Armchair Peregrinations

August 29, 2001

Just got in from the beach a little while ago. Stayed out well past sunset and into the night which was illumined in front of me by the most beautiful 3/4 moon. At 9:30 the beach will light enough from that almost-full moon for me to see quite well. It was amazing and exhilarating to watch that moon's reflections on the surface of the ocean while I was entering a deep state of relaxation produced by the steady sea breeze and the sound of the waves. I felt for awhile the security and tranquility that only come to me at that beach, at that particular spot, and, particulary in circumstances such as those tonight. I was the only one on the beach. It was night, after all, and it is a bit unusual this sensation of being out there after the sun goes down. But the moon was such a good companion that I didn't feel alone at all. Such a night of perfection in the natural world. I was in awe. Quietly in awe.

August 28, 2001

Sat under a shady river ash at the college yesterday in the heat of the noon hour, at lunch on my break from work. The heat was awful, but there was just enough of a breeze blowing to make the experience pleasant for a little while as I rested up before heading back to work along the hot sidewalks I had traversed a short time earlier. I listened to the fountain in the goldfish pond and also to a cicada buzzing noisily just above me. It was peaceful and nice. It was good to relax.

On days like that, I don't see summer going anywhere fast. I am so accustomed to the hot and humid days that it will be a real break from the usual come the first cool morning this fall. I'm looking forward to it, and perhaps taking a 3-4 day trip to the mountains in October. I say this every year.

August 25, 2001

The September issue of Country magazine came in the mail the other day, and as surely as the changing color of the leaves and the wilting of the green of summer, this annual event presages the coming of fall. The autumn scenes inside, of landscapes so beautiful they seem to be made for pictures only and not for really being IN, carry me away from summer instantly.

And then, I turn to look wistfully at my Four Seasons wall calendar and the painting of a classic August landscape in the country: summer clouds and birds, a big oak tree at the edge of a pond, cattle resting in the shade, a barn, wildflowers, rolling hills covered with trees, interspersed with the year's corn crop. A rowboat on the bank of the pond sits silently. Two calves meander down for a drink, or a dip in the water to cool off. It is a scene so lovely that I want to be there badly. But I cannot. It is too far off somewhere, too far for me to reach today by car.

It is so hot and summer is not dreamy and pleasant right now, but rather fading with the approach of September. I'm not sad to see this natural turn of events, for I almost literally feel it as I look out the window now at the oak tree that is my bellweather on the outsie world. It is there. It is expected. It is how I think I should feel about this time of year.

Back to school has come and gone, and I am not a student this fall as I have been for several years. I am free from all that. Mercifully. I can look ahead to the last decade of my work years and imagine the wonderful rest that comes from being free of work obligations, free to just do what I want to do. But that is a ways off, yet.

Meantime, I can pursue more of what I want and should do with my life, instead of waiting until work is no longer an excuse. But it always is. Like the weary heat of summer that lets me forego so many things, the endless cycle of the work weeks propel me farther and farther along the road of life, allowing me to make a living and receive abundant satisfactions of good work accomplished, yet keeping me also from the back roads where all the hidden treasures lie. Such thoughts as these occur to me this early Saturday afternoon on one of those seemingly endless plateaus of life.

August 24, 2001It is that time of year again when the downtown area is filled with College of Charleston students returning for fall classes. They are everywhere: young, fresh-faced, hopeful. I love to be among them walking down the street and observing them going about the business of being college students. It always gives me an extra lift to see them. They make things come alive in our old city.

It reminds me, of course, of my undergraduate days when all was still new and untried and unexplored. My whole life lay ahead of me. That is the way it is for those students. If only they knew.

I went into the student center for a minute and outside were vendors selling all manner of posters for dorm room walls. And what should I see more than any others but posters of paintings by Van Gogh, including a number of Starry Night posters. Curious. I think that was quite interesting.

August 20, 2001

We need the tonic of wildness...At the same time that we are ernest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that the land and sea be infinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of Nature. We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhuastible vigor, vast and titanic features...the wilderness with its living and decaying trees, the thunder cloud, and the rain which lasts three weeks and produces freshets. We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander.

Henry David Thoreau,

I've read this quote from Walden several times lately as I ponder my need to escape the city and get far away into countryside and woods, or farther still to the prairies of north-central Nebraska and experience something of the wildness which is left in Nature in abundance, and which is there for us if we will but take the time to find and reach it. How magnificent the Sandhills of Nebraska are. I have wanted to return there for many years now. I am drawn to that spot on the map. I am not certain why.

But I have become lazy and indifferent about travel and exploration these past few years, content with my near surroundings. That should be enough, right? And especially since I am so near the ocean and can go there and experience up close its "vast and titanic features."

But I miss the sight of mountains and the streams that wind through valleys at high elevation. I miss getting in the car and driving down roads in the middle of nowhere. That, to me, is wild. Land that is empty and undeveloped. I don't need to go backbacking in a wilderness roadless area because I have never done that. I don't think I could even do that, given my level of physical fitness. But just being in a naitonal park or national forest is enough for me. I would like a very different view of things that only traveling far from one's present dwelling place can bring. That is what I envision now as my next escape.

August 18, 2001

Rained hard tonight. Totally unexpected. The skies just got real dark around dinner time and then the downpours began about an hour later.

This rain has been a blessing, for it has allowed us to have at least some cooling breaks in the heat, and a more normal summer than we have had in years. Everything is green.

At the house in Charleston, I sat outside on the porch at one point, listening to the rain. But since it was a rather hard rain, not so gentle and soft, I only stayed out a little while. There are some times when it just doesn't make sense to be out on the porch. I also felt somewhat distracted and a bit melancholy. Rain is nice, but tonight I just felt indifferent.

