Armchair Peregrinations


October 30, 2001

It was a glorious Saturday in October when I went to the local Fair, just a few days ago now, but oh, how much fun I had. It seems like ages ago now. What memories it brought back. The air was crystal clear blue and the temps brisk and satisfying. So typical of Fall. The food, smells, sounds, excitement. I was soaking it all in. Embracing the good times once again. Reliving past times. Everyone was having fun. Thousands of people who for a short time were not worried or thinking much about terrorism, war, and biological threats. So nice to be lost in what could pass for a pre-Sept. 11 world.

October 28, 2001

I just came in from a short walk on the beach. What a glorious early evening as the sun set and revealed in all its beauty a near full-moon. A few minutes earlier, a ragged, v-shaped caravan of snow geese made their way, silently across the darkening skies, graceful and serene. An Autumn sight if ever there was one.

I sat on the dunes for awhile. Alone. No one else was present on the beach except for a solitary surfer in wetsuit, padding out to meet large waves on an otherwise calm surf. There was little wind this evening. I can relate powerfully to that lone surfer, catching the last waves of the day, likely reluctant to leave the ocean and the powerful mystery of the waters all around him that were just then starting to reflect the silver light of that bright moon on a cloudless night.

I looked up and saw a lone goose flying into the distance, seemingly with some urgence,probably trying to catch up with his brethren who had passed overhead only ten minutes earlier. I hoped he would find his companions.

The night was bracing and almost cold, but I was bundled up and warm. It was the first day of such cold weather this Fall at the beach, and I reveled in it. I love the beach in winter, and look forward to long walks.


October 23, 2001

I spoke too soon about the nice, cool return of Autumn. It is hot and humid now, and we are sweating and trudging along as if there has been a return of summer. Whew! Today was unpleasant. But the clouds are so nice to look at, the air has that truly in-between-seasons feel to it. Moody, neither cool nor hot (except for today), and like so much of the weather I remember in New Orleans each Fall. In fact, it really does bring back a lot of memories because when you live in a mild climate, you have seasonal changes for sure, but they are so gradual, generally.

I have a lot of things on my mind these days. Work keeps me busy, but I am constantly checking the Internet for news. With all that has been going on the past week, in particular, it has become somewhat of an obsession to read more and read the latest. I feel I have to know. I can't NOT know. And tonight, I was watching MSNBC and CNN and the officials talking about the bioterrorism and I thought how much more can I take? How much more news of this before we become fixated? And yet, it is just the beginning.

This past weekend, both Saturday and Sunday evenings, I was out on the beach, watching the sunsets and the clouds changing color, sitting in my chair, lost in abstract thoughts, random thoughts, one chasing after another, then lost to some ether beyond me, perhaps never to be thought of again. Dazed. A bit wistful and sad, but not terribly so.

As it got dark Sunday night, I was debating going in. I stayed a while longer. Then I saw a lone jogger approaching from up the beach, coming gradually to where I was sitting. The next think I know he was saying hello to me and then he was gone, disappearing into the darkness. Alone on the beach. A young runner. I always feel sort of old when I see someone with such endurance and such vitality. I wouldn't want to do it, but I sort of admired him. In fact, I admire especially all those lone souls I see walking or running on the beach. Alone. Solitary. Like me, all the time out there.


October 20, 2001

The other day at Folly Beach, I walked out to the water's edge at low tide, windbreaker zipped to the cold air that came off the ocean in a brisk wind, the first day of really cool weather on the beach this Fall. I knew for sure summer was gone, even though yesterday it was warm enough to make that cool, windy beach jaunt a memory.

This is the autumn way of being at the ocean's edge. Walkiing instead of sitting for hours reading and daydreaming in my beach chair. No more lingering long past sunset in a mild wind, looking up at a full moon illuminating the water. I will have to do these things in a more deliberate manner, having less time, feeling the cold and darkness of the night to come pressing in, whereas in summer I was aware of no limitatiions on how long I could remain out there, other than the dictates of prudence and a watch that reminded me I had to go home eventually.

Thursday, wrapping my jacket tigher about me, I went out for an encounter with the new season, and winter stopped by just for a little while.


October 18, 2001

Tuesday afternoon, walking far into a huge swamp forest, dry and full of the presence and spirit of Autumn. Wind swaying the tops of tall trees, creating the only sounds. Empty. Cathedral-like. A reverence descends on this place, for it is a precious gift, these woods, these trees and plants, and wildflowers, providing me a place to restore my spirt, wearied and bent from weeks of strangeness in these times of ill-winds blowing across our land. The steady and unchanging forces of Nature, the places of solitude, the invisible spirits that seem to hover in that swamp forest -- all spoke to me in deep places where I find personal solitude within myself.


October 15, 2001

It was good to sit and rock on the porch at the house in Charleston and look out over the garden on a quiet Sunday afternoon. The skies were quite overcast, but the temperatures were pleasant, and a cool wind swaying the treetops indicated rain was on the way. Sure enough, we had the first good rainfall in weeks a short while later. It was a delight to behold. To hear the rainfall, to feel it on my face making my way to the car, to smell the way the air was freshened by this little rain squall passing through the area. On the porch just before the rain, I listened for a long time to the song of a solitary mockingbird in an oak tree. Beautiful.


October 11, 2001

It was exactly 40 years ago on this day in 1961 that we made the major move in my childhood from a two-bedroom, post-World War II apartment development in an old area of Jefferson Parish to the Westbank suburbs of New Orleans. Westbank meaning across the Mississippi River from the main part of the city. We always considered ourselves to be living in New Orleans, but this move, when I was 10 years old, made it official.

