Armchair Peregrinations

October 30, 2000

The beach in October is a very different place from just weeks before. The summer crowds are gone, the air is much cooler, the light has a more mellow, golden hue, and the atmosphere and sky appear tranformed, although I know it is my own moods and perceptions that have changed with the seaonal shift. I feel a little more melancholy in the Fall, and part of this is due to the departing warmth and fewer hours of sunlight as compared to the summer, now gone.

The past two afternoons I took walks at Folly Beach, and on Saturday I noticed a faintly detectable, misty coolness in the air, the first real foretaste of the winter months that are almost here.

I sat for awhile in my chair, reading my book, trying to keep warm in a light jacket, but the air felt much cooler on the beach than it does inland. I enjoyed being out there, but I could not get comfortable. I had to walk. The wind was only slightly stirring, but enough to carry the familiar smells of the ocean and beach. We have learned recently that the air that comes in from the ocean at Folly Beach often originates off the coast of Portugal and is some of the cleanest on the East Coast. It always smells very pure and fresh to me. That is one of the reasons I am so drawn to the coast. I feel like I'm getting away from the air pollution of the city. I seem to think more clearly. I don't know. It must be psychological, but the sounds of the surf instantly begin to relax me, and when I am relaxed, I am able to think with fewer distractions. I'm more focused, even if the thoughts are rather vague.

October 28, 2000

This is a delicious evening, when the whole body is one sense, and imbibes delight through every pore. I go and come with a strange liberty in Nature, a part of herself. As I walk along the stony shore of the pond in my shirt sleeves, though it is cool as well as cloudy and windy, and I see nothing special to attract me, all the elements are unusually congenial to me. The bullfrogs trump to usher in the night, and the note of the whipporwhill is borne on the ripping wind from over the water. Sympathy with the fluttering alder and poplar leaves almost takes away my breath; yet, like the lake, my serenity is rippled but not ruffled. These small waves raised by the evening wind are as remoate from storm as the smooth reflecting surface. Though it is now dark, the wind still blows and roars in the wood, the waves still dash, and some creatures lull the rest with their notes...

From Walden by Henry David Thoreau

I spent the afternoon yesterday, on a day off from work, at Caw Caw Park where I walked a long loop trail past the cypress/tupelo swamp to the grove of live oaks and then to the waterfowl observation deck overlooking the former rice fields, now a great open area with canals and grasses and mudflats where a variety of birds come to feed and rest.

The oak grove is an especially peaceful site because I am surrounded by woods, but also open spaces where grass grows tall among the trees and catches the sunlight and the shadows from those trees. I always sit awhile on a small bench under an oak, and, for now at least, I can still hear the last of the summer insects. Their perpetual drone in the grasses makes the very ground seem alive, buzzing, sentient.

For a brief time, I enjoy looking at tree trunks and shadows, marveling at the late afternoon sunlight, trying to experience fully the moods evoked by that soft, bright light. There is a sense of reassurance and harmony, of just "knowing" without trying to understand.

When I reach the wooden deck overlooking the rice fields, I can relax completely, for I am almost certain that a cooling breeze will be blowing to keep away the insects. It carries a rich, clean, earthy smell, that of marsh grass and mud and woods and swamp.

I watch the wind send ripples across the main waterway just in front of me, and it looks like a flowing stream. Of course, the water was still, but the surface is in motion. An illusion of movement.

Once again, I gradually slip into that most profound state of relaxation where the heartbeat slows, tensions are pulled out of the body into the wind, and my head nods in near acquiescence to sleep. I can honestly say that this is one of the few places where my mind seems empty, there are no jumbling, restless worries, and I become still and enter a tranquil state where the world and its troubles are left behind. It is an alternate reality. There was not another visitor, as far as I could tell, in that entire 600-acre sanctuary. In my long walk, I saw no one. I watched only hawks and egrets soaring over the water.

A mellow-bright October sun made the day eternal. The light was steady, unchanging, and endlessly comforting. A friend. It illuminated woods, grass, walking paths, fields, and water. But of course it was changing every second and minute. I just didn't notice it.

