Armchair Peregrinations

March 29, 2001

It's a windy, heavily-overcast, rain-squally type of day. I am looking out the window as I type, watching the branches of the oak tree bend back and forth and enjoying the sound of the wind in the trees. it's a sound I never tire of. Endlessly reassuring and peaceful.

Yesterday, walking through the campus at the college, I marveled at the azaleas in peak flower everywhere. For just a few days the pink, white and red blooms reach a state of perfection, and each year at this time I stop at the same places to look closely at some of those blooms. Each time I do, I gain a clearer idea of what true perfection is. I can't imagine how anything can be quite so perfect or beautiful. Of course, I'm sure I said something very similar years ago in Seattle, when in spring, the rhododendrums put forth a disaplay that was just as incomparably beautiful.

But that was in the Pacific Northwest. Here in the Southeast, and especially along the coastal plain, we have azaleas. If I drive north about 4 hours to the Blue Ridge Mountains, I can also see rhododendrums, and in May they will be in bloom. They remind me of azaleas, but they are different in their own special way.

When I was a teenager living in New Orleans, I remember going out in our backyard each spring and looking at the zaaleas. We had huge bushes, 8-9 feet tall, that dominated the entire rear third of the yard. When fully in bloom, those bushes were a sight to behold. Azaleas remind me as much of New Orleans and Louisiana as they do South Carolina.

Finally, I end this tribute to this humble shrub that becomes such an exquistite creation each spring with this tidbit. At the entrance to the parking garage I use each day, there is a lone azalea bush, of a varity that is common, but whose flowers are smaller and rounder than the more familiar varieties.

The first few years parking there, I would savor looking at those flowers because they seemed such a refreshing and unusual shade of pink. I wish I knew the name of the variety.

Anyway, each year it greeted us in its finery as we entered to park and walk the short distance to work. But last year, during the worst drought we have had in a long time, the bush shriveled and almost died from lack of watering by city maintenance crews. They just forgot about this one plant. Later that summer, they trimmed it back almost to the ground, but I thought surely it was dead.

This year, however, it has grown tremendously, and it is in full bloom, not like in years past, but there to celebrate its new birth with us. For those who take the time to notice, that is. I am so happy to see it each day this week.

The rains have returned also, and the ground is wetand saturated. I don't know, but the weather seems to be returning to a more normal state. I just hope we get more rain. It is wonderful to see it, hear it, and feel its mist in my face.

March 26, 2001

Escaped to my nature sanctuary this past Saturday afternoon, the place I most often go now when I need to see water and woods and birds and just get away from everything. It is such a differentworld from the ocean in the opposite direction from where I live. I need both places.

It is an hour's drive to the ACE Basin. I have to make a day trip out of it, almost. Caw Caw is only 25 minutes away and a world apart from Charleston. One really feels far away from the city. I walked the entire boardwalk trail through Caw Caw Swamp and then looped around the former rice fields which were flooded and higher than I have ever seen them. The four inches of rain we had earlier in the week probably accounts for these levels. The stream I listen to was wide and quiet and silent coursing through the woods in back of the levee, but I sat awhile in my favorite place and enjoyed a steady wind off the water and the good, fresh smell of that air. It felt good to be out there. I was relaxed and in a better frame of mind when I left.

Sunday was gray and dreary all day in contrast to the warm sunshine and breeziness of Saturday, so I'm glad I went to Caw Caw when I did. The days are gradually getting longer and the colors of spring are peaking now. It has been a beautiful show, as it is each year.

March 24, 2001

Carefree highway, let me slip away on you.

Gordon Lightfoot

Hopefully, this will be the last time in write in my journal about the "great lost job," the position at the college that I didn't get. I had foolishly, and perhaps too idealistically, thought it would be mine, and thus change my life for the better and set me on a path toward the end of my working days. What illusions! Such is the way of human hopes, dreams, and aspirations: they so often crumble in the dust of other people's well-laid plans, schemes, desires, and ability to influence the course of events. I will never know exactly why I did not get that job. There seems no reason for the outcome that occurred. Every indication was that it was mine. I was told I had "the inside track."

I tell myself that I was looking to the future, pinning my hopes on "a job," one of slightest and most unreliable threads upon which to suspend our hopes. But I did, and now I am still sort of dazed by the rejection. Perhaps it is more this rejection, this false idea that I was not good enough, did not have the skills they needed, that really bothers me. For three months I dreamed of another way of life. Another place. Different people. Different atmosphere. Working at the most beautiful college campus I have ever seen. All gone now.

The ironic thing, though, is how uncertain I was about whether, if I did get the job, I really, deep-down wanted it in the first place. Or, did I just have in my mind the idea, the vague, but persistent sense that this was where I should be? A college. Where else for someone who has spent the major part of his adult life in universities, completing one graduate degree, then years later working on and finishing yet another.

I tell myself it is their loss. And it is, I am convinced of that. I could have done a very good job for them. I deal well with the students. I knock myself out during the few hours a week I am there part-time.

Now it is all changed. It seems like a different place. I will work as hard as I can to fulfill my commitments to them for the remainder of this semester, but my heart will not be in it. I am far away from that place now, in every sense of the word. All I want to concentrate on now is my present job, the one that has been so good to me all these recent years gone by, and do better at that job and be grateful for what I have.

