Armchair Peregrinations


January 14, 2000

This is an entry I should have written last June which was the 25th anniversary of the Summer Gamecock student newspaper that a group of friends and I put out each week during those hot, but golden months in 1974 when we were all journalism students at the University of South Carolina. I've been thinking about those times lately, and I wanted to record my thoughts about that experience. And, 25 years later, much about those days are still clearly etched in my memory.

I had moved to Columbia late in the summer of 1973 after graduating that May from the University of New Orleans with an English degree and a determination that I was going to make journalism my career. I rented a furnished room in the Shandon section of the city, near USC, and started taking classes in news writing, journalism law, copy editing, and the like so that I could prepare for work on a newspaper. I had no previous experience, having written only one guest column for the student paper, The Driftwood, at UNO.

What transpired over the next year and a half would decidedly set me on a newspaper course and and a series of future jobs that I loved doing, not for the salary or status or anything like that, but because I genuinely felt I had found what I was suited to do. That understanding came to me most emphatically during that summer of '74, when, under some remarkable circumstances, a group of eight of us came to quickly know and depend on each other in the crucible of late production nights and deadlines on the third floor of the Russell House student center. Amid hamburger wrappers, soft drink cans, coffee and cigarettes, our small staff manned the clunky computers, into which we fed perforated tape and produced the copy and headlines. We then labored mightily to wax and pasteup the pages on dummy galley sheets, feverishly making corrections with exacto knives, blurry-eyed and exhausted, until the final pages were rolled down tight and assembled to be delivered to the printer early the next morning.

I met my two closest friends there on that summer newspaper, C__ and his wife, and we've kept in touch these 25 years since. I've visited them on a number of occasions since we moved from Columbia, but for years I knew them well in that city, and we continued to have long conversations over dinner and discussions that ranged over so many subjects that we were interested in. There was never a lull in the talk. We could have talked night after night, and some weeks we did just that.

All of us were editors, reporters, and production staff -- we did everything it took to put out the paper. During the week, we interviewed, made phone calls and wrote our stories, columns and editorials. We were novices, but we were all a bit older than the typical college student. I had finished my bachelor's a year before, and C_, S__ and C.N. had all been in the military and were in their mid-twenties. We all shared a newly-found passion for newspaper work, and we liked each other immensely, from the beginning, and formed an amazing team that set the campus buzzing about this upstart student newspaper filled with investigative stories, in-depth features and news commentary, original artwork, creative writing, photography, reviews, and letters to the editor. We were out to make some waves and, as are so many journalists at the beginning of their careers, we were fearless and ready to ruffle some feathers. And that we did.

I had some of my black and white documentary photography published in one issue and wrote lengthy feature stories as well as some news stories. I couldn't get enough of it. Each issue was exciting. We'd open the bundles of papers when they arrived back from the printer and just exult in our efforts, knowing that several all-nighters had been necessary to get the paper out and distributed on campus by Wednesday.

Every day during that summer I woke up in my big bed in the second-story furnished room I rented on Wheat Street, thinking about that week's paper, and rushing to get ready and out the door so I could get to the newspaper's offices in the student center. Immediately we'd start working on that week's paper.

All of us felt the same way. We became so close, so quickly, that it amazed and startled us. We knew that this was something very important and vital, and that we would remember that summer for years to come. There couldn't be any question about it. We just loved life that summer because we had something we believed in so passionately.

A little while ago, in preparation for writing this entry, I went through box after box of papers and clippings looking for a copy of that paper I had saved. Unbelievable that I only have one, dated July 25, 1974, but it's completely representative of the best of the issues we put out that summer. I had a news story on the front page, an analysis piece on prison reform on the editorial pages, and a photo spread on abandoned farm houses I found during trips in the rural countryside near Columbia and in Sumter county.

The pages are kind of yellowed with age. But as I look through it now as I'm typing this, those days of my youth come back and I just marvel at all the idealism and enthusiasm the paper represented and brought out in us.

