Armchair Peregrinations

January 30, 2000


A window of blue
appeared in the sky yesterday
opening the dimmest, gray world
of season's depth
to light and clarity.
For a little while.
I felt the cold as much as before,
but didn't let the dark pressure
of that sculpted, stone marble dead atmosphere weigh upon me
As it seeks to
day after day of this.

Winter skies:
Layer upon layer of dark clouds
Impenetrable as they seem,
in reality, they are merely the flimsiest band
of gases and molecules
nothing, really,
but enough to cloak transparence
in a winter coat.

But on those darkest days
of icy thoughts and winter willfulness
that seek to push aside beneficence
and replace it with solemnity --
or, much worse, misery --
I will not yield,
for the mind soars
up and out
even when pummeled and tossed about,
shaken by those winter-claimed souls
who want you to be their adversary.
But it won't work.
Those skies above the gray din of human connivance
Are blue and pure and transcendent
And they speak of warmth and radiance,
light and love.

January 28, 2000

Visualize that your mind is a pristine mountain lake. At the edge of the lake is a mountain ridge with its image reflected upon the lake's surface. Imagine that your thoughts are winds that ripple the lake's surface, preventing you from seeing the reflection clearly, but as your thoughts slow down and the breezes see the image of the mountains perfectly.

Joseph Cornell, Listening to Nature, 1987.

I like that moment when I enter Beidler Forest to begin my walk, still encumbered of the road and city, but leaving civilization behind quickly. And on a spring day last year the wind blew through the oak and cypress trees and rustled the water in the swamp, clear and tea-colored and moving in a barely perceptible flow, a sheet of clean water. When the breezes ceased, I looked down into the water and saw reflections of the cypress trees, and they looked exactly like the trees. I couldn't tell any difference. I could gaze deep down into the water and enter the forest from another dimension, another way of seeing it, reflected in the now-calm water. I had to look intently to detect the flow of the water through the swamp, but it was there. And it was heading for the Edisto River.

By the time I got to the lake in the swamp, I had forgotten the outside world and my thoughts had ceased their agitation and fitfulness, and I could sense the calm, and feel the potent pull of that primitive and untouched natural area, left alone to have its fate determined by the natural forces that shape and influence so profoundly the interior landscape I seek out, so cut off from the world.

Let my mind become silent
And my thoughts come to rest.
I want to see
All that is before me.
In self-forgetfulness,
I become everything.

Joseph Cornell

January 25, 2000

I was awake at 4:30 this morning so I decided to get up and look out the window. I was not entirely surprised, but delighted nevertheless, to see about an inch of snow on all the cars in the parking lot and a dusting of the miraculous stuff on the ground. The weather people kept saying it might snow or sleet last night, and so it did. All day yesterday we kept hearing about all the snow in Columbia about 100 miles northwest or us, but since it NEVER snows in Charleston, we didn't pay too much attention to it. After all, Columbia is at the Piedmont Fall Line in the middle of the state, and snow is not unheard in the capital city. I've seen it a couple of times there myself.

So this morning, there was snow in Charleston, but it's disappearing quickly in the light rain that's been falling pretty steadily. But not quickly enough that a few of the kids who live in the apartment complex couldn't get out and exult in it briefly as they rushed out the door to go to school. Amid all the stillness of early morning, I suddenly heard the shouts of laughter of a couple of children who proceeded to scrape snow off their car and throw a few puny snowballs before leaving for school. Those familiar sounds from my own childhood lasted only seconds it seems, for they must have been late for school. And then it was quiet again.

January 23, 2000

It has warmed up considerably since late last week. The skies are gray and overcast, so I will have to seek interior light for my soul. Despite the dreary day, there is enough light from outside coming in the window to sufficiently illumine the Eric Sloane scene of a covered bridge in Vermont that I have opened on the stack of papers next to the computer. It's one of his masterful paintings where he enables sunlight to filter through the woods and cast shadows on the dirt road that makes its way underneath the bridge in such as way as to make you feel the warmth of that spring day. The shadows also play across the wood timbers of the bridge, which is deep in the countryside and spans a little creek. As I enter the scene and wander down that dirt road, it is quiet. Anxiety and negativity vanish for awhile, and I feel some of the peace the artist must have known as he painted it.

January 21, 2000

It's cold this morning, very cold for Charleston -- one of those days where the heat is on more than off, and the flannel sheets and blanket felt so comfortable I had hard time getting up to begin my routines. Cold winter nights aree about the only times I can sleep with some approximation of normalcy -- deep, dreaming sleep, or so I imagine.

I'm looking out the window now and the tall oak trees just beyond the roof of the next unit are totally bare, the last of their leaves swept away by winds the other night. We've had so much mild and warm weather this month that the pear trees nearby seemed to be budding, but this gust of winter with temps n the 20s tonight will set Nature back on the right course, I hope. There's nothing quite so season-disorienting than to see green leaves sprouting on trees in early February.

I'm looking at the painting of a winter scene deep in the country which shows a creek flowing through a snowy landscape. In winter I put this picture near my bed where I can see it when I get up and imagine what it would be like to step outside into such a world, instead of the always bare grass and sidewalks, and suburban cityscape, that greet me.

Last night as I was coming in from the grocery store about 9:30, I kept saying to myself how wonderful the air felt -- not too cold and not much wind -- just perfect to be snug inside an insulated jacket. Nothing quite like the bracing, cold air on a late January night. But when I went in the door, it felt so warm and comfortable and inviting. Sanctuary for my soul, tired after a 12-hour day of work and school.

January 18, 2000

I was looking at some of the panoramic landscape photographs of Gary Irving in his book "Beneath an Open Sky" the other day, and I had the strangest feeling of seeing myself in one of the pictures. It was a moment of recognition where you say to yourself, "So that's how I must look."

Spread out before me now as I write this is that same photograph of the Rock River in Ogle County, Illinois. It measures about 8 x 24 inches. In the lefthand panel is a row of trees beside the river with picnic tables interspersed among them and long shadows spreading across the green and grassy riverbank. In the distance, and dwarfed by the rest of the picture, is a lone figure sitting at one of the picnic tables, legs crossed, slightly hunched over, lost in thought on a beautiful spring day by the river.

How many times have I sat, alone and lost in my own thoughts, on the levee alongside the Mississippi River in New Orleans, or on a bleached white sandbar in Black Creek in southern Mississippi, or here in Charleston beside the Atlantic Ocean, in one of my own chairs, observing the clouds over the water and the gulls and pelicans.

At first, it was kind of sad to see that lone man, the only person in the whole panoramic landscape scene. But he might have needed to be there by himself, and perhaps he was grateful for the peace and quiet, and for the tranquil river that flowed by just a few feet from where he sat.

And yes, I was in that picture. I saw myself, but I mustn't be sad. I think that a short while after the photograph was taken, the man got up and walked along the river a while longer, then make his way to his car and drove home.

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