Armchair Peregrinations

June 29, 2000

It's very quiet, after 11, and the night is settling in. There's a great sense of relief following the first real rain in months. The grass is wet -- actually wet, and there are beautiful pools and puddles of water everywhere to reflect the light of the street lamps as I drove home.

The frogs making their night noises seem more content, as if Nature had somehow come to Her senses and brought the living-giving water the creatures and the land have thirsted for so badly. I can feel a sense of relief tonight, too, for there has been a return to normalcy in the weather, even if it's just temporary.

The great, dark clouds and thunder and sheets of rain that descended this afternoon and early this evening have washed the air clean. Sitting on the porch tonight in the rocking chair, I savored the changes that have taken place today. Summer is more bearable. A burden has been lifted.

June 27, 2000

The long and weary drought that is searing the Lowcountry continues, relentless. Day after day. There are signs of the stress and distress everywhere. The mimosa trees' long, frond-like leaves are curling inward to conserve moisture. The beautiful and abundant oleander bushes that surround Colonial Lake and are elsewhere all over our city, rising to as high as 14 feet, are retrreating as well. The pink and white blooms, which in a normal year cover the shrubs with color and last all summer, are dropping off and not being replaced. The ever-faithful crepe myrtles continue to bloom. But the azaleas arer suffering terribly. We are in danger of losing a lot of these plants that are the very embodiment of the wondrous spectacle of spring. Just outside the parking garage near work as one drives into the building there is an unusual variety of azalea with a compact pink flower that is so intense and beautiful each April that I linger at the entrance to the garage just staring at it in full bloom. It's dried up completely now. Dead. No one cared to water it

All the grass is completely dried up. The soil is as hard as sandstone, but the lovely blue, welcoming skies of summer bestow their unthinking beneficence of all of us below. I love the sunshine and blue skies that are with us most of the year, but now it is approaching 365 days of the year and that is scary.

I knew things were getting bad when I read the headline in the paper yesterday: "Edisto River drying up; Lack of rain takes toll on state." The Edisto of all rivers usually has a nice, fast flow, even in summer. It is the source of Charleston's drinking water. Now, it is dropping to levels unheard of. Broad sandbars are appearing at Givhans Ferry State Park, 30 miles upriver from Charleston. Shallow draft aluminum boats are scraping the bottom. And there's virtually no water coming out of a major tributary of the Edisto, Four Holes Swamp.

I find myself turning the water from the tap off as soon as possible. Long showers prompt guilt. In some areas of the state, watering lawns and washing cars is banned. Forests are tinder dry.

The old trees have deep roots that go way down to where there is moisture. So everything's green above the ground. But this drought bakes the spirit, too, and makes the living summer seem imperiled and fragile. The crickets and frogs sing at night, but their song is muted and a bit dull. They, too, are longing for rain.

June 23, 2000

The serene have not opted out of life. They see more widely, love more dearly, rejoice in the things the frantic mind no longer sees or hears.

Pam Brown

Today I joined the throngs of locals , but mostly tourists, at the newly-opened South Carolina Aquarium. It's a magnificent structure right on the Cooper River at Charleston Harbor. I was going for the sake of my niece and nephew who are here from Seattle. My nephew, who is 7, had a learning experience and was quite enthralled; my niece, who is 11, had a semi-learning experience, or maybe a greater one than I realized, for she and I both agreed that we felt sorry for the swarms of fish of all sizes swimming around within the confines of small tanks, filled with realistic and simulated marine environments, freshwater and salt.

I saw only sad eyes of fish swimming back and forth. The sea turtle did nothing but make its way along the blue wall of its tank, as if searching for an opening that would allow that wonderful creature to seek the free blue depths of the ocean where it belongs.

I can't help it. Although this is the first aquarium I've ever visited, it was what I expected it to be. A big zoo for fish. Even the great ocean tank that was quite large was filled with an amazing assortment of fish, all trapped in their florid and artifical environment. At one point a diver was in the big tank feeding the fish and waving to the children gazing in amazement at this artfully disguised example of human folly. It seemed more than slightly surreal. Fish clamored around the diver like swarms of pigeons in a city park looking for bread crumbs.