But perhaps best of all, I made some lifelong friends that summer. And I was changed forever.


January 12, 2000

One of the most remarkable, inspiring and, yet baffling, persons I have ever known died this past Saturday, and I was greatly saddened. I hadn't talked to her, or even seen her in many years, but briefly, during the golden age of my young adulthood in Columbia, I worked as closely as anyone could, I suppose, to this enigmatic and charasmatic individual. She was my first real employer in my first job after college, and she made an indelible impression on me.

Mary L. "Betty" Duffie, was the founder and inspiration behind the phenomenal growth of a private, non-profit organization dedicated to helping the mentally retarded lead better lives. This was a time when they had few advocates, and many, if not most of them who didn't live at home, were institutionalized. She started the program, which today serves 800 individuals, with three developmentally disabled children in the basement of a church in 1969, and by 1973, when I came to work as a houseparent in the fledgling community residential division, the program was growing rapidly.

Working with the mentally retarded was unlike anything I had ever done, before or since. It opened up a world I had only briefly known about. I remember my mother teaching Sunday school for a class of Down Syndrome adults when I was a small child. But that was basically my first and only exposure, for I remained in ignorance about this whole realm of people in need for many years. That is, until I came to work for Mrs. Duffie and the remarkable people who were drawn into that program by her enormous energy and enthusiasm. I just cannot describe adequately how intense and driven a person she was. Two of my oldest and best friends worked there, and it was one of them who actually got me the job back in 1973 -- my friend, Eddie, whom I have written about before in this journal.

The first year I worked there was an emotional roller coaster because for long months I didn't know if I had the stamina, will or nerve to work with mentally retarded teenagers and adults. I was studying journalism and had other career goals in mind than work in a social services program, but I persisted. My third year there, I left my part-time newspaper job to work at the center in fund raising and publicity. I produced all the organization's brochures and newsletters, and a yearbook. I helped with organizing, and worked on, any number of fund raising projects, including one very large and ambitious one that somehow I managed to help bring to successful completion -- and all because I was inspired by Betty Duffie.

She was one of those rare individuals you knew from the very beginning possessed something quite special. It was a sort of inner fire, an intensity that was always burning beneath the surface. She also had an edginess about her, and was impatient to get things done. She maintained an absolute conviction about the rightness of her cause. This kind of relentlessness of purpose can have other, not entirely positive consequences, of course, but it also brings people into the mission as if it were their own cause. She was truly one of those handful of larger-than-life people you meet in the course of a lifetime whom you never forget.

I'm not saying I had any special "ins" with this magnetic leader, and she mostly considered me a subordinate who was there to do his job and not receive any special acclaim or praise because of it. I was just part of a team, and if you were loyal, you remained in her good graces.

I left there in late 1976, along with another employee, and we were both given a large going-away dinner at a restaurant in Columbia. I'll never forget the emotional tone of that event. I really felt appreciated by that departure gift, and I felt I had served a purpose there.

But later, when events conspired to bring me back to Columbia and, a short while after that to try to return to work at that program and for Mrs. Duffie, there was no going back. Once you had left, that was it. She never forgot. I should have known better than try reclaim some of the past, which was gone, and I knew it.

So tonight, I am thinking about Betty Duffie and all the photographs I took of her during my year in public relations there, and of how I worked on a grant project with her, and attended meetings with her, and, generally promoted the center under her guidance. Always, she was there, her sheer presence looming over that program which has helped so many countless disabled persons and their families over the past 30 years.

I mourn her passing, but I am thankful that I briefly knew her and the other remarkable and inspiring people who worked for her those many years ago when I was young and starting out in the world.


January 9, 2000

I've always had trouble sleeping, or, rather, submitting to the need for sleep. There's always something to read, watch, listen to, think about, be distracted by, and then it's bedtime, and the beginning of my nightly ruses to fend off sleep. What effort it takes for me to travel to the land of slumber.

Some people can fall asleep in a few seconds or minutes once their head hits the pillow, but I have to be quite literally nodding my head and dozing off in exhaustion, and then, foolishly, I struggle to read some more before I finally acquiesce and go to bed.