October 24, 2000

Walk more and be mindful. The more you think of how to improve your situation the more unhappy you become. Always planning for the future --"I will be happy if I live in a good place." Always, "I will be happy if..." Never, "I am happy..." Enough planning, improving.

'Becoming' is so predominant in our life. We don't see that there is no 'being.' How can there be 'becoming' without 'being'? Just see what is happening at this moment without any motive to improve it.

Sayadaw U. Jotika

The Buddhist teacher's words speak to me. I was reading about solitude and came across these thoughts. Right now I am very preoccupied with a major event tomorrow that could change my life (notice how casually I mention this fact, a sure sign that I have reached a certain stage in life) -- a job interview and a chance to earn enough money, finally, to live on. High stakes. Big changes could be in store.

But I am making a big mistake to pin my happiness on this seemingly transformative event. I have been waiting a long time for such an opportunity. It was not even possible to qualify until this summer when I finished my grad degree. So if I don't get the job, can I go back to life prior to this possibility of great change? I will have to. Will there be other job prospects, even as I get older? Yes. But life will be different, one way or the other after tomorrow. One day makes the difference. But if I can put aside this desire in the future to be something else, for financial reasons only, I might be able to be happy that I am at least no longer ceaselessly thinking about where I want to live. I am in one place and have been for six years now. I will find something eventually. How much thinking about the future do I really need to do now? It only makes me anxious to deliberate beyond the present day. Maybe I am learning some lessons from life after all.

October 21, 2000

This week marked the first anniversary of my arrival in Edmonds and the Seattle area. I can't quite believe it, but it does feel like I've been settled in for awhile. I'm looking out the window at gray skies and drizzle, a damp November Saturday when the best thing to do is stay in, be comfortable, and read.

It's easy to see why Seattle's bookstores do so much business. At times the weather is depressing, and I long for those mild, sunny winter days I'm used to in the South. For now, though, that's just a memory.

I don't know how much longer I'll be out here, but probably at least well into next year.[That turned out to be an uncannily accurate pronouncement]. I have so many settled routines now, but I know soon I'll have to shake loose when hopefully a better job turns up.

From my journal,
Edmonds, Wash.,
Nov. 21, 1992

I have been reading some journal entries from when I lived in Edmonds in 1992-93, and it always strikes me these days as if some unknown person had written those words, so much has life changed in the past eight years. I know it is me, it preserves my thoughts and feelings from that increasingly distant time, and I am glad I can look back and see the person I was, to some limited extent. Without those words in a journal, I would have only very fading memories, diluted significantly with the passage of time.

So on a sunny October Saturday afternoon when I should be out in the car driving through the countryside, I am recalling a rainy November in Washington state. But the reason I quote that entry here is because so much of what it says describes so well my continually unfulfilled longings for better times and a worthwhile job. Years were like this as I turned up one avenue, discovered the dead end and turned around to try a new route. Stay a little while, try something, leave.

What a curious creature who inhabitied those pages. The year 1994 was like some great dividing line. Life before that, and life after. It's literally a new life, except for the memories and recollections contained in that small 6x9 inch spiral-bound notebook.

October 19, 2000

I am driving so many miles each day that it's becoming a grueling pace. Trying to get back to New Orleans on the limited cash that's running out. Never again will I travel this way.


I'm homesick for the South and familiar places. An old-fashioned, traditional Christmas is much on my mind. I want to see pictures of old homes fixed up for the holidays.

From my travel journal
written Nov. 15, 1987,
Willcox, Arizona

I've been thinking about that long, around-the-country, solo car trip I took to Seattle almost 13 years ago to the day, when all my prospects looked pretty bleak and I was hoping the road would save me once again, or at least, take my mind off the dread I was feeling.

I thought I might stay in Seattle for good this time, but that longer stay wasn't to be for a few years yet. So, I drove out there, started spiraling downward over the course of two weeks, and then set out on a rainy moring in November for the long trip back to New Orleans. Alone. Always alone on those trips.