I guess I am getting too old for this type of thing. The happy throngs probably thought they were back at Disney World or some such amusement park. Visiting another attraction.

The place was crowded. The day was hot. But once outside on the deck overlooking the water, the salt air blew strong and free, the wind came from the real and vast ocean to the east, and I felt the relief of one who is soon to be delivered from flocks and hordes of humanity jostling about, looking at this and that and imagining that it is the real thing.

Let me get away to the quiet marshes of Caw Caw Park after this experience. Let me be alone with the birds and the wind, peaceful and serene, unfettered by humans who would put all life on exhibit if they could. I will go to Caw Caw soon enough. And if there was not another human in sight, that would please me well enough, for crowds only make me hunger for quietude and the infinite realm of Nature.

June 21, 2000

They say that all good things must end some day
Autumn leaves must fall
But don't you know that it hurts me so
To say goodbye to you.
Wish you didn't have to go
No no no no

And when the rain
Beats against my window pane
I'll think of summer days again
And dream of you
And dream of you.

A Summer Song
Chad and Jeremy

Chad and Jeremy had some wonderful songs in the 60s, one of them containing the words quoted above. I have listened to that song so many countless times, and yet I seem to cherish it more all the time. Maybe it has something to do with gettng older. Or remembering the days of one's youth. The song is emblamatic of a certain time and era, as are other songs by Chad and Jeremy. I like them all. But to me, A Summer Song is the best.

I remember quite clearly an evening many years ago when I listened to it. It was one of those terrible times I'd like to forget, but of course cannot. It was the fall of 1983, and I was sitting on the floor of my apartment in the town of Goose Creek, S.C., spent emotionally and depressed over having to quit a job that had been pure misery for me, and which I should have known would be. But I was still relatively young, and I had hopes that the job would work out. It didn't.

I had left the most secure job and apartment I had ever known, and four years of relative stability, to make the move to Goose Creek. I left behind in Columbia all of my best friends. I came to a place where I knew no one. I don't think I had ever been lonlier in my life. But I was banking everything on that new job. However, it all came crashing down.

And so, on a late evening in the fall of that year, I put on a 45 rmp recording of A Summer Song and lost myself even deeper in pining away for a past that was gone. And I knew it was gone. Over. I would still see some of those friends in the years to come, but it would never be the same.

Today, I heard the song on the radio. It never fails to resonate with me. It's not a very complex song. It's really very simple. But it just says something very true and very real. And even today it speaks to me and reminds me of loss once again, for it seems as if we are never far from the realization that people drift away and we can't hold onto them forever.

June 18, 2000

A quiet Sunday afternoon. It's been a nice day so far. I'm putting off obligatory work I have to do for as long as possible, and reading and writing on the computer instead. That seems to relax me and take my mind off problems and worries better than almost anything. Could be an escape, I guess, if one chooses to view it that way.

The Internet is a link to a world of people I would never have known otherwise, and it has significantly decreased the sense of isolation I experienced for so long during extended periods of instability and transience in my life over the past 15 years. People who have no clue about the Internt think it's a waste of time. They can't understand what the attraction is. But to me it opens up possibilities. It allows me to know and experience new things constantly. Within the realm of cyberspace life is presented with all its freshness, abundance, tragedy, sublimity, dangers, and beauty. The knowledge and wisdom that it out there is astounding. The key is locating it among all that is not so good on the Web. I am continually awed by what it offers because I have made the time and expended the effort to find what I am looking for.

To me, it's a communication device more than anything. A place where I can share my thoughts and be read by others. Before, any words I wrote existed in a sort of vacuum. They settled with the dust in the bottom of a box or on a shelf.

