people who emerged from their celler and found nothing but open sky. It reminded me of that painting by John Steuart Curry, "Tornado over Kansas," an all-too realistic scene of a farm family, grabbing their pets and heading for the door of the storm cellar. The sky is black all around the tornado which seems to be practically in their yard. A hen is standing in front of steps leading to the back porch, seemingly unconcerned about the melee all around.
I drove out to the beach right before sunset and walked for about 15 minutes, listening to the waves, smelling the sea air, watching twilight move across dunes from the marshes to the north. Sometimes it really helps to get away from the city, even if it's just for a short while.
May 2, 1999
The drought has temporarily ended. Dramatically. For three days, we had winds and rain and very cool weather. The ground has been given a good soaking, and the parched grass of just a few days ago is gone. The grass, as well as all the other plants and shrubs, now seem as green and as lush as the trees. Nature seems to have righted herself for awhile. There is some balance to the extremes of dryness and much higher than normal temperatures we've been experiencing lately.
So, too, has winter seemed to have visited us again briefly these past couple of days. It reminded me also of rainy Seattle days. It was a cool, refreshing change in the weather. I have enjoyed this brief reprieve before summer.
As I was driving down King Street this morning, I looked up and saw with a shock of rocognition a man whose face we all knew so well in the 1960s. A few minutes earlier I had seen him at another intersection, but it had not registered who it was, although there seemed something different, but familiar, about him. I was walking at that point, and he seemed to be looking directly at me from a distance of about 200 feet.
The man I saw was Gen. William Westmoreland, once the commander of all the U.S. forces in Vietnam. It was a terrible period in history when our nation's leaders lied and deceived us into a catastrophic war in the jungles of a remote Southeastern Asian country.
I saw an old man who must be near 80 now. He walked erect, and maybe it was my imagination, but I sensed some great weight or burden in his countenance as I briefly looked at him. I knew he lived in Charleston, but this is the first time I had seen him. I thought briefly about what kinds of thoughts, dreams, or nightmares from those awful years he had to live with these three decades later, how he thought history would ultimately regard him. I haven't read any of his books or papers, so I really don't know how he views himself in the context of that war. It occurs to me he defends many of his actions and is unbowed and defiant in the face of time and the judgement of history. I guess that's how he lives with himself. But I remember how reviled he was among protesters of the war who wanted the senseless slaughter stopped, how he and Johnson and McNamara came to symbolize that war.
Who could forget that face?
*****I took a walk late this afternoon, just a short while before sunset. The winds had died down, and the sky was a broken palate of clouds and sunlight. At one point I looked up and saw the tops of some trees near my apartment bathed in a golden light from the sun which illuminated only portions of those trees. At first it looked exactly like trees turned yellow in autumn. It was like some kind of illusion of the seasons, spring turning to fall. At another location, a whole area of trees was lit up like this. I think it was the angle of the light and the time of day. In a few minutes the shadows lengthened, and the last of the day's sunlight was gone.
May 1, 1999
In my previous entry (4/29) I wrote about my final year of college as an undergraduate. The year was 1972, and I talked about my first apartment, my struggle to find it, and how it was worth all the effort.
Today, I dig into the journal I kept very intermittently during those college years at the University of New Orleans, and I offer these insights from a year earlier, the spring and fall of 1971. I was completing my sophomore year, and beginning a third year of studies as an English major. I must say I know this person much better now than I did then, but the similarities are striking. It is sometimes like I am not even looking into the past. It is the present, and I am writing about some of the things that affect me now as well. In fact, except for some references to the fashions and fads of the times, I could be writing this today.
From my journal, March 26, 1971, New Orleans, La., Age 19:
...I seem caught in a strange dilemma. I have a number of friends in the dorm on my floor, and we really enjoy each other's company. It is, in fact, a stong bond, and it makes the dorm a much easier place to live in. When apart from this group, however, I begin to retreat into a world of my own, where I deliberately set off to be alone, eat by myself, and bike to the lakefront to lie in the grass on the other side of the levee.
I depend on these things and feel they are natural and inevitable. But sometimes when I'm alone among many groups of people such as in the dining hall, I feel actually lonely and regret my not being with other people. Maybe while happy to have friends and sensing the value in knowing them and respecting their personalities, I miss knowing someone who is a real friend and who understands me on a level beyond the surface antics...Acquaintances come and go, but a true friend -- I keep wondering if such a thing is actually possible.
...I want to be sure that my aloneness is a good thing and not a prop or device to huddle under when I have no other recourse than to withdraw. In other words, I want to be able to rely on solitude and draw peace from it without any reservations and to know that I am right and honest in doing so.
Later that year, in October, I recorded these thoughts:
From my journal, October 17, 1971, New Orleans, La., Age 20:
Last night at school, I rode my bike over to a rock concert being held in back of the University Center. A soul group was playing at the time and they were fairly good. The crowd of several hundred were, uniformly, long-hairs, it seemed, clustered around the stage in many groups and peacefully absorbing the music, sounds of others coming and going, and occasionally, even their neighbors' uninhibited greetings of "Wow!" and "Far out!" cast cheerily from the pot of trite aphorisms and cliches that only a "cool" person could understand and appreciate.
A frisbee and a football were being thrown, and I sat astride my bike at a distance from the crowd, wondering if I were being noticed. I wanted at first to get close to the people, but some impulse restrained me. Not that I didn't feel comfortable, but I just felt the need to be detached from them.
A profusion of 10-speed bicycles added further to this long-haired festival-in-miniature atmosphere, proving perhaps that outside togetherness of this sort is still one of the best ways for the non-conforming celebrants to display their latest head gear and show off the simple, unpretentious clothes they wear proudly. It's like going to the beach and showing off your new tan and surfer shirts.
After only a few minutes I left, rather bewildered at not having allowed my curiosity to keep me at the concert. I headed for the still bayou that joins Lake Pontchartrain near campus, and, crossing a grassy open area, I walked my bike over a short levee and down to the deserted shore.
The timing was perfect because the sun was just setting. Cicadas were singing from the oaks and the sky and clouds were slowly changing colors. Finally, a hoped-for bright orange lit up the clouds of dusk and cast shimmering reflections on the perfectly still water of the bayou. No breath of wind disturbed the clouds, and a calm and serene feeling came over me.
This is what I wanted and needed -- no one around and a beautiful sunset to watch slowly disappear into darkness. I felt, quite simply, freedom and a further strengthening of my convictions concerning Nature.
I have my books and my poetry to protect me...
Simon and Garfunkle