Armchair Peregrinations

January 28, 2001

I never cease to be astonished each time I'm in Four Holes Swamp, walking the trail into those deep, bottomland woods, and seeing again the ancient, 1000-year-old bald cypress trees. I lean my head all the way back and look high up into the tops of those giants, crystal-clear swamp water flowing around their huge bases and among the knobs. One tree is hollow at the base, and it's like looking into a small cave. Such a sight of grandeur. They are the last remaining trees of their kind.

It was a beautiful late-January day Saturday for a drive to the refuge, an hour from Charleston. N__ and C___ had never been before, and I was excited about their first glimpses of this favorite place I visit to find fresh air and pure quiet. We saw a rather torpid, red-cockaded woodpecter high in a tupelo tree, and a possum foraging in the undergrowth. Someone told us they had seen a group of four deer. But there was no other wildlife, no other bird sightings. It is not the time of year.

The bare branches of trees created starkly beautiful patterns in the slowly moving water and made for some interesting photos. The sun behind the trees surrounding Goodson Lake is always beautiful. What a peaceful place, half-way along the trail. We stopped and sat on the benches for awhile absorbed in the splendor of this swampy wilderness -- light, airy and winter-bare and opened up so that we could see all the details of the forest that thrives in the seasonally wet landscape. Although the water level was low, I am hoping rains in February will raise it so that when I return in early spring, and the trees are greening, there will be braided streams of moving water, ever so gently, gliding along to the main channel and thence to the nearby Edisto River. The cycles of life symbolized by flowing water.

January 23, 2001

Half century

Peeling back time's layered grid
to find myself near the middle of the end.
It's not a pretty thing,
this getting older,
but as long as I pretend I'm
as young as I was yesterday
I can swim among dolphins and illusions
breathing salt air and eternity's wind

Yet, I can't believe it sometimes,
for I have not changed at all
and, if so, in ways so subtle I don't even know.
It seems as if I reached a point in childhood
where nothing would ever change.
So here I am,
noticing but brushing aside
every insidious ache and pain,
and scabrous sore on my skin and soul.

I think I will soon have a trophy
for surviving as long as I have.
It will be bronze and not last too long.

When I saw that old man running in the park,
and the old woman walking by with her stick,
I couldn't even look up at her.
She was a clear-eyed apparition
And I was wide-awake
with calibrated indifference.
We were all three the only ones
in that park on a winter afternoon,
flush with light and airy clouds,
Shadows and illuminated bark.
I saw the stages of life
wither before me.
No shouts of children on the swings,
no youthful tennis players,
no kids running fast in big circles.
Just me and them.
Alone in this small universe running out of time.

January 17, 2001

A respite from winter. Mild and normal temperatures the past few days, and yet it seems by looking out the window these gray and cloudy afternoons that winter is starkly obvious. At last, the two oak trees near my apartment are bare. They had been holding on to their autumn leaves, brown and crisp, as they usually do, providing the illusion that it was another season. Now that illusion is gone. These are not trees that are particulary beautiful to look at with the branches bare. The hurricane of ten years ago damaged most of them, and they are just partly full. That perfectly crowned, bare winter tree you see in the photography books is hard to find near Charleston.


I took a walk in the neighborhood yesterday, and such a perfect day it was. The trees, the blue sky with strands of white clouds -- it was sort of ethereal after the harsh cold of the past two months. Just a very fine and pleasant day. I sensed the perfection of Nature.


This afternoon as I sat and rocked in the chair on the porch at the house in Charleston, after a long day at work, the bone-tiredness I was feeling hit me, and I almost fell asleep to the gentle rocking motions. But getting over a cold takes a lot out of you, and it was a tiredness that went very deep. I didn't feel relaxed tired. It was like I was still sick and exhausted. But I was carrying on as usual. Inner reserves.

So, I was barely awake, eyelids drooping, and I looked up to see a brilliant red cardinal in the waning light of day, perched on a dogwood branch. Normally, they alight for a second and just flit away, but this one stayed awhile, and I could observe him from about 20 feet away. I wondered where he would be that night, and how happy he appeared to be. And he stayed there. Everytime I opened my eyes, I saw him. Birds are such a joy.

Finally, with him still there, I went inside and upstairs to lie down and take a short nap. So tired.

January 14, 2001

...I put on a dark coat and go out to be part of the evening, and when I look up I am in the midst of an incredible galaxy of snowflakes. I return to the porch, and under the porch light I see the individual flakes on my coat sleeve. I cannot understand the infinite variety of the snowflakes, but there they are, crystalline perfection so fragile that my slightest breath reduces them to drops of moisture.

