Armchair Peregrinations

February 26, 2001

Clear with blue skies this morning. The tall oak tree outside my window is continuing to take on the appearance of spring, leafing out more fully with each passing day. It happens very quickly each year. It seemed completely bare the other day.

It was a quiet and uneventful weekend, and I needed that. After the stresses of the preceding week, it was a great relief to have no interviews to go to and no work demands to attend to. That could all wait until Monday. So, I went around in a kind of self-induced state of amnesia, trying not to think about decisions and forgetting my conflicting emotions and desires concerning a possible new job and radical departure in my life's routines.

I drove out to Folly Beach Saturday to take an out of town visitor to see the beach and my brother's house. While there, I took a brief walk on the beach, where the wind off the ocean was cold. It was a wonderful, bracing tonic. We were not out there long, but it was enough.

Yesterday, Sunday, I walked in the neighborhood, gazing in awe at the white, snowy Bradford pear trees everywhere in their peak bloom. This is the time of year, but how soon they seem to have blossomed this year! The flowers remind me of those on crabapple trees. Birdsong has been particularly noticeable the past few days.

February 22, 2001

(This entry was written this morning about 10:30 while waiting in the foyer outside the massive office of the chief executive of the place where I had my all-day job interview)

Rain clouds, cool and windy. I have so many things on my mind. It is difficult to consider and adjust to the fact that I am at a potential crossroads in my life. The thought of it is at times rejuvenating and exciting, and yet dispiriting and unsettling at the same time, for I face giving up the deeply comfortable work, people, daily regimens, and familiar patterns of existence that have anchored me on solid ground for the past six years. It seems as if there is nothing else but the present way of life. Why disturb the way things are? What is the ultimate purpose of this desire to move beyond where we comfortably are and into new physical and mental terrain? Where does it lead?

I become convinced sometimes that the journey is indeed the destination, that there is no final place where we arrive on this earth and find our ultimate contentment. We are all in this life together. Out lives intersect with key persons over time whom we are destined to know, and who influence our lives in both subtle and profound ways. We become so accustomed to them -- and I am speaking here of treasured co-workers who have become great friends -- that to part with them seems unthinkable, like leaving family.

I guess that on a gray, February day when I am interviewing for a job which I am uncertain about taking if it is offered, these kinds of thoughts are bound to come to mind. Yesterday I was basking in balmy, springlike weather, sunny skies, observing the flowering trees -- just beautiful. I must still think of spring and remember yesterday.

February 20, 2001

Man is a thinking reed, but his great works are done when he is not calculating and thinkng. "Childlikeness" has to be restored with long years of training in the art of self-forgetfulness. When this is attained, man thinks yet he does not think. He thinks like the showers coming down from the sky; he thinks like the waves rolling on the ocean; he thinks like the stars illuminating the nightly heavens; he thinks like the green foliage shooting forth in the relaxing spring breeze. Indeed, he is the dhowers, the ocean, the stars, the foliage.

D.T. Suzuki

This past Sunday at Caw Caw Park, I arrived late in the afternoon, past four, but with still enough winter sunlight to warm and illuminate the preserve sufficiently for the walk I wanted to take. Instead of taking the trail through the cypress swamp to the grove of live oaks as I usually do, I went directly to the trail that led to the waterfowl resting areas in the former rice fields. This is the large open field of grasses and water and mudflats where one has unobstructed views of he ospreys, hawks, eagles and herons flying off in the distance or circling on thermal currents.

On the opposite side of the dike surrounding this large open area is a swamp woodland, and the flowing waters of the swamp merge into a little streambed, actually a creek, at one point. It is near this point that the water flows over tree debris that is either the remains of a beaver dam, or that has collected there after a very heavy rainfall. I think it is the former, and, if so, it is a very old dam. When the water flows through this slightly elevated part of the little creek, the sound is audible, serene and peaceful beyond words. It is the only place for many miles, and actually in the whole area that I know of, where there is actually such a stream that sounds in one place like it is flowing over rocks, as in the mountainous upstate.

I make it my goal now to stop awhile at this place whenever I am there, and sit and relax and listen to the steady sounds of that flowing water. Doing this enables me to look carefully at the sunlight and shadows on the nearby trees, to observe all the abundant evidence of spring in the woods in back of the creek, and to forget myself and my troubles for awhile.

Cares ceased in that cool breeze the other day, and then I noticed the birds. And I was given a glimpse of the happiness that self-forgetfulness can bring.

February 17, 2001

Once in a lifetime, perhaps, one escapes the actual confines of the flesh. Once in a lifetime, if one is lucky, one so merges with sunlight and air and running water that whole eons, the eons that mountains and deserts know, might pass in a single afternoon without discomfort. The mind has sunk away into into beginnings among old roots and the obscure tricklings and movings that stir inanimate things. Like the charmed fairy circle into which a man once stepped, and upon emergence learned that the whole century had passed in a single night, one can never quite define this secret; but it has someting to do, I am sure, with common water. Its substance reaches everwhere; it touches the past and prepares the future; it moves under the poles and wanders thinly in the heights of the air. It can assume forms of exquisite perfection in a snowflake, or strip the living to a sngle shining bone cast up by the sea.