The right mattress and comfortable surface of a bed are absolutely essential. When I see those ads for the "miracle" bed that gives you the most perfect night's sleep of a lifetime, I usually find myself stopping to pore over the ad.

For example, there's the one in the national magazine that said this: "Tonight, millions will be able to sleep 83 percent better because THIS SWEDISH SCIENTIST WENT UNDERCOVER AND MADE YOUR MATTRESS OBSOLETE. He used NASA research to invent our weightless sleep system." A truly space-age revolution in sleep comfort awaits if you will but sink down in the amazing Tempur-pedic mattress (free sample and video available) and let every bit of tension be released into the milions of "viscoelastic memory cells" that conform to every curve and angle of your body." I fall for it every time. I WANT to believe it. Imagine if it really worked as they say!

It's funny how that ad in the magazine got me thinking and remembering a time and a place in Columbia, long ago now, a certain place that became a brief waystation, a stopping-off point, if you will, before the next stage of my journey.

I had just quit a job I despised, with no prospect for one to take its place. This was in the fall of 1983. I recently wrote about that time when I had to leave Goose Creek, near Charleston, where I was living at the time, and put all my belongings in a storage facility space rented by the month in Columbia.

Quitting a job and being suddenly unemployed is not a nice experience. One is left to flounder about for awhile in awful recognition of one's plight, then start to take steps to do something, anything, to get back on track, to start to make something of your life again.

So, after I wrote a long, blistering essay focusing on what had caused me to take this course of action (quitting the job) which only slightly eased my wounded pride, I packed and loaded up a rental truck, and my brother and I drove together to Columbia to the storage facility. It was rather a sad trip. I wondered what on earth I was doing, and I wondered when I would ever live some kind of normal life.

I decided to try to establish myself in Columbia once again, but I wasn't sure that was the right thing to do because, just five months earlier, I had packed up everything and left there for Charleston. I said my good-byes to that place, and here I was back again. It was very strange and confusing.

I called upon my best friend who worked at the newsaper and was able to line up a very part-time writing job doing feature stories. It was a very tentative move on my part, made because I didn't know what else to do. I was turned down for a job in a bookstore because they wondered why I would want such a job with my degrees and work experience.

Not only was the job tentative, but so were my next living arrangements. I thought that since I was at such loose ends, I should rent a furnished room. I hadn't done that in ten years since I first moved to Columbia in 1973. That was then. This was now, however. I was 32 years old. Failure seemed to loom large in front of me. Here I was, at the age most people have settled down with family and career well underway, looking for a cheap, but comfortable, furnished room, with or without kitchen privileges. Was I regressing, or what?

In a sense, though, it was an exciting time because I had absolutely nothing weighing me down but that sense of impending doom and failure. I had no possessions (it was all in storage) except for a few books; no furnishings, no job, no bosses, no regimens, no routines. Nothing. It was time to wipe the slate clean. This state of affairs changed briefly when I started working part-time at the newspaper, but that only lasted a couple of months while I ended up spending my time planning the next stage of my life.

Since I couldn't come up with a new career option or choice, and even though I knew I could always go back to grad school, I decided to embark on a journey, a trip by car across the country, traveling west for the first time and making my way through majestic canyon country, high plains, deserts and mountains, to Seattle where my sister and her husband lived. I would go west while I was still a somewhat young man, as Horace Greeley would advise, and see if I could make whatever dreams I could come up with come true OUT THERE.

Thus, in what turned out to be a rather magical late winter and early spring, I lived in an elderly lady's spare bedroom (she rented two of them), and bought travel guides, maps and books, and began to laboriously plot the first major trip I had ever taken. I should say "adventure" because that's what it turned out to be. I had a car that was not yet a year old, and not too many expenses. However, the small amount of money I had would not last long. I had to do something.