Since my first trek cross country in 1984, each one has been necessary for me, I'm not saying they weren't or that I would change anything. The 1980s were a decade of almost continual struggle to find a place to settle down and discover a shred of stability and peace of mind. It was not until 1995 that I actually was able to do this, so now, looking back as I do occasionally, I am filled with wonder and amazement that I survived all that wandering and aimlessness, and of all people -- me, the perfect student all through high school and college; good grades, good teenage citizen (although a bit of a loner); hard worker; never in trouble. What was my reward? Ten years of struggle to even begin to really find out who I was, what I was to do with my life, where I was to be.

Now it seems like some dream that recurred over and over -- packing the car, thowing some books in boxes, stuffing clothes in the back seat, getting together food and snacks, water and drinks. And, most of all, leaving behind what little security I had carved out in the previous few months (which was virtually nothing), and heading out on the highway.

After hundreds of miles of desert driving, the arid lands begin to seep in and color your perspective. After awhile it seems as if there isn't anything else but this land. It's dry, spartan, open to the sky in every direction. That's what's so magical about the desert: it's a harsh and forboding environment, yet enticing. It draws you in and surrounds you with expansive freedom.

From my journal
written Nov. 17, 1987,
Van Horn, Texas.

October 15, 2000

I went out to Folly Beach early this evening after work. It has been just too beautiful the past few days not to be outdoors as much as possible. Unfortunately, I had to work both days this weekend, so I wanted to get in at least a brief visit to that wonderfully peaceful and restorative place.

For days now the skies have been unobscured blue, so typical of fall. The trees are holding on to their summer green for the most part, but we are starting to see more than imperceptible changes. For example, the Bradford pear tree leaves are starting to turn red, and the little oak tree across from my apartment has completely transformed itself, although its leaves are a muted, burnished red, I would call it. The nights are blessedly cool, and it feels delightful, invigorating, and brisk out this evening, for I have just gotten back from the grocery store and the laundromat (a prosaic Sunday night, indeed).

On the way to the beach, I endured the usual traffic for miles, plus the awful sounds of pods of motorcycles blasting their way through traffic in the opposite lanes, no mufflers to speak of, rending the air with their hideous noise and loathsome countenances. I can hardly stand to look at them, much less listen to the noise as they speed by. It hurts my ears. I have to cover them. What a sorry thing that we have to endure this with no noise ordinance enforcement for this kind of thing whatsoever. I have absolutely no tolerance or patience for people who so selfishly and brazenly sow noise and chaos on the public streets, and endanger people's lives wherever they go. Obviously, to them no one else exists who could possibly be bothered by this, or distracted, or have an accident because of them.

It is, as I said, actually painful to have to hear this noise when ten or more motorcycles pass by. Most are from Folly Beach, alas, where they have established colonies or cells. I am a peaceable person, and I respect the right of others to be free of unwarranted and unseemly noise, at all costs. Thus, I really resent these bikers. I'm sorry if I seem so harsh and possibly uncharitable here, but right along with jet skiers and snowmobilers, I rank them among the lowliest of lowlifes, not as low as habitual criminals, but way down there. Again, sorry. But because of their outward actions, I can see very little to redeem them.

I didn't mean to get off on a rant about this, but to finish, there was no wind whatsoever at the beach, and so forewarned, I headed for the water and a place to set up my chair. No sooner had I sat down than I was surrounded by clouds of gnats, those biting insects for which I can see no evolutionary good. They seem to exist only to torment humans and animals. When I decided to take a walk, it was okay, they didn't bother me, but there was no resting on the beach this evening.

Finally, to top off the evening, I knew it was time to leave when I looked up the beach a few hundred yards and what should be heading right my way but two of those motorized parachute gliders where the riders sit and raise themselves up and down in the air over the beach or just offshore. These contraptions seem so odd and out of place, but there is something fascinating about them. As I said in an earlier entry, "What some people won't do to fly."