Just a little while ago I spent time and much thought replying to a very thoughtful and intelligent artist I correspond with, and what a wonderful thing it is to be able to write from one's heart to another person, revealing glimpses of my struggles along the spiritual path and talking about the obstacles to overcome. I might have written a letter very much like this, but it's unlikely because there have been so very few people over the years to write letters to. The single and detached life comes with a price, but it also allows great stretches of time to live and write and think, unencumbered by the physical presence and distractions of others. How nice to have a respectful, sensitive, and intelligent friend to make me think and use my mind and try to put down in words what I am feeling. It's a precious gift to find someone like that to write to, and I am very grateful. Today has been enriched by this encounter between minds and hearts, for I have seen a little farther into the mystery of another human being.

June 17, 2000

It seems like every time you pick up the paper (which I don't like to do and so I selectively read news on the Internet), there is some new assault on the quality of life. Someone has some undeveloped property which he owns and which he deems his sacred right to develop, sell, subdivide, abuse, squander and trash for the sake of the filthy lucre he will gain by it. Such is the case now in our beloved Folly Beach area where in yesterday's paper it was revealed that Long Island, a pristine and empty 144-acre maritime forest surrounded by salt marsh,lying between James Island and Folly Beach, may soon by ruined by 203 houses which a developer wants to build there. To do so, he must apply for a permit from the state to build a 1,525-foot-long bridge from Pea Island to the island so that the despoilment of this last remaining stretch of maritime forest can take place and the land cleared to become home to the wealthy who have in the past few years discovered funky and shabbby Folly Beach.

Environmentalists won't be happy with his plan, the developer, Butch Clark, predicts. He expects "lots of grief" and opposition, and I hope he finds it in spades. Someone, incredibly enough, bought this parcel of land in 1979 for only $265,000 and today it is worth millions. That's probably why the county or state has not purchased it for a park or preserve, which is what it most certainly should be. It contains a Civil War Union battery that is listed on the National Register of Hisotric Places. It is dotted with protected freshwater wetlands. It is a special natural wonder set in one of the most beautiful landscapes of the South Carolina Lowcountry.

Yes, I am extremely partial to protecting the island. For 35 years, our family and countless others along six miles of marsh and creek on the other side of Folly Island from the ocean have enjoyed looking out over miles of marsh to Long Island and feeling like this was a world apart. One can truly get the sense, looking out over this marsh, of being in a place like the wild and undeveloped portions of the ACE Basin 60 miles from here. I love to look at the island and see its pine trees in the distance and no houses or golf courses or country clubs.

This is a real estate plum that has been ripe for the picking, and if the government doesn't set it aside for future generations to enjoy as a nature preserve, it will be lost forever. I understand house lots, if the bridge is put in, will go for upwards of $400,000. Let's see, I wonder what kind of people this will bring in.

June 15, 2000

It was one of those days when I didn't have a lot of sleep and I was functioning on energy reserves, a good breakfast, and B-complex vitamins (maybe, I hope). I went through the day able to accomplish most of what I wanted to do, but there was something missing. A dullness, not all pistons firing, so to speak. Lethargic in a vague way. Out of sorts. Not happy.

At lunch, since I had to go to the library at the college, I walked the six blocks from work to campus, stepping out initially into the proverbial blazing noontime sun, but with enough of a breeze about to make things bearable. I thought, "this is doable," so I went to the college bookstore and basked in the air-conditioning and browsed the shelves of general interest books. I noticed that someone is finally getting the idea that they can have a textbook store, plus a bookstore, if they want to. What an interesting selection of books. I saw several I wanted, and realized that there was definitely something going on here. The change was palpable. I could see the intelligence at work in that book selection. And, I thought to myself, I've spent so many countless hours in bookstores over the years, I've come to instantly recognize a good one, and this college bookstore is getting to be just that.