In that suburban ranch-style house, in one of the older suburbs of Columbia, was one other roomer, a young man of 22 with whom I shared the bathroom in the hall, but with whom I rarely, if ever spoke, and indeed rarely even saw. This was a very isolating rooming experience. The elderly lady, while nice, was most interested in getting the monthly rent of around $175, I believe it was.

I spent three uncertain, but hopeful and promising, months in that house in preparation for the big trip. I thought often of the book "Blue Highways" and William Least Heat Moon's travel odyssey around the country in his converted van, "Ghost Dancing."

Each afternoon, when I came into my small room, which had only a bed, chest-of-drawers, and a chair and vanity table, I sank down in that big kingsize bed which was, without a doubt, the most comfortable and luxurious bed I have ever laid down on, before or since. I didn't have much, but I did have the most wonderful bed to sleep in and a room that was warm and cozy.

It was all very simple and plain and very temporary, as I would be gone from there soon. In April, 1984, I left New Orleans behind for Crystal Springs, Miss., and the start of my own travel odyssey to Seattle. That's what it turned out to be.

I never forgot that little room with the miraculously soothing and comfortable bed where I slept more soundly and peacefully than I ever have, despite the fact that my life had no anchor or stability at the time. It's kind of a strange thing that I should remember a bed in a furnished rental room after all these years. But, it's places such as that which sometimes hold the richest and most intense associations from the past.


January 8, 2000

It was a shock, as usual, to return to the clamor of the city after an afternoon spent in the quiet and solitude of the magnificent ACE Basin, about an hour's drive from Charleston. I found a place at the end of a two-mile dirt road that I had known about before, but for some reason had not visited. ACE stand for the Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto rivers, which all come together in huge expanse of salt marsh and tidal river deltas.

Today, after a certain amount of procrastination, I put together my gear (camera, bottles of water, maps, etc.) and got on the road.

The directions were not the best, and I went a couple of miles past where I was supposed to turn, but at last I saw the sign for the wildlife refuge, and turned onto the dirt road. At the end where I parked, I was greeted with options for hiking/walking in three different directions down trails that led deep into the refuge. I was so eager to explore this new environment that I just took off straight ahead toward the row of live oaks and plantation house a half mile in the distance. The pines seemed so green and fresh on this mostly cloudy day as I walked the straight path, looking to either side. The area where I ended up was just full of the most ancient of live oaks, several hundreds of years old, at least, and I started taking some pictures of them. I could have been right there in one of the settings William Guion photographed in his book "Heartwood: Meditations on Southern Oaks."

It took about an hour for the woods, the sounds of birds, and the general sense of peace and stillness to work their magic on me. I became noticeably more relaxed and calm. I could feel the tension leaving my body. I lingered, looking at the trees and woods for long moments, watching birds nesting in a small cypress swamp, and listening. A cool wind would occasionally rush past me, and I'd have to button up my jacket.

At one point I watched two hawks in my binoculars, soaring directly above me. I contrasted their silent, effortless aerodynamics and grace with the noisy buzz of a small private plane which came into my range of hearing at about the same time. It was a Saturday, so unfortunately I expected to hear that noise, offensive as it was in such a pristine, out-of-the-way place. The refuge is not far from the luxury resort islands of Kiawah, Seabrook and Hilton Head, those awful playgrounds for the wealthy, some of whom, I surmised, were in those noxious planes at that moment, heading for the small airstrips on "their" islands, completely destroying, for a time, the sense of tranquility that would otherwise prevail, and which does as soon as they have left. What selfish people.

If it weren't for those planes, one might think he was deep in wilderness, and indeed I almost was as I was probably one of only about few people in that whole 11,000 acre wildlife refuge. There was only one other car at the entrance to the preserve, and I was startled briefly as its owner returned to it and waved to me. I almost didn't notice him, so lost in reverie was I.

I thought to myself, "Here is another kindred spirit." But he left as soon as he got in his car, and I'm sure he wanted to be alone that day as much as I did. I enjoyed the best kind of solitude today, not the insufficiency of loneliness, as some would probably feel if they were in my place. I savor times like today. And, it was very difficult to leave, at last, for the city and the multitudes.