To console me, the sunset was pretty and the waves unusually high over the glassy, still surface of the ocean. I enjoyed being out there for a walk, but the stillness and the gnats made me that much more appreciative of the protective and cooling sea breezes which normally come in off the ocean. They weren't there to soothe me tonight, but I tried to notice this evening's beauty despite everything that got in the way.

October 13, 2000

It's been a terrible two weeks in a lot of ways. I was sick and really felt miserable for one of those weeks, and the past few days I've been pummeled by bad vibes at work and from other directions, and by the depressing, awful headlines from that pit of horrors, the Middle East, where news and pictures for the past 14 days have been ghastly. The 12-year-old boy shot and killed as he sought refuge by his father's side, the mob lynchings of three Israeli soldiers, including the body tossed from the window, the helicopter rockets blowing out Palestinian buildings and cars in retaliation, the bomb killing the 17 sailors, the West Bank and Ramallah teenagers seeking martrydom from Israeli bullets -- the slaughter and mayhem are continuing, and the whole place seems like a tinderbox about ready to blow up, as in 1967. There doesn't seem to be any solution. The U.S. could have put a lot more pressure on Israel to give up land seized in the 1967 war, but the colossus of the West is held hostage by the unraveling events. The headlines in the capital city paper this morning: "New crisis in the Middle East" and "Stock markets plummet." Fears of new wars and unstable oil futures cause the money changers, stock brokers, and investors of every stripe to scramble to be the first off any sinking ship. The lemming mentality at work. Greed and fear. Selfishness feeds on bad headlines.

I had to get away from it all for awhile this afternoon, so I braved 40 minutes of traffic, ambulances and sirens, crazy drivers and the madness of this moderate-sized urban juggernaut to escape to Caw Caw Park. I was indescribably glad to turn off from U.S. 17 where trucks were fast bearing down on me. I was soon driving in another world down a gravel road through oak, sweet gum, maple and pine woods to the center of the sanctuary.

When I stopped the car, all was quiet. I sat a while at a picnic bench to eat something for a late lunch, then made my way down the trail through woods just starting to show evidence of autumn. I came to hear the insects buzz in the grass, feel the cool wind, and see magnificent hawks, eagles and ospreys as they circled in the skies and landed in the former rice fields, now a waterfowl staging area. I was not disappointed.

I found my favorite spot on the wooden observation deck, took up my binoculars, and waited. Before long, I was gazing at what I first thought was a red-shouldered hawk, but which I realized was actually a golden eagle, it's wingspan was so great. What a magnificent sight. Truly inspiring. It endlessly glided in circles until it seemed to be flying into my binoculars, so close did it appear as it flew directly overhead.

After a half hour, I had reached a state of relaxation which is about as complete as I am capable of achieving. Every muscle was relaxed. I was calm. I felt at peace when I was able to block out all thoughts of what had gone on in the outside world and what was going on at that moment. I just tried to focus on the moments I had to be in that place, for they were transitory moments, but I wanted them to last as long as the could.

By 5:45, I was heading back to the highway along the dusty gravel road, and I drove back into that madness of the highway, caught up with the traffic, and left the sanctuary behind completely.

October 11, 2000

I hadn't been to the beach for nearly two weeks until last night when my brother, sister-in-law and I went out to a small seafood restaurant. It was wonderful, and the fried shrimp and scallops were so much better than I remembered from a couple of years ago. I had wanted to go there and try it since I heard it was so good, and I was greatly impressed and pleased. Usually when we go there during the day, we go outside and eat on picnic beach right on the tidal creek that flows by the restaurant, but it was dark last night so we ate inside.

Afterward, even though it was after 8:30 and the sun had set some time ago, I decided to take a walk on the beach, something I had never done before at night. I don't know why there has always been this barrier, created by nightfall, to going on the beach and savoring the special pleasures of that time of day out there. It's a mystery to me. I spent quite a lot of time out there at night this past summer, just sitting in my chair after watching the sunset and lingering, whereas in years past I would aways go in right when it got dark.