I return to the dooryard and stand there in the falling snow. The dusk deepens. Night is at hand. Soon I shall come back inside, to the security of walls and roof and fire, fruit of my own providence. But for a little while I am one with the dark and the snow, and I am full of wonder. Here is wholeness and holiness, and I partake, knowing that beyond the reasons lies belief.

Hal Borland

When I am at my aunt's house in Sumter, and it is very cold, she keeps the downstairs rather warm and toasty, so inside I am not aware of the frigid winter temperature. And, it gets a bit colder in Sumter than it does in Charleston. But of course, it never snows.

Nevertheless, every hour or so, I like to step outside on the porch and feel the cold air, the fresh, deep sense of a winter night, full of stars. And there's this feeling of belonging. It's a wonderful feeling. Alone. A cozy house just inside the door, and the slightly smokey, crisp night air. No one else out. Just cars on the street.

I stand there for awhile. It's too cold to sit on the bench. Then I go back inside.

I sometimes have some pretty clear and penetrating thoughts when I'm out there under the stars, but I never write them down. I think what I am mainly doing is just getting some fresh air, as they say.

January 11, 2001


Cold, cold night
and brilliant round light,
from a search beam moon
two nights ago.

No liquid still moments to enjoy,
lingering awhile out there,
temporarily detached from humanity
at the ocean's edge.

It could have been a mild winter night,
more typical for Charleston,
but instead, it was abnormally cold.
All the light there was
seemed quickly lost like a flickering lantern,
that's gone out.

I felt no desire to embrace the cold.
It was a stranger, unwelcome,
whereas the previous night,
I was singing the praises of winter,
so glad to be alive,
in the clean, cold air
I could feel deeply.

I find it difficult to think back that far;
was it only two days?
Such is time, memory
and days and nights
that never will be again...
I only know it was so cold,
and the full moon's light so bright
that I could merely stare at it in wonder
and put my hands over the warm air
blowing from the car heater,
creating a lot of warmth.
I drew close to that warmth;
it protected me.

I didn't want to step out into the cold air.
But I did see the moon
throw a golden sheet over the ocean
as I passed the Washout.
What a forlorn place,
that surfer's paradise,
that center of energy and life.

A winter night, deep down and long.
Only one couple,
standing there against a cold wind.
I didn't even walk out on the beach,
for I would have been too utterly alone
and cold.

January 5, 2000

The nature preserve,
2:30 p.m.

What a difference a few weeks makes. I was sitting in this same spot in early December in warm sunshine, after a hike in the nature preserve which I have revisited today. It was so cold then, I couldn't stand being in the shade for too long. Now I have only my navy blue sweatshirt on, the hood down -- no heavy coat and gloves.

The temperatures must be in the 50s, and there's a nice breeze blowing on my face, but it feels exquisite. Wonderfully cool and full of memories. Gentle, cool breezes like this, rustling the dead leaves in the oaks, always inspire thoughts of the countryside or being in winter woods and walking under trees. A day like this could easily pass for early March or late Februrary.

I'm sitting cross-legged now in some dried grass and oak leaves. The sun is mild, the air fresh out a ways from the city. I'm so fortunate to be able to come here. It's just far enough away to make it seem like a world apart from Charleston, but close enough to be accessible almost anytime I have a few hours of daylight left. This was not possible before the park opened. I had to drive an hour south on busy U.S. 17 to a wildlife refuge to escape the incessant clamor, noises and traffic of the city. Today, driving out here, I didn't even mind the traffic because my goal was so clear and I was greatly anticipating arriving.

January 2, 2001

On the last day of 2000, a cold Sunday in Charleston, I was at Folly Beach taking a walk, and despite the frigid temperatures, I was able remain out there, bundled up to absorb the beauty of that December seascape. There was almost no wind, so I didn't feel the cold very much. And the seas were calm. The surf was only about a half foot and so quiet it sounded like the small, gentle waves that lap against the shore of a lake. In fact, the entire ocean in front of me appeared more like a large lake than the seemingly infinite Atlantic Ocean.

Sitting on a rock, I kept my gaze directed out over the water and listened to the sounds of the waves, hardly perceptible compared to the thunderous and incessant tumult of the surf on a normal day. I was glad to be there on that nearly deserted beach.

Monday, New Year's day, it was very different. The wind had picked up that afternoon, and the cold was intense against my face, even with the warm hood over my head. I walked about a while, enjoying the fresh, cold sea air, but only for awhile. I headed in to the beach house where we had a fire in the fireplace, a pork roast cooking in the oven, and a beautiful sunset over the marsh. Not a dramatic sunset, just a quiet end-of-the-day pallette of colors.

New Year's day on the beach -- I had to be there.

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