March 21, 2001

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.

As long as I live, I'll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing...

John Muir

Monday night for hours, well into Tuesday, the winds blew strong off the Atlantic, an easterly fetch wind, it was called. My windows rattled gently, the eaves in the attic whistled, and the branches of trees swayed back and forth.

All night, I listened to the wonderful sounds of the wind. It was steady, there was no let-up. I was comforted beyond words to describe. It tapped into something very deep and mysterious, something powerful and primeval about Nature. It wasn't just the energy of the wind, but its constant presence. It broke the usual stillness and emptiness of the night and gave me companionship. I didn't feel as alone, for some reason, with that ceaseless wind and the various sounds of its passing and singing into the early morning hours when I fell asleep.

March 18, 2001

There is no quiet place in the white man's cities, no place to hear the leaves of spring or the rustle of insect's wings...The Indians prefer the soft sound of the wind darting over the face of the pond, the smell of the wind itself cleansed by the midday rain, or scented with pinion pine.

Chief Sealth (Seattle),
Duwamish Tribe, mid-19th century, Pacific Northwest

There are no really quiet places in this city I live in. I mean quiet as in far out in the countryside where the only sounds are natural and inviting. There are relatively quiet suburbs and neighborhoods all around me where the trees are leafing out and the azaleas are in bloom. But as soon as I begin to enjoy the illusion of peace, a car roars down the street and I look away. Or, a motorcycle drones loudly in the distance. There is always the background noise of trucks and traffic on Folly Road all day and it never ceases until late at night. And there are airplanes overhead.

Despite all this, I have learned to be sensitive to the stillness that can be perceived if I am attentive and listen. Sensitive to the freshness in the night air, the cool, clear, starry nights I have loved being out in all winter. I am hearing the first insect sounds of the coming long warm seasons. I feel that life in beginning again, that there are abundant natural wonders all around me. The purple wisteria, for instance.

Today on my walk, I passed an apartment where the wonderful aromas of hamburgers barbequing on a grill wafted up to me, and I enjoyed immensely the flavorful aroma of the smoke and all the memories it briefly brought back. What a wonderful smell!

It may not be pristine, this city environment I call home, but it is what I have. I would like to live in the country, but that is not to be at this time. Some day, maybe.

In the meantime, I will savor the exquisite beauty of this spring now in full bloom and I will look forward to the time soon when I will be taking a long road trip and driving across many miles of empty landscape.

March 16, 2001

Spring is here all around me as I look out over the garden at the College of Charleston. Purple wisteria, crabapple, azaleas -- they're all starting to bloom, and what gorgeous colors they have! It's a beautiful day in the middle of March, temperatures are in the upper 70s, the skies are a clear blue.

I'm trying to act like nothing much has changed from all my previous visits here, but the fact is, I didn't get my perceived "dream job" at the college that I had been waiting to hear about for weeks now. It went to someone else. I was one of four semi-finalists in a nationwide search. Still, I wasn't chosen. It's just starting to settle in now -- the news I received yesterday.

Getting this job could have been the last major job change I ever made, for I feel at home on this campus and believe that I would have been happy woriking here, but now I likely will never know. They were very nice and flattering in telling me of my rejection, and said I should apply again for the next opening. I don't know if I can now, however.

I feel as though a chapter in my life is over. This whole process had gone on for three months. I have lived with it and the attendant uncertainties that long. It's been like being in a state of suspended animation, caught between the two worlds of my prsent job of six years and the prospects and vision of a new job, new friends, new opportunities and new challenges at a critical stage in my life. I will be 50 next month. There won't be too many more of these golden opportunities up ahead.

But I am relieved, in a sense, not to have to go through the enormous upheaval getting the job would have entailed. Now, I can only imagine what it would have been like, and as the days and weeks pass, slowly I will forget that I was on the cusp of such momentous change in the first place.

March 13, 2001

I was wrapped in the insular coccoon of the building where I was working furiously last night, almost non-stop for four hours. It didn't even occur to me that there was an outside world until I put on my jacket and went out the door at 11 to discover the most wonderful sight: heavy rainfall, rustling the palmettos, gusts of wind blustering about the lighted lamps, pools and puddles all over the sideswalks. What a wonderful sight!

I was momentarily annoyed because I had forgotten my umbrella, so I sat down on a bench under the eaves and watched the rain. It was the first such downpour in weeks. We've had a few sprinkes here and there, but I was commenting to someone just yesterday about the drought conditions and that I wondered as I drove through the countryside this weekend how the farmers even bother to plant crops such as corn these days because they wither in the fields each every year.

Our climate is changing here in South Carolina. We have none of the rainful amounts I remember when I was young. An enduring image is clouds of dust in the driveway of my mother's house, and of endless sunshiny days. This is fine for lifting the spirits, but the dried up streams and struggling farmers make it a decidedly mixed blessing. I love the sun and clear, beautiful days of spring we are having, but the dark overcast outside now, and the dampness of the earth, are such a relief. The grass, shrubs and trees are rejoicing, I am sure.