It was a wonderful new house my parents had built, custom made, based on the same general plan of my aunt's house in Sumter, which had been built in 1954, and which was the destination of all our summer vacations. So, the house in New Orleans, while new, already had sentimental value built in.

I remember the fresh new smell of everything, the oak floors, the big bedrooom my brother and I would share located in front of the house facing the street, the huge old live oak trees just beyond the back yard. Thick, subtropical south Louisiana woodlands were still there for the first year or so until they were all cleared for more streets and houses.

I was the new kid in the elementary school, located only one long block from where we lived. It was a typical suburban elemenary school in every regard. I don't recall the adjustment being too difficult, and there were to be no more moves after that one. I lived there until I went off to college in 1969, eight years later. My mother sold the house and moved to South Carolina in 1994, two years after my father died. I have very mixed feelings about the house, for it is associated with all the paintful times and conflicts with my father, but also with at least a sense of stability. It's not like we were moving around every few years or every year like some families we knew.

Hard to believe it's been 40 years since I was a 10-year-old kid, excited about a new house and a new life in a wholly diffferent place. Four decades. How long ago and deep in the past that house seems now. It's been seven years since I last saw it, and that long since I have been back to New Orleans for a visit. I have no immediate plans to return there any time soon. Maybe some day.


October 7, 2001

Yesterday evening, I was sitting in my lounge chair looking out over the ocean as night approached. It was a cloudy evening, but still the mauves, purples and blues of the cloudbank were striking, in a muted way. I stayed until well after dark. The air was perfectly comfortable. A slight seabreeze stirred along the water's edge.

This afternoon, by contrast, I was in that same chair, looking up into the crowns of pine trees and sweet gums and hickories. I was at Givhans Ferry State Park, along the beautiful Edisto River. The clouds of the previous day had been swept away by winds, and I beheld this morning the most exceptional, cool, clear, blue-sky sunny day. I knew I just had to get out on the road and drive in the countryside. The surreal knowledge that we had just begun the bombardment of military bases in Afghanistan was fresh in my mind as I fled the house for the freedom of the open road and country air. I was glad to turn off CNN. I didn't want to think about all the news, but it was impossible not to.

Ironically, the day seemed to be even more precious because of that -- so much is changed in how we all view the world now. I saw the warm autumn sun on trees and fields and farmland, the world in my immediate vicinity so familiar and comforting, the same places, the same roads, churches, houses, landscapes -- but it all seemed somehow different, even as it literally looked the same.

As I walked along the Edisto at two state parks, the water very shallow and the slow current of the tea-colored water barely perceptible, I knew that I was blessed to have this day to savor and enjoy. And I did.


October 6, 2001

Returned a little while ago from a very pleasant visit to the annual Charleston Garden Show. Quite an extravaganza. Beautiful plants, flowers, orchids, books, water gardens, fountains, gifts, and lots of nice people. People who are interested in gardens and gardening are quite special. You can see it in their faces. They are nice people. Enlightened people. They appreciate beauty, and there is nothing quite so civilized and lovely as a carefully tended and landscaped garden, whether in a large yard or over counry acres, or in a walled courtyard as are so many in Charleston. I could have spent the whole day there. It was just a very enjoyable experience, and my mother, who accompanied me, had a great time there, also. It was mainly to take here that I went, but I am richly rewarded that I did go and linger there as long as I did. She bought some Louisiana iris plants, and I bought a very beautiful book of paintings.


October 5, 2001

With everything going on in the world, there's been a sort of time warp, so to speak, of late. But October is here, the month of bittersweet memories, and I would have almost completely forgotten a ritual of autumn that I notice and wistfully pine over each year -- the State Fair in Columbia -- if I hadn't bought a State newspaper today and saw the familiar pictures of Fair night on the front page.

I remember the first time I went there with my new friend from USC in the fall of 1973. It was the first time I had been to a fair. It was like some exotic foreign bazaar. I was transfixed by the sights and sounds. I had my camera. I was like a kid in a candy shop. Everywhere I turned there were photo opportunities. Sensory bombardment -- that's what those fairs are like. The midway is jammed with people, all ages, sizes, shapes and backgrounds. I had never seen anything like it before.

When I read that article I got nostalgic. Where else can you find Aunt Martha's Polish sausage dogs, Fiske French fires with vinegar poured on top, elephant ears (fried dough with sugar and cinammon), and fresh lemonade? I won't be going this year, either, but I loved that full-age picture of the ferris wheel in the paper. Other days, other places. Memories.


October 3, 2001

I was sitting in the waiting room at the diagnostic lab yesterday morning, about to get blood drawn and an x-ray taken as part of my long-overdue physical. It was a more or less pleasant room, seascapes on the wall, well-lit, chairs judiciously spaced just the right distance from each other. Roomy. Non-threatening.

I looked up and saw a middle-aged man, actually about my age, I guess, wheel his mother inside in her wheelchair. She must have been in her 70s. He was on his way to work, and debating whether he should leave her to get the lab work done and come back, or stay with her. He went to the desk and found out the whole process would take about 15 minutes, so, in sign language he communicated with her. He looked like the classic take-charge type of person. No-nonsense. You just have a way to telling with people. They were waiting when I was called in to have my lab work done.

As I was sitting there observing them, discreetly, of course, I mused to myself how fortunate it was that I was not yet old, that I could take care of myself. I wondered how it would be when I was older, if I managed to get old, that is. Who would wheel me into the doctor's waiting room? Stay with me while the tests were done? Comfort me when I had fears about being left alone? No one, that I can see. There are no children to look after me when I get old. Nor will there ever be. Another reason to be thankful for each day of health, and not think about the future.


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