January 7, 2000

Several years ago, reading one of the early issues of that most remarkable magazine, DoubleTake, I came across a selection of the journals of Dan Eldon. These were not ordinary journals. They were pastiches and collages filled with clippings, odds and ends, his own artwork, and photographs taken while in Africa on assignment for Reuters. Some of the images are bizarre and terrifying, others seemingly mundane as if one is looking through an innocent enough scrapbook. Later I bought the book assembled by his mother from 17 black-bound journal books after he died.

This passionate and gifted young man came to a tragic end in Somalia, stoned to death by a mob in 1993 reacting to the UN bombing raid on the suspected headquarters of Gen. Mohammed Farah Ahdid. He was only 22.

Each time I look through the book, the images sear themselves in my brain once again. Each page of his collages tells a story. They show the children of Somalia, the friends he made there, countless other images -- but nothing is as it appears. They are mysterious and strange and poignant. He was so talented and so young. I think of how much the world lost with his death. You have to see the book to know what I'm talking about. It's called "The Journals of Dan Eldon: The Journey is the Destination."

DoubleTake's online archives of that issue has a selection of images from the journal and an introduction by Kathy Eldon. If you go to the site, let the pictures fully download (they take a while to do so, but they are of excellent quality and worth the wait, I can promise you).

The Journals of Dan Eldon
http://www.doubletakemagazine.org/issues/02/eldon/eldon00.html


Or, Click here.


January 6, 2000

The edge of the sea is a strange and beautiful place. All through the long history of Earth it has been an area of unrest where waves have broken heavily against the land, where the tides have pressed forward over the continents, receded, and then returned. For no two successive days is the shoreline precisely the same. Not only do the tides advance and retreat in their eternal rhythms, but the level of the sea itself is never at rest. It rises or falls as the glaciers melt or grow, as the floor of the deep ocean basins shifts under its increasing load of sediments, or as the earth's crust along the continental margins warps up or down in adjustment to strain and tension. Today a little more land may belong to the sea, tomorrow a little less. Always the edge of the sea remains an elusive and indefinable boundary.


Rachel Carson, The Edge of the Sea



Folly Beach Council poised to reject Morris Island plan


Headline in The Post and Courier,
Charleston, S.C., Jan. 4, 2000




The edge of the sea is sometimes a mysterious vanishing point, it comes and goes. Great chunks of it wash away after a storm. Currents from manmade jetties sweep sand away from the shore and out to sea.

On one such border between land and sea, Cummings Point at the northern tip of Morris Island, a mile or so from Folly Beach, a developer wanted to defy Nature, the sea and the tides, as do so many other foolish humans. He wanted Folly Beach to annex the high ground so he could get around county planning and zoning ordinances which would allow only one house per 25 acres. He wanted to built 43 and have the wealthy owners come and go by boat and helicopter.

Last Sunday, the local newspaper did a huge story on the proposed development and two days later, the headline above appeared at the top of my morning paper. There was an outcry. The opposition was galvanized. There was going to be a war. The city council, which had initially approved the annexation idea, now will not, and is waiting for the developer to withdraw his offer. It was very foolish of them to approve it in the first place, and all for $300,000 in anticipated property taxes.

But I knew something was up when I took a drive to Folly Monday afternoon and saw all along the way signs that said, "Folly Beach, don't sell out Morris Island!"

The incredible arrogance of the rich is sometimes beyond belief. It defies all proportion, their titantic and grubby plans so out of proportion to common sense and rationality, much less a sliver of concern for the magnificent barrier island they were prepared to despoil forever. Once a development like that gets a foothold, it's all over for the environment. The sacred property rights of that one individual to control the destiny of island would have been asserted and considered paramount. Folly Beach City Council would have lived up to its name.

So, at least for a while, the coast is clear. The beach is free to shift and wash away, or stay in place for generations to come with its forest of palmetto trees.