Loren Eiseley,
The Immense Journey

It has been the strangest morning, weatherwise. I had breakfast looking out the window on a clear and sunny morning. Then I heard the wind whistling through the eaves above the window. Next thing I knew, the sky was suddenly dark in back of the bare oak tree, like when ominous black clouds from a violent thunderstorm sweep in, but the foreground was lit up brightly as if oblivious to the interloper. The contrast was startling and amazing. I have never seen anything remotely resembling that tableaux outside my window. It only lasted a short while, but it was as if I were seeing that familiar, framed scene for the first time. I turned to look at it again, and it was gone. The clouds blew away as quickly as they came in, and it is now clear, windy and cool.

Yesterday was 75 degrees and springtime; today marks the windy return of winter. It is supposed to get down to 32 degree tomorrow morning. So many plants are budding now, too. They will have to put up with this inconvenient revisiting of the season that has not departed by any means.

February 15, 2001

When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it's your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else. I want them to see it whether they want to or not.

Georgia O'Keeffe

All my life through, the new sights of nature made me rejoice like a child.

Marie Curie

The artist Georgia O'Keeffe is more blunt than I am. I try to softly side-step the issue that when I write about the natural world that has been my source of strength and refuge for so many years, I am hoping others will share my sentiments, re-affirm what I am thinking and writing. Sometimes I think I am writing only for those who have similar responses to nature, to the outdoors, the seasons, hiking, watching birds, looking at the stars at night, glorious sunsets, and the full moon over the ocean. Those things affect me at the deepest level of my being. It does matter to me if others don't feel as I do; it's something I can't quite understand. Nevertheless, I would hope that my writing would somehow plant a seed, reach those visitors here who stray from whatever path they are on, and see into my world for a short time. I have only a few readers. Most everyone who wanders here never returns. A mystery. To those of you who have stood by me and read my journal, I thank you. It is as much for you that I write as for myself.

February 11, 2001

Yesterday was pretty much a loss as far as getting out anywhere. It was very overcast all day, and I just did not feel motivated to leave the apartment. That was a mistake, because I usually regret not doing something outdoors at least for part of every day.

Today things were different. Right at 2 pm, as I had promised myself, I flew out the door and headed for Caw Caw Park. It only takes about a half-hour to get there, but I stopped at Barnes and Noble on the way.

It was still sunny when I turned in at the gate to the preserve I have visited so often lately. The 2-mile walk I took was wonderful, rejuvenating. Through the cypress swamp, to the rice field/waterfowl area. and around the perimeter in a long loop beside the swamps and hardwood forests on the north side of the park. I spotted a magnificent, lone bald eagle perched silently atop the tallest cypress tree in the area. Later, a belted kingfisher noisily flew by me as I was sitting on a bench just feet from the sound of water in a creek flowing over what looked like the ancient remnants of a beaver dam.

By that time, the skies had become gray and overcast once again, in a span of just 15 or 20 minutes. I lingered on the bench by the creek, which is now my favorite spot, listening to the running water and turning from time to time to take in the panoramic view of the freshwater, former rice fields in back of me. The water levels in the ditches and canals were very low. The air was cool, not cold. I was adrift in semi-thoughts. I really wasn't thinking of anything much in particular, and this is exactly what I have needed after the stressful job interview last week and contemplating a possible job change and everything else that goes with that.

So, it was nice to be out there. Perfect. I felt deeply grateful to have this sanctuary to retreat to, so close to Charleston. I can go anytime, actually, and it's always a place where I can regroup and get my priorites in order. Alone, and enjoying the solitude of Nature, along with the wind and birds, and changing skies and light conditions. And, with spring coming, this whole bare, winter landscape will be changing dramatically before long. All the swamp maples were tinged with new, pink/red growth from the buds, the earliest sign of spring in our coastal plains woods.

February 9, 2001

College of Charleston,
12:15 p.m.

Another beautiful springlike day. Temperatures are in the 70s. The skies are sunny, but there are hazy clouds, not enough to dilute the strength of the sunlight.

It's nice to escape from work at lunch hour to the college and sit beside the goldfish pond where water cascades over steps and sounds like a stream in the woods making its way over rocky shoals. Here I am in the middle of the city, imagining I'm somewhere else for just the time it takes to be transported there by the sound of the water. It doesn't last long. It comes and goes. There's a nice, soft breeze, cool counterpart to the sun's mild warmth.