It's been quite cool the past few days, so I was bundled up, excessively it turns out, for when I got to the beach there was barely a breeze off the ocean, and it was actually quite mild with no wind. What a majestic sight. The tide was going out, and the sky was illuminated by a nearly full moon, surrounded by puffs and bands of shifting clouds. The stars peeked out from among those clouds which fanned out in slightly visible bands and streaks across the sky that I kept looking up into.

As I started walking, I noticed that the surf was unusually gentle, small waves lapping more than crashing on shore, as is most often the case. And the extraordinary thing was the sight of the waves just as they were curling and breaking in the near distance. Each of them in succession caught the light of the moon, and all I could see at that one brief moment or two were hundreds of silvery specks of light, literally the color of silver. They twinkled and disappeared to be followed by another and another of those waves, lit up by moonlight.

The beach and dunes were easily visible in that same moonlight, so I had no trouble finding my way back to the house.

I sat awhile on the sand before I finally went in, looking at the curiously bright light that I had seen when I first came out on the beach, and which seemed stationary, either right on the beach or just offshore. It was bright, and it appeared to be close, but I think it was a shrimp boat trawling close to the coast, but I couldn't tell the distance. Perception is very different at night on the beach. But I kept thinking it was someone else out there with a lantern or light, such was my imagining, I guess. It was very bright, though, and just didn't seemed like anything I could immediately identify. And again, I was the only one out there as far as I can tell, and one's imagination does seem to take over at times when you are completely alone in a place where the comofortable familiarity of daylight landmarks usually greet me, although this moonlit night was very, very special, and any initial anxiety was quickly dispelled as I started walking and listening to that gentle surf under the moon.

October 7, 2000

It was one of those unusual days at the apartment complex where I actually realized I had neighbors and that there were people I could talk to. It's a rare thing, you know.

It all transpired around my trips to and from the laundromat where, as usual, I was reluctantly washing two loads of clothes. As I was getting ready to leave, I saw one of my co-workers, who also lives in the complex, but whom I rarely see. We started talking about this and that concerning work, the usual gripes, etc., and then for some reason he got off on this riff about being single, and how single people are discriminated against and made to feel like they're pariahs in society.

"It's a very conformist society," I replied. "People don't understand what's it's like."

He responded, "Well, it's like you had some disease or something."

I don't remember what started this line of conversation, but although I agreed with him in some ways, I couldn't really commisserate too well. To me, it's more a matter of tolerance and acceptance. A way of life comes to fit well after so many years. I enjoy the independence, and I like solitude and quiet, I think more than the average person. And I don't care what people think anymore. A lot of people in miserable marriages or relationships probably would trade places with me readily.

I guess at his age (he's 38 or 39, I believe) I was still in denial about a lot of things, and although not so bitter about my lot in life, I was coming more and more to an acceptance of the way I was and the solitude and loneliness that comes with living by yourself all your life. I don't think my co-worker can accept that about himself. He thinks he has to get married, or else he'll be an outcast for ever. That's kind of sad. And what better place to feel sorry for yourself than a laundromat. It's like, wait a minute, all the years I've been on this earth and I don't even have my own washer and dryer? How sad is that? It depends on your point of view. Right now, I don't care. It's just a rather expensive convenience to me.

When I was returning to my upstairs apartment with the hamper of clean clothes (nothing smells so fresh as laundry just out of the dryer), I saw my downstairs neighbor, a delightful person a few years older than myself, also single, and a special ed. teacher in one of the nearby school districts. She's lived downstairs from me for almost as long as I've lived here, about five years, but only occasionally do we see each other, and at those times we only exhange a few words or pleasantries. I don't know why. It's just that both of us are always in an artificial rush to get inside or to our cars to go somewhere. It's not that we couldn't just talk awhile.

Well today she told me she was moving next month to a complex just a little ways off because it had some amenities ours doesn't have such as a gym where she can do a better job of trying to keep fit. I was surprised to an extent to hear this news, but not too much. We ended up talking more than we have in the five years we've been neighbors.