March 8, 2001

Last night about 8, I found myself walking along a deserted beach under a nearly full moon, watching each sudden wave break in silver ripples of reflected moonlight. I was warm and bundled up, for it was cool, but not cold. Lit-up shrimp boats dotted the near horizon. Some of the houses behind me, in back of the dunes, were lit up. There were plenty of stars to see and much to think about, but I didn't do much thinking at all. I just walked one way for awhile toward the granite boulders, and then in the opposite direction, slowly, stopping to look out over the ocean, to watch the few waves breaking, to smell the fresh sea air, which last night seemed different, as if it had come from some other place. I can't describe how I felt much beyond this. I know, though, that I welcome the nighttime beach, lonely as it may seem, yet nevertheless comforting in moonlight which illumines the beach all around me, as if in a perpetual twilight. As I walked back to the house over the dunes, the fine sand felt as soft underfoot as powdered sugar, and in the light of that bright moon, looked just as clean and white.

March 5, 2001

A strange night. Very atmospheric! I can hear the wind alternately rushing through the tops of the trees, and then subsiding. The cold air mass is coming our way, push down South and meeting the warm air we've had all weekend. I love the hear the wind. And, the crack in my window is letting in more of that cool air than I'd like, but it feels so good, I will not close the window.

I like this time of year, for once again it is truly the transition period between seasons. It is March, and thus, it will be windy. Right on time. The clover is sprouting. The sun is warm during the day. I got in the closed car the other day, and it felt hot for the first time in months.

Friday, during a walk at Caw Caw Park, I again noticed how quickly spring is unfolding. The swamp maple seeds are now bright red. The hawks are soaring on thermals. The air was mild, quite mild, and I wore no jacket for the first time since last fall.

I am drawn to that park time and again. I walked the trail beside the creek and then sat on the ground to once again listen to the flowing water. I was somewhat restless, however, and distracted. There has been so much on my mind lately that I couldn't escape it all completely, even out there.

Coming back an alligator, about 7 feet long, dashed back into the water just ahead of where I was walking, more afraid of me than I was startled by him. There are a lot of alligators in the park, and they like to sun on banks of the rice field dikes. You don't think they will be there, either. You just hear them splashing in the water, and then see their eyes and snout moving away from you. I was not too alarmed because they really try to do all they can to avoid people. This is a wild preserve, and one should expect to have such encounters.

March 1, 20001

I stumbled quite unexpectedly upon the first bed of daffodils this morning on the way to work, a beautiful, radiant-yellow surprise, waving in a breeze, in one of my favorite gardens in the vicinity, and disrupting, briefly, the rather dreary chain of thoughts that were blowing through my mind like dark clouds on that otherwise sunny spring morning. How I love the first daffodils of the year. They bring hope like no other flower, for they are the first to arrive after winter.

Yesterday, and the day before, I was also cheered by the monthly ritual of turning over my wall calendar pages to the new month, and reveling in the astonishing transitions in the scenes. From the snowy tableaux of February, I was greeted with a field of red and yellow tulips in Oregon on one March calendar. The Four Seasons calendar in my bedroom, my favorite year after year, showed a farmer in a field at the beginning of spring, rainwater still standing in the previous year's stubbled fields. His faithful dog is looking off in one direction toward something that caught his attention. The farmer is surveying the tall oaks to his right, branches still bare, and looks to the distant scene of his house and barn. Migratory ducks are heading north on their seasonal flight from winter refuges. Above him is the most curious cloud formation. There are swirls and bands of high clouds in a deep blue sky, circling a half moon as if it is all part of some very close spiral galaxy. Entrancing.

In other calendars, I see a country road and an old two-story, frame farmhouse, crabapples in bloom, and a horse grazing in a pasture. I see a beautiful old barn surrounded by a grove of fruit trees in full bloom. There are waterfalls in other March scenes: Raven Cliff Falls in South Carolina and Deer Creek Falls in Grand Canyon National Park. There is a wonderful view of a trail through a state park in Texas, surrounded on both sides by carpets of purple wildflowers.

These calendar scenes of March have lifted my spirits, as they always do at this time of year. They make me long for the open highway, and road trips to visit some of those real and imaginged places.

I think that if I ever had a house in the country, I would be living in it alone, of course, and my walls there would be filled with bookshelves and calendars, as they are now in my apartment in the city. And when I no longer resided in that house, it would be abandoned, not sold, for some reason, for it would probably not have much value and be in a rather remote area of the countryside, but a lovely place, nevertheless. And eventually, someone would come along and wander into the long-abandoned house, outer clapboard frame weathered and devoid of paint, the whole nearly invisible from a covering of vines and undergrowth. And this person would find nothing of any consequence left in the house, but would be startled to find a calendar or two still hanging on the walls, a perfectly preserved March scene in spring greeting him as he made his way through the silent house. I did the same thing many years ago when I visited the remnants of an old country house in the deep rural South Carolina, now probably no longer there, and found in the kitchen an Adluh Flour Co. calendar from the 1950s still on the wall. I have a picture of it. I never forgot that experience: the abandoned house and the silent echoes of its past inhabitants.

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