Imagine, if you will the arrogance of this idea. Golf carts would ferry residents to and from their multi-million mansions. There was going to be a helicopter pad. A dock. Another retreat for the affluent. Just what we need in this bloated society of wretched excess and spoiled, selfish rich people.

When I take a boat to see the ruins of Fort Sumter, I won't, at least as it stands now, have to look over the water toward the Atlantic to the south and see a line of four-story beach "cottages." The palmettos dotting Cummings Point will rustle free in the sea wind. Pelicans will fly overhead, and we will rest just a little bit easier in the knowlege that the wealthy have been denied another barrier island on which to build one of their playgrounds.


January 4, 2000

As Russian forces intensify their offensive against the Chechen capital Grozny, columns of tanks and armored vehicles rumble every day toward the breakaway republic, bristling with machine guns, rockets and grenade-launchers.

The teenage crews that man them look far less fearsome.

"I don't feel safe in this machine at all," confided a soldier who gave his hame only as Sacha, as he stood by an overheated tank hissing steam near the Adler Checkpoint..."I don't understand why we're fighting," he said.


The Post and Courier, Charleston, 12/28/99



Sasha is 18 and was drafted right after finishing high school. There's a picture of him atop one of the tanks, helmet on his head, cigarette hanging out of his mouth, and a uniform clearly showing that it is January in Russia. His unit commander is 25.

This story of the young draftee immediately brings me back to images of the Vietnam War in the late 60s and early 70's, and shows again how history is repeating itself. I don't know much about this Russian civil war, but from what I read, it is yet another terrible and brutal ordeal in that land of dark history. Accounts say there is popular support for the war and the new Russian President, Putin, is determined to see it through to victory so he can be assured of election in March. Sound familiar?

Once again, too, it's the youth, often times still in their teens, who fight these "old men's wars." Time and again.

I remember registering for the draft when I turned 18 in 1969, and the Vietnam War was raging in its apocalyptic absurdity. At the time I didn't really *have* to agonize over the moral issues of who was actually being drafted and sent over to the Southeast Asian junbles to fight that ugly war. Me and my friends were all going away to college on deferments.

Was that fair? No. But those who could or would go to college obtained a four-year deferment, and later, if they went on the graduate school, they could get it extended, as far as I recall.

Two of my oldest friends from the early 1970s in Columbia attended the University of South Carolina and marched, protested and got arrested for their beliefs in opposing that war. I don't know if they burned their draft cards or what they would have done had they not been in college or had deferments. I believe colleges notified the Selective Service about the continued eligibility of those enrolled for deferments, each semester. They were outraged enough to join the anti-war cause. But I never thought much about it. I saw the riots at Columbia and Berkeley, but it was all quiet at the University of New Orleans campus.

It was also taken out of my hands in 1970 when the lottery was set up to make all 18-25- year-olds eligible, and I drew a high enough number to escape again. It wasn't too high, but just high enough. My number wasn't called that year, and shortly after that the draft was ended, the all- volunteer army created, and our prsence in Vietnam began to diminish as Nixon and Kissinger negotiated for a phased withdrawal from Vietnam. By 1975 it was all over. Who can ever forget that scene of helicopters lifting U.S. embassy workers in Saigon off the roof of the building in advance of the victorious North Vietnamese who were rolling into the city in their tanks. What was never in doubt was finally happening.



I am the living death
The Memorial Day on wheels
Your John Wayne come home
Your Fourth of July firecracker
Exploding in the grave.


Ron Kovic, "Born on the Fourth of July, 1976.



A few years later, in 1976, I tried to come to terms with my feelings and actions during the ignominious war that everyone immediately wanted to forget. It was the fall of the year, and I had just read Ron Kovic's biography "Born on the 4th of July." It was a stunningly emotional and gripping account of an ordinary kid's early "patriotism", his enlistment in the Marines, and his tour of duty in Vietnam from which he came home a quadriplegic. It was a book I wanted to write about, so, in one of my few published book reviews (in the Columbia alternative newspaper), I tried to describe how Kovic's writing the book was obviously an emotional catharsis for him. Reading the book and writing the review helped me, also, to at least begin to bridge the gap between my own experiences during that period and that of people who had actually been involved in the war. Bridge the gap in terms of understanding, at least.

