Armchair Peregrinations

October 30, 2004

The other day I drove out to the nature preserve, anticipating a nice hike even though it was a cloudy day. I was off work and just needed to get away from everything. I got out there and to my great consternation, confronted locked gates, not realizing it was closed on Tuesday.

Highly disappointed, I decided not to let the day be wasted with no walk, so I trekked about 15 miles to another place that I rarely ever go, but which is truly beautiful and scenic. It' s a 600-acre state historic site with an old home, huge live oaks, woods, walking trails, marsh and riverview scenery.... and.... it is the birthplace of South Carolina. It's all in the middle of Charleston. I don't know why I don't go there more often.

The first permanent settlement in South Carolina, Charles Towne, named for the king of England, was established there in 1670 on a bend in a small tidal creek called Town Creek. It's about 9 miles up the Ashley River from the where the present-day city of Charleston is located on the peninsula between the Ashley and Cooper rivers.

It was a secure site with a walled wooden fortifications, but limited capacity for growth since the creek allowed only small trading vessels or ketches to enter and dock. After about ten years, the settlement was moved.

It's really a fascinating place, and I like to walk up to Town Creek and see the spot where Charleston began. I've been only a few times since I first visited there in 1981 and then a year later. That was a time etched in my memory forever, even though it seems like light years back in past.

I was teaching middle school English and history at a small school, and in the spring of each of the years 1981 and 1982, I took a group of highly charged and excited 7th graders on a field trip to Charles Towne Landing.

I had taught South Carolina history that year, so this was to be both an educational and a "fun" field trip. Obviously, it was much more fun than educational for my students.

They had a great time at the small zoo, walking onto and exploring the replica trading ship of the time, and, in general, just being kids -- running around, laughing, cutting up, expending tons of energy as young people at that age do. I loved it. Their enthusiasm was amazing. One forgets how much fun it can be to be alive and exploring new things when you are young like that. They actually kept me young, although not long afterward I stopped teaching after the realities of what I was planning to do for a career set in. For two golden years, though, I enjoyed it to the hilt.

It was a very different place Tuesday, 22 years later, as I walked alone along the narrow paved path to the spot where we had had so much fun so long ago. I occasionally think about those kids and a part of my life that is gone but which holds many treasured memories. All I have to do is open a photo album, or a box of memorabilia from that time, or, take a walk at Charles Towne Landing. The past is never too far away.

October 28, 2004

...the first step is to realize you are in the middle of something good. It could be a beautiful day on your family vacation or a perfect afternoon with your children. You are the judge of what moments you'd like to appreciate...Once you realize you are experiencing a moment you'd like to last forever, stop for a moment and take a step back. Take yourself away fromt the sitaution. Take a short walk, a quick break, or simply close your eyes. Once you're removed from the situation, think about it as if it happened in the past. Picture how happy you were, the details of the scene and the others around you. Feel the emotions you felt, see and hear the faces and sounds. Remember how much you enjoyed the time and how much you'd like to enjoy it again.

Once you feel the happiness of the moment, think about this: It's no longer in the past, it's right now. You just thought about how great you felt in that past moment, and you can live it in the present now...

Jason Gracia

Every time I go to the nature preserve that I love so much, and which is my most sought-after sanctuary from the cares of life, I have moments i want to remember forever. It's the kind of place where time melts away and peace finds its way deep into my once troubled and anxious self. I am momentarily freed from the constraints of anxiety and fear, from the crowded, noisy life that is the norm.

What I remember most from my long walk there Saturday is the wind in the open 200-acre expanse of wetlands, canals and marsh. It's always blowing strong and steady out there, over wide vistas, with birds and sweeping views of the sky. I watch the hawks, egrets, and herons with my binoculars. I walk a long path along the edge of the woods and swamp adjacent to the marsh. I feel so perfectly at peace, as if nothing could harm me. That wind -- it caresses me with cool fervor. I breathe deeply and know that moments like that will last forever.

This preserve is there for me in every season. I watch the seasons come and go in the leaves of a favorite chestnut oak tree. I feel the grass under my feet as I walk the trail. I often walk briskly, but alone and mindfully.

One of the best ways for me to remember something is to write about it. I wrote a long poem once about this nature preserve. It's been nearly four years since I wrote it, but my appreciation for it has only grown deeper and more intense.

Oct. 16, 2004

There come those moments when the new season shifts, changes and suddenly is upon us in all it's freshness and wonder. Fall is like that for me. One day I am slogging through summer humidity, and the next I am driving over the bridge connecting Charleston with James Island, over miles of marsh and tidal creek, and I look up and behold that yearned-for bright, blue October sky. And in an instant everything is different, but only for a few moments. I have the windows down, and it's cool and perfect, the wind feels so good rushing in, blowing my hair reminding me of long, open roads of freedom.

The next day I am driving deep into our rural coastal South Carolina countryside, to the vast wildlife refuge, with it's endless open rice field wetlands and birds, sky and clouds. Stopping a while to hear nothing but wind on dry marsh grasses, I look awhile at the clouds, constanting changing shape all around me. Skygazing. It is another cool, October day, two in a row, and it has made me want to rejoice.

There are days when we see more clearly, and time rushes together -- past, present and future. It's all One. The yellowing and brown leaves, the sense of timelessness that Autumn inspires, the sights all along the drive through the country: bales of hay, fields dotted with oaks and pines; country houses and porches; people working out in their front yards, enjoying the nice weather. On that drive in the country Friday, the troubles plaguing te world are far from my mind, as far away as I allow them to be, cut off from newspapers, TV, and the Internet. At times like these, and in other moments when I make the effort to think of what I need to do and recall what is truly meaningful, I am able to swim into that great "ocean of thought," which Emerson describes.

... All the endless variety of things make an identical impression....A leaf, a drop, a crystal, a moment of time is related to the whole, and partakes of the perfection of the whole. Each particle is a microcosm, and faithfully renders the likeness of the world...

From Nature, by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

We stand on the edge of all that is great, yet are restrained in inactivity and unconscious of our powers... We are always on the brink of an ocean of thought into which we do not yet swim.. There is much preparation...often with little fruit. But suddenly in any place, in the street, in the chamber, will the heaven open, and the regions of wisdom be uncovered, as if to show how thin the veil, how null the circumstances. As quicky, a Lethean strean washes through us and bereaves us of ourselves.. What a benefit if a rule could be given whereby the mind dreaming amidst the gross fogs of matter, could at any moment east itself and find the sun. But the common life is an endless succession of phantasms. And long after we have deemed ourselves recovered and sound, light breaks in upon us and we find that we have yet had no sane hour. Another morn rises on mid-noon.

Emerson, Journal, 1835.

These quotations are aptly taken from the book, A Dream too Wild: Emerson Meditations For Every Day of the Year, Oct. 8 and 9.

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