August 17, 2001

The days are getting shorter, and summer continues its slow waning through the dog days of August. It is so hot that I walk with great lethargy and weariness back from King Street during lunch hour. I'm so tired of not being able to walk outside freely whenever I want to. The humidity and heat leave me sweaty and miserable. They immediately sap my energy. The only relief downtown is if the wind is blowing off the nearby waterfront.

But there is always the retreat into our air-conditioned cars, houses, and buildings. The heat most of the time is a bother, not a real problem. When I want a complete change from it all, I drive 20 minutes to Folly Beach, set up my chair during the hour of so before sunset, and, most days, sink down into that state of instant relaxation that only a steady sea breeze and the sounds of the ocean can bring.

The past few nights I've arrived late, almost at 8 pm, with the day's shadows lengthening. And, it becomes a matter of not wanting to leave, or go in, or head back to the city. So I let night approach -- ever so gradually. I like the way it gets imperceptibly darker. And then I notice the first bright object in the sky, the only light, brighter than any star it seems, and I am guessing it is Venus, but I am no skywatcher. As the minutes pass, I strain abit and then I see, faintly, stars appearing, until, by 9 o'clock, there is are a multitude of faint, barely visible pinpoints of light twinkling above me. I try to imagine how glorious the sky must look far out in the desert or in the counryside far from city lights, but for now, I am content to observe the miracle of the night sky above me, over the ocean, where I am.

August 14, 2001

I was getting ready to shut down the computer last night and call it a day, around midnight, when the first of the thunder rolled in. Then lightning -- booming, violent Nature at it most angry and tempestuous. The bolts of lightning and electrical interference almost succeeded in shutting down the machine before I did. I scrambled to turn the thing off, upset at having to be so helpless in the face of the uncontrollable forces which now were raging outside my window.

This was a major electrical storm. I don't known when I have heard such booming thunder, such piercing, shattering crashes of lightning. The lights in the house flickered on an off at times. Lightning appeared to be strking the ground right outside my window. The heavy rains which ensued the whole time were welcome, but I felt kind of frightened at the intensity of this storm. One likes to see nice, well-behaved storm systems sweep in with pleasant cooling rain, a dollop of thunder, a pretty flash of lightning -- not what I witnesssed last night.

This went on for over an hour and a half. My lights were still on and I was lying in the bed waiting to see if my computer still worked, restless, in sort of a funk. The usual order of things was transgressed. I looked out the door to the other apartments. Everything was dark. People were obviously skaken awake by this storm, yet to all intent and purpose they were oblivious. Was I the only one in the whole area at 2 am with lights brightly burning? I usually don't go to bed early anyway, but this ensured that I would be up late.

This morning as I type I am sort of washed out. It is cloudy and overcast outside. The ground is saturated from the rain. The awful heat and humidity of yesterday had their release. The atmosphere is different. The world seems different this morning. I don't like the kinds of storms we had last night. I feel too tiny and insignificant. It's really rather scary, yet at the same time exhilarating. I just wasn't feeling too elated by this display of Nature last night.

August 10, 2001

This week has seen the kind of heat that gives summer in Charleston its name. One ventures out at noon with trepidation. There is a bit of a breeze. Ah, it might be bearable. I think I can walk those five blocks to King Street without being too miserable. Then halfway there, the heat bores in like some kind of guided missile on my back and neck. Clothes suddely feel like insulation. Perspiration starts soaking them. But in a few minutes I duck mercifully into the big AC-cooled record store at Kind and Calhoun, and I can breathe easier for a bit. The sweat begins to evaporate. The spirit-sapping heat becomes just a memory.

Then I go out again. It is that hot. When the Real-Feel temp is 115 degrees, it is not something one takes lightly. I couldn't bear to watch the jogger puffing away down Calhoun Street toward me. He was young and strong, one could tell, but that didn't matter. It still seemed like a crazy, foolish thing to do.

I went to the college bookstore next and spent the remainder of my lunch hour there. Then, on the walk back, it wasn't so bad, for a strong breeze off the water in the distance made the outdoors at least bearable. August is one of those months to try to be stoical about. It is a long month because of the fierce heat and humidity. It was the same all those summers when I lived in New Orleans. All of it, however, just makes that first cool night and day in Fall that much more tantalizing to think about and hope for.

August 5, 2001

Friday night sitting in my chair at Folly Beach, looking out over the ocean at sunset, I saw the most amazing sight. A golden crack in the sky turned out to be the top of the full moon rising over the water on the horizon. So slowly did the clouds part that at first I didn't know what it could be. Then gradually, it emerged in all its splendor, flinging sheets of light over the breaking waves. When it rose higher, it was a huge moon, and golden yellow.

I stared at it in fascination, feeling momentary jolts of awe and wonder that something could be so beautiful, and yet be so far away. Truly unearthly, at moments it seemed as if I was looking at it for the first time. A new experience.

August 3, 2001

College of Charleston
11:30 am, Aug. 1

It's a perfect day for sitting in the garden at the College of Charleston. Almost late springlike. A nice breeze. Amazingly cool for early August. Cicadas are singing nearby off and on as I sit under the big pecan tree I observe in all seasons at this quiet and secluded spot inthe middle of downtown Charleston.

It is empty now. Not another person around me. The sky is perfectly clear, also unlike summer's typically hazy and cloud-filled skies. I am enjoying it very much here on my lunch break.

It seems as if summer is edging away from us, gradually. Around the first of August, I always detect that change, the shift in the mood of the season. Today it is especially noticeable.

I just finished reading the paper in the shade and cool. It's nice not to have to deal with anybody now. Being away from the job is just what I needed.

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