In the review, I also talked about an influential article James Fallows had published entitled, "Vietnam: The Class War." The title of that article alone speaks volumes.

One of my friends from high school, I discovered when we met up again years later, had been a conscientious objector who had unequivocally opposed the war on moral grounds. I had no such scruples. I and so many others of my age were in college, and that was that. Vietnam was some far off and exotic place full of rice paddies and jungles and some crazy civil war between North and South Vietnam. I could intellectualize my opposition, not fashion it out of some moral template.

As I wrote in my review, the title of which was "The bitter Vietnam legacy":

Kovic placed his faith in a system and a pathology of war that he did not question intellectually. Fallows and millions of other students escaped without really thinking at the time about who would have to go in their palce. As one student explained, There are certain people who can do more good in a lifetime in politcs or academics or medicine thatn by getting killed in a trench.Fallows concedes that this was, in a way, the rationale that spared the children of thebright, well-off parents who opposed the war in a bloodless, theoretical fashion.


Here is another excerpt from that review:

This is a remarkable book on many levels. It is an expression of one man's innermost suffering and pain and his attempts to surmount the grotesqueries of fate which left him without feeling in the lower half of his body. It is a book that he inevitably must have written, not just to spill out his guts and describe the horrible things he saw and experienced, but to create a vivid image of the forces which shaped him, which molded his heroic visions, and which led him finally into the jungles of Vietnam. In the process, he comes to a higher understanding of himself and a purging of the emotional bile that threatened at times to irretrievably embitter him to the forces of fate and the hoplessness which so often overcame him.


January 2, 2000

I couldn't let the first day of the new Millennium go by without driving out to Folly Beach yesterday afternoon. On the first day of a new century, I had to be walking on that stretch of Atlantic coast I've walked along so many countless times before over the past 35 years, and always at the same stretch of beach, about a mile in length, just south of Morris Island and its landmark lighthouse.

It was just cool enough for my jacket, with a slight breeze from the north. It was about half way to low tide, and I had plenty of hard sandy beach to walk on. The surf was quite calm, with small waves breaking and providing only a small sampling of the normally much more noticeable sounds of surf breaking on shore. There were a lot of people out. It was a Saturday, and, it was January 1, 2000 after all, and I suppose there were many people like me who just wanted to be out there.

The air was clear, and the light and skies over the marsh in back of my brother's house were just splendid. A few clouds in the distance hung over Morris Island, but it's always nice to have a few clouds to add contrast and detail to the skies. Overall, a pristine setting, that marsh spreading out to distant island of maritime forest. I stood looking out at that scene for long minutes from the large picture windows in the dining room in the back part of the house.

Earlier, as I came back from my walk, I slowed down, and, as is my custom, ambled rather aimlessly back and forth looking for shells (I found a really nice one), and watching the waves, the seagulls, and the sky over the ocean for the sight of pelicans flying just above me in V-formation.

At one point, I sat on a ledge of sand along the dunes and let the sun warm me as I relaxed more completely. The sand around where I was sitting was fine, soft and warm from the sun, and I moved my hands around in it, enjoying the feel of its wonderfully silky texture. There was a little chute or indentation which led down to the base of the ledge, about two feet in height. I gathered up some of that fine sand at the top and let it fall in a steady cascade down the little chute, creating the appearance of a sand "waterfall." It was nice. The sand piled up in a little cone at the base of the "falls." Just something to do as I whiled away some time.

*****

There is another ominous development on the near horizon for Folly Beach, and a long article in this morning's paper told the story in some depth. The headline read: "Modern civil war raging over Morris Island's future." Again, inappropriate and greedy development is threatening an historic barrier island, just north of Folly Beach. The island is just across from Fort Sumter, and the first shots of that terrible war were fired from there by Citadel cadets. Morris Island is also the site where Col. Robert Gould Shaw and his 54th Massachusetts infantry suffered that tragic defeat in the famous battle depicted in the movie, "Glory."