Leaving the bookstore, I then went to the library, did the little bit of research I had to do, and then went to find a bench to sit on for awhile. It was only then that it hit me. The heat. The awful, oppressive humidity. Lassitude set in almost immediately after I left that cool, air-conditioned bookstore. My feet seemed heavier. My steps were noticeably slower. I sat under two huge live oak trees in the middle of campus, a little busier now with summer school started, but still mostly quiet compared to regular semesters. Restless. Knowing I would soon have to head back. But I enjoyed sitting out there and watching the people go by.

The way back was painful. The sun was merciless. The wind no help. It was no fun to be outdoors. That's the way it will be for the next few months here in Charleston. The only time I'll want to be out is early in the morning or very late in the afternoon, getting toward nightfall.

Tonight about 7, the skies were gray and cloudy, the wind picked up. There was a cooling hint of moisture, maybe even rain in the distance, perhaps even heading our way. But it was a tease. The skies settled down toward sunset, the humidity pressed in once again, and the drought made it another day. Intractible, so it seems. The "land of little rain." That's what we've become. Dusty, dry, arid -- it's getting to be like a desert here. All we see is the sun, day after day. You'd think it was Arizona. Is there no end in sight for this terrible drought?

June 11, 2000

I thank God for this most
amazing day; for the leaping
greenly spirits of trees, and a
blue true dream of sky, and for
everything which is natural,
which in infinite, which is yes...

e.e. cummings

When things are becoming very stressful, and I am wondering a lot about why I have to through some of the trials I must endure, there is no other balm for my spirit, alone as I am, quite like driving for miles along a road into the countryside that takes me far from the source of present-day anxieties, a physical settting, that is, and presents familiar and comforting, yet new pictures of life for me to observe. Into the waning light of the day I drove Friday, restfulness and calm taking hold, much as it does at the ocean when I am there. There is just something very different about pure motion, going from one place to another, that takes me out of whatever state of mind I want to leave.

Inland from Charleston heavy rains resupplied the corn crops, and they stood green and renewed. It was an astounding contrast to the sere, dry crackling grass and continuing lack of rain here in Charleston. It seemed that out there in the country, those crops had slaked their thirst on every drop of moisure that had fallen from the sky during those thunderstorms we missed out on in the Lowcountry. What a wonderful sight to see green countryside for a change.

Today the skies are summer blue-clear, with a few clouds, and beautiful to behold. Despite the brown grass, the trees are green and steady friends, and I delight in looking at them. Nature heals, and this weekend, She worked her therapeutic touch on the anxious and stressed-out person that I had become, and I needed nothing else.

June 7, 2000

College of Charleston,
12:15 pm, 6/6

A wonderfully cool break from the heat of summer today as I sit here in the garden at the college. It's more like April than a day in June. It's so nice to be outside and away from work for awhile in this weather.

I'm sitting under the pecan tree whose leaves are rustling briskly in rather strong breezes that occasionally sweep through. On all sides of the square, park-like area where I'm writing now, there is traffic and the movement of the city, but it is muffled and I'm mostly not aware of it at all. The campus is practically empty now for the summer.

Birds are darting about here and there. The clouds are puffy white and then diffuse. They're not all sharply defined as they often are in the hottest days of summer when cumulus clouds rise up thousands of feet in bold relief against intense blue skies.

I love pecan trees. Along one stretch of the old Charleston highway, there's a large grove of them, and I can imagine the thousands of sweet nuts which are harvested there in late fall. Their gnarly bark reminds me of hickory trees, another favorite tree of mine, to which they are closely related in the walnut family.

It's at quiet, peaceful times like this that I feel most in harmony with my surroundings here in downtown Charleston. In the middle of things, and yet apart. Just knowing there's this sanctuary and refuge to go to any time I want makes me glad.

The noise-makers in society, including the ones I sometimes hear in the near-distance revving up their preposterously soupped-up engines and sowing motorized chaos along the streets, have no place here. They are like the ill winds of forture. I wish they'd disappear, never blow this way again. But here in the garden, at least, I feel insulated from them and other noxious elements from the outside world. Protected.