Isn't that the way it is when people find out they probably won't ever be seeing each other again? For some reason she, too, starting making references to being single and how it was the reason she kept feeling restless and ready to move on. I told her the five and a half years I had lived here were the longest I had ever lived anywhere and that I was extremely reluctant to move again, although I was wasting my money on rent and thought this place would only be a temporary home like every other place I've lived. I just couldn't imagine the ordeal of packing up and moving, although I know I may do so before long if I get another job and can buy a small house, at last.

But do I really want to? Living in an apartment is really okay for single people. There are no upkeep and maintenacne hassles and you can pretty much keep to yourself.

Anyway, like I said, our brief 5-minute conversation this afternoon was the longest I had ever spoken to her. But she is quite a remarkable person. I really like her.

I told her also that this job I was in now, despite the abyssmal pay, was the longest I had ever had one job before, over five years, and that I had become comfortable doing what I did day in and day out. It isn't too stressful. There is just enough challenge to keep it from being mind-numbing, and there aren't too many unknowns. I could conceivably do this indefinitely. I know now why people end up in certain jobs for basically their whole working lives. Inertia. Comfort zones are established. The outside world and its horrible uncertainties are staved off: I have a job. I do it every day. People like me and what I do. Is there anything more? Of course there is, but who wants to think about it. I've been through the ordeal of job hunting many times in my life, and I don't want to do it anymore than I absolutely have to.

As we were winding up our conversation along the lines of what I have just related, she said she also had a job she liked and that it does make all the difference. She's had some awful jobs before. So have I, was my knowing response. Maybe we'll have to swap stories about them sometime, she replied as we parted.

I may or may not see her again. Perhaps I'll see her on her moving day if I'm around. She's just an acquaintance. I doubt we'll be sharing those stories about awful jobs after she moves, but who knows? I'm glad I've gotten to know her, at least to some extent. I wish I had come to know her better. Now I guess that's just the past.

October 4, 2000

I'll never forget the night of June 2, 1983. It was the culmination of what was probably the single best year of my life.

I had just completed my third year of teaching English and history to 7th and 8th graders at a small school where I had a total of 43 students that school year. The graduating class and I had become like family. We just liked each other. I had taught them the year before in 7th grade, too, so we knew each other well by that point. They knew my little foibles and I knew theirs. We could kid each other, and we knew our boundaries. There was respect on both sides. I greatly appreciated them for who they were and what they could do, and they knew it and responded in kind. We went on field trips to Charleston and Charlotte, N.C. We laughed a lot, in class and on the playground at recess and lunch break. I sat in the cafeteria and ate lunch with them. I read their poems and short stories out loud. We had a lot of fun doing that. I enjoyed their company so much, in fact, that I really dreaded the end of the school year and the time when we'd have to say our goodbyes and go our separate ways.

In small K-8 schools, it is traditional to have an 8th grade graduation night. This is filled with a certain amount of pomp and circumstance, and it's a heady and exciting night for students, parents, guests, and, of course their proud teacher. I had to coordinate a lot of the evening, and get the awards lined up, and with the help of another teacher, things went smoothly. The kids were nervous, but afterwards, it was as if all the tension was released and they were elated. There was a reception and get together in the cafeteria, and I was ready by that time for things to wind down. It had been quite a day for me.

About a half hour after the ceremonies were over, it was time for them to gather on the stage and sing their graduation farewell song. The audience was assembled, but there was no 8th grade class. I was momentarily sort of panicky. Where on earth were they? I ran out of the cafeteria and into an alcove where to my immense relief they were all gathered laughing and swapping stories of the school year and just generally being teenagers at that stage of life. As soon as they saw me, they immediately swarmed around me, clapping me on the back, rubbing my hair, hugging me, and...well, I had never been so surprised about anything. I knew they liked me, but...They were jumping all around calling my name.."way to go, Mr.___; all riiight, Mr.__, and I can tell you I never felt so happy in my life. Everything coalesced into a fine point of pure joy at that moment, and all the two years of teaching them, all the frustrations and pleasures, were worth it.

I went home that night and lay on the sofa, exhausted, but very happy, and hoping to savor the moments I had experienced that night for as long as I could. And I have never forgotten that night, and that one special moment when we were briefly all joined together as one.

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