About a third to one-half of the island has eroded away over the past 100 years from currents created by construction of jetties at the entrance to Charleston Harbor by the federal government years ago. It is a very unstable island, but it is privately owned (unbelievably) and the owner and developer, and his attorney, are claiming a "constitutional" right to build 43 houses costing from $1 to 3 million each on the tip of the island, which is called Cummings Point, and which is now, and will continue to be reachable only by boat.

The county of Charleston, where the island is located, has a zoning restriction allowing only one house per 25 acres on its barrier islands, so the developer, calling himself an environmentlly sensitive steward of the property, wants Folly Beach to merely annex the high land so he can get around the zoning restriction.

Unfortunately, the city council gave 5-2 tenatative approval of the annexation plan just the other week because the developer claims it will mean $80 milllion of home construction and $336,000 in property taxes for Folly Beach. The residents can thus get a one-third reduction in their property taxes.

There will be another vote and hearing later this month. Opposition has been galvanized all over the area to this horrendous and outrageous plan to allow a few rich people to destroy the island with their beach mansions and summer "cottages," as they call them. Opposition is spreading. I don't see how it can possibly go forward. It's just another example of how every square inch of land that isn't marsh and swamp is eyed for potential houses and subdivisions. This by people whose chief aim in life is to subdue and harness for big bucks every last shred of available coastal high ground which can support a house and a foundation. I just can't believe it.

*****

Some observations from a short walk I took in the neighborhood just a little while ago, near sundown:

** Christmas trees, forlorn and stripped of their ornaments, lying along the sides of the streets, waiting for trash pickup.

** Huge wax myrtle trees along the side of one house, just exactly like the ones that were in front of our bay windows at the house where I grew up in New Orleans.

** A rather sullen teenager washing the family SUV (sports utility vehicle) in the driveway of his suburban home. How this sight always bring back memories of Sunday afternoons when I had to do the same thing. I can hear the squeak of the chamois as it was sqeezed dry and ready to soak up more water on the clean surface of our family Oldsmobile, in the driveway, in suburban New Orleans.

** The undeveloped lots around a corner on one street which remain covered over in woods, in the center of which is one remaining huge oak tree, which, for now at least, survives as it has for the past 150 or so years. I love to see that big old tree, bare in winter, as it stands out so distinctly in the little patch of forest in the city.

** A neat pile of jumbo-sized, clear leafbags stacked on the street for trash pickup.

** A nice house with twin bay windows and an old-fashioned kind of look. The Christmas tree is still up, and the colored lights on that tree are still lit on this second day of January. Some people, I am convinced, want to wait until the very last possible moment to take down their tree, and with it, the last reminders of the holiday just past, and which, hopefully, gave them a lot of happy memories.


January 1, 2000

I stepped outside early this morning around sunrise to greet the new year and the new century. The air was cool, not cold. There was a slight mist or appearance of fog in the atmosphere, but the new light streaking through bands of clouds made them appear clear and distinct enough. It was very quiet. I felt hopeful.

There was that sense, however, that even though the new Millennium had at last arrived, nothing much had changed, except perhaps the way I felt. Something different. I can't explain it.

It's now a clear day with blue skies. The oak tree outside my window is still full of autumn leaves, reminding me that the seasons change slowly here in Charleston. I think I'll take a walk later and then go to Folly Beach. There's nothing special or essential I have to do. No place to go. No friend to go see. I'm on my own, as always.

I'm thinking, too, that perhaps it would be better to take a long drive out a ways from Charleston. Far into the countryside, to the ACE Basin and down that long empty road, past marshes to the ocean, almost. And then I would turn around and retrace my path. But it would be like all those other times I turned and drove back to my starting point from the opposite direction: it would seem like a different road and a different landscape altogether. It's all a matter of perspective, of which direction you're taking. It might as well be two different worlds.

*****


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