February 7, 2001

12:30 pm,
College of Charleston

It's nice to be outside sitting in the garden at the college, under the bare branches of my favorite pecan tree. It's early February, but it's about 70 degrees with clear blue skies and just streaks of clouds. On the beige stucco back wall of an adjacent church, shadows gently dance and play across the surface. The sounds of children during lunch recess at a nearby school can be heard. It is a pleasant time to relax and indulge idle thoughts and reveries, for it seems spring is here for sure and spring is the season for reverie. It's the first time in a couple of months that I've really felt this way.

I was thinking the other day about how influenced and affected I am by the passage of the seasons, the seasons themselves, and all the transition times in between, such as now. My journal is subtitled, "A journey through all the seasons of life." I have been recording the season's moods and effects on me since I first started writing in journals. When I was 19 I wrote vivid descriptions of the hot, carefree summer vacation months when I had time off from college. The clouds, the dense green, swampy southern Louisiana landscape. The cicadas' rhythmic music in the trees on late afternoons. Riding my bike along summer's free path of discovery toward the Intracoastal Waterway and the levee alongside it.

I've always enjoyed writing about all the changing sensations I felt and the various states of mind associated with each season, whether it was early fall or March and April when spring really arrives.

Truly, the seasons are what I am attuned to. All my life. they are the cyclic pulse of life on earth. They are symbols of death and rebirth to new life. The seasons give me hope.

February 4, 2001

All journeys have a secret destination of which the traveler is unaware.

Martin Buber

Just when I have reached a state of, for me, real security and comfort with my job and life, six years after some of the biggest and most traumatic upheavals I have ever bene through, I am, of my own free will, seeking to upend the securest foundation I have ever rested upon.

Unexpectedly, the job I have been secretly hoping for these past years of preparation in grad school has come open, and I have applied. I have a fair chance of getting it. I did not think I would have to make major changes so soon after my last job transition last October, but that was a promotion at the place where I currently work. That is very different.

I have put myself in a position not only to know about this new opportunity, but to be well positioned to get it. If I was to be offered the job, I would have to leave the comfortable routines and friends I have made over six years at my present job.

What am I doing to myself? Is this new job what I really want? I told myself for years that it would be ideal. It is perhaps the only job goal I have ever set for myself, and now that it looms as a possibility, I am shaken to my unsteady foundations. We hardly realize how complacent we become about our day-to-day, unvarying routines until the possibility arises that they will all be gone, and we will be confronted with a wholly new set of circumstances, friends, responsibilies, fears of failure, as well as new possibilities for success undreamed of. All this with a couple of words of acceptance to a phone call.

It is hard to believe. It is almost unreal sometimes how the state of one's reality and the perceptions of it can be altered by the mere thought of such a sea change occurring. All the accustomed patterns and habits of life will be gone. There will have to be new ones. It will be like starting over, and it gets harder and harder the older we get.

There is a tendency for severe inertia to set in, and I am fighting against that occurring, but I am also asking myself if the present path I am on is perhaps the right one, and whether to leave for another job is to leave also what I have spent the past six years building up, working hard to achieve.

It is a dilemma of rather epic proportions in my mind, for I cannot think in casual, pragmatic terms of, "Just do it and be done with it." No, I have to analyze every possible consequence.

I have to stop doing that, I know it. I have to think of this job, if I am offered it and accept, as an essential way station or beacon, lifting me up and guiding me on the rest of my journey. I must have the presence of mind and strength to see it this way.

February 2, 2001

January, the coldest month of the year, has passed into memory. It is a warm and mild early February mid-morning in Charleston, gray and overcast, and I am wondering if I will take a trip out to Caw Caw Park later in the afternoon since I have the day off. Right now it is not promising for such plans, but that is one place I have yet to visit when the skies and light were not at least somewhat inviting and welcoming. Decisions. I will probably go. I just feel in the mood for it.

Usually I'm always quite relieved when I turn the wall calendar pages over to February. Something about bleak January departing with an easy motion of the wrist. But this year has been different. It has been cold for most of December and January, and I have enjoyed it, actually. It has made for a true winter season, something we rarely experience in this part of the country. A few very brief cold spells of a day or so, but nothing at all like what we've had this year. I look back over the past couple of months to coming in from work and breathing in the brisk, cold air night after night. Some family in the house one street back always has a fire in the fireplace in the evenings, and it is such a wonderful smell. I almost imagine I am in the country. Then there are the clear winter skies, the stars, the brilliant moon in all its phases. I have even told myself I could enjoy much more of this weather. Normally, this is only a passing thought.

Now, however, a psychological page has been turned. Although the oak trees outside my window that are my seasonal compass are completely bare now, it's doesn't seem like deep winter, or even winter, anymore. Sure, we will have more cold and perhaps rainy, unpleasant weather, but the season's tide has turned. The red buds are already appearing in the swamp maples, the first sign of spring, coming ahead of even the Japanese magnolias with their beautiful pink/purple flowers, the truest and most accurate harbinger of spring here. Everything else follows in their wake, and they are not far from emerging from their winter sleep.

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