June 4, 2000

Yesterday, in a fit of ambition, I started gathering up out of some cardboard boxes quantities of paper and junk to discard. I got up such momentum that before I knew it everything was going into the big, black plastic trashbag. Then I stopped and looked down, and I couldn't believe what I was just about to throw away: An 11th grade English paper titled "Poems of American Poets." It was dated March 27, 1968. I was 16 years old.

The paper had received a high grade and had some very comments on it by the teacher, which is probably one reason I saved it all these years. And also, looking at it now, it gives me a very clear indication why, just a couple of years later, I was at the University of New Orleans majoring in English. I think I had the makings of an English major in high school, but I probably only vaguely realized it at the time.

Here are the poets I chose and the poems I briefly explicated, after typing out the poem on the page: John Greenleaf Whittier -- "The Frost Spirit," "The Worship of Nature," and "Hymn"; Ralph Waldo Emerson -- "Days" and "Grace"; Emily Dickinson -- "This is My Letter to the World"; Walt Whitman -- "Come Up From the Fields, Father"; Robert Frost -- "The Smile"; Edgar Allen Poe -- To One in Paradise"; and finally, Whittier's "The Indian's Tale." I really can't quite fathom why I chose so many of Whittier's poems, for I haven't read his work since that time, except during one course in college where we studied him as part of a survey of American literature. I think I will have to go back and find out what the appeal was. The other poems and poets I chose don't really surprise me. I've always liked Dickinson's work, although I certainly haven't been a student of her poetry. As an adult,I was always much more interested in the poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay.

But the Dickinson poem is interesting:

This is My Letter to the World
by Emily Dickinson

This is my letter to the world
That never wrote to me
The simple news that Nature told
With tender majesty.

Her message is committed
To hands I cannot see
For love of Her, sweet countrymen,
Judge tenderly of me.

And this is my explication, a tiny glimpse into my teenage mind, studying literature in high school those many years ago:

This poem tells much about the life of Emily Dickinson the poet and Emily Dickinson the real and extraordinary person (I guess I thought the two terms were mutually exclusive). She lived alone and for the most part felt indifference toward an outward social life. This could have been the result of a reciprocal feeling she felt society had for her.

Nevertheless, her constant companion was Nature, and she sensed the mircalses of God's creation and became aware of His plan. For her it did not take fervent church attendance nor complex doctrines or theologies, but instead, the birds in the sky, a shallow, meandering brook, or perhaps the blooms of colorful orchids in spring. Her life was one of inner fulfillment and happiness with what she had. To many around her it seemed empty, barren, and they pitied her. But in her mind and soul lived an alter ego which was apart from the confine's of man's material and idealistic goals. In this poem she imparts to the world in seemingly simple, but rather symbolic words, that in Nature lie unanswered solutions to riddles that haunt many men.

I guess also I liked the images from Nature that inhabit Whittier's verse, such as this stanza from "The Worship of Nature":

The green earth sends its incense up
From every mountain shrine,
From every flower and dewy cup
That greeteth the sunshine.

And I said in my explication: To Whittier, "All Nature reveals the greatness and power of God."

Little did I know when I was writing that paper back in 1968 that I would someday be teaching poetry to English classes and writing poetry myself, although that has been only a very recent development, coinciding with the start of this journal, now exactly two years ago.

June 3, 2000

Folly Beach
8:15 pm., 6/2

The drought continues. Relentless, the trees are green, but the grass is a broad swath of crunchy brown. I've retreated to Folly Beach, fled the city for the edge of the ocean where I am writing this and watching the waves come up right in front of the chair where I am sitting.

There's a nice breeze, and the air is tinged with the salty fragrance of the sea. My anxieties are disappearing with the receding waves. The sound of the surf is steady and constant.

I'd like to dream a while
and lean my head back
and close my eyes
to the charging, muffled roar of the surf:
heavy, crisp, thump,
quick, then quiet;
rushing in on foamy crests,
soaking the dark sand.
Suddenly, in the last light of day --

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