Armchair Peregrinations

September 27, 2001

12:15 pm.
College of Charleston

There's a cool Autumn wind blowing now at the garden in the middle of the College of Charleston campus. The waterfall by the fish pond sounds like a fast-flowing little stream. The branches of river ash and magnolia trees near me are fluttering in the wind. It feels so much like Fall today -- the sky is perfectly blue and clear. There is that distinctive feeling in the air, the feeling of seasons changing rapidly now.

It's always so peaceful and relaxing here. I'm thinking about Fall color drives in the mountains, traveling back roads and seeing historic sites I've wanted to visit for a long time now. I get this way every year about this time, and usually don't go anywhere. Maybe this year will be different. Autumn dreams.

September 23, 2001

It's a quiet Sunday afternoon. A bird was singing outside my window a little while ago. The most beautiful melody. I miss the sounds. Soft music is playing in the background. This is the type of afternoon I savor. No thoughts of work or the demands of people there. Just a contemplative afternoon.

Yesterday about 6 I was at the beach, set up in my chair on a perfect early Autumn day. The first official day of Fall, actually. The surf was gentle, the wind soft and blowing just enough to be perfectly comfortable and soothing. Seagulls flew overhead just above me. People strolled on the beach. A young couple and their dog were having a wonderful afternoon out there. They stayed until almost dark. A man was surf fishing nearby while his wife sat in a chair almost in the water reading a book.

The sky composed itself into a subtle but still lovely sunset, muted colors and epemeral bands of clouds. Nothing dramatic, just exquisite in its own way.

September 21, 2001

The neighborhood around where I live has never seemed so comforting, green and inviting. Its canopy of trees, some quite old and tall, its quiet streets, decorated mailboxes, yards with flower beds and statues -- all those familiar landmarks and scenes that I have come to know so well over the past six years seem more dear and near to me now. The familiar has a powerfull pull. It offers a sense of security, some bedrock upon which life marches on.

As I left the apartment for a walk on a mild, sunny morning this past Wednesday, I realized that the old season was still very much with us. A cool spell during previous days had foretold Autumn around the corner, but all that was dissipating, and the present re-asserting itself.

I watched as a lone yellow sweet gum leaf fell from a tree that is still completely summer-green. Out of the thousands of leaves on that tree, that may have been the first, and only, leaf to change color and makes its way to earth.

The landscape all around me still looks very much like summer, even though Autumn officially begins tomorrow. On that walk the other day, I heard a lone cicada with its familiar buzzing in a tree as I passed by. The grass is green. The flowers still bloom, though they are fading. The sky, however, is showing the signs of Fall. Clear, blue days alternate with heavy clouds, humidity, and rain showers as happened yesterday during my walk to the college and the return with umbrella over me as rain fell.

Today it is clear with a slight bit of cloudy haze. But not much. Each day I take unto itself now and try not to think too much about the day or days that will follow.

September 19, 2001

The change of seasons has begun. Autumn-cool mornings in mid-September, and glorious blue skies are with us, offering comfort, light, and the constancy of Fall. Amid all the turmoil in the world now, there is the goodness of people pulling together, being kinder and more considerate, looking after each other more. How great are the comfort and love of family and friends.

I want to be out in this weather as much as possible, taking walks in the neighborhood, being thankful for the ordinary miracles of life: birds flitting from one tree branch to another, the sweet sound of crickets late at night, the quiet stillness of the morning where I can hear the occasional sounds of those birds as I watch them out my window in the oak tree beyond.

September 15, 2001

It was a heavily overcast day yesterday, and since we have had drought for so many of the previous summers, I have not minded the grayness and clouds because of the rain that has come from them and made our landscapes green this year. For the first time in a long time.

But the times we are living through now have put me so on edge that the clouds and thunder, at least temporarily, have too much of a darker, symbolic side to them. It will pass. I know it is Nature in one of her many moods.

Nevertheless, I had to get away to the beach yesterday, late, around 7:15. It was cloudy the whole way out there until I got to Folly Beach itself, where the winds from the tropical storm in Florida were briskly reaching us and blowing those clouds out to sea. In their place was a glorious sunset over the marsh that heartened me immensely. I was so glad and relieved that I had made the trip out there.

On the dock in back of the house, I sat on the bench and felt the wind and looked at the colors of the changing sky and thanked God for this gift.

A little while later, as night approached, I stood on the walkway over the dunes and looked out at the ocean and listened to the powerfully soothing sound of the surf until I turned and went back into the house.

September 14, 2001

Shock, sorrow, numbness over the events of the past few days. So much has changed. So much of our previous reality has been altered. Assumptions, moods, outlook, where we are going, what is ahead? Questions, endless questions that I can't even articulate but which I know are there. I read as much as I can. I am trying to make some sense of what is going on. I have some knowledge but how inadequate that seems.
I want to escape, retreat. I can do that through scenes of beauty and peace in Nature. There is solace to be found in the garden at the college where I have gone the past two days around noon. Some of the tension drained away there, mercifully. I need to focus on the signs of hope. My friends and family are helping me get through this. I am aware of the love and concern of so many people I am in contact with. But there is so much anxiety to cope with. And we are all in this together.

September 9, 2001

It was with much soul weariness that I got myself out to Folly Beach late yesterday afternoon for some of that restorative tonic of wind and sea and sky. I needed it badly. There was really no place else I could go, not any other place I wanted to be. Things seemed to be closing in on me, and I needed to get out, especially to the edge of ocean, my escape, my retreat from the world.

I wasn't disappointed by what awaited me at the beach. I hadn't been there in more than a week because the air has been so calm, humid and flat. The beach, while beautiful, can be a very unpleasant place under those conditions. But after a thunderstorm and rain earlier in the day Saturday, the skies cleared and the clouds and wind were friends once again. It was a gorgeous day. And yet I sat at my chair at the computer. I remained indoors. The hours slipped by. What is this life I live doing to me? I have to go out more, do things. Time is being lost.

I sat in my chair and before me on a very windy beach was a panoramic sky that was lit up with bright cumulus cloud tops that have that special illumination that only comes at the end of the day when the air has been washed clean by rain or wind. Clouds of every imaginable shape and color. Billowing, sculpted clouds off over the ocean and toward the lighthouse. Banks of cloud layers with light peeking through in back of me to the north toward the marsh. Dark, rain-filled clouds obscuring and merging with the bright-white summer clouds that always give me that rush of optimism and hope.

As the minutes passed, I was soon lost in a soothing, tranquil state of mind, fanned by the most delicious sea breeze, turning my head left up the coast, then looking in front of me to the clouds over the ocean; watching seagulls; feeling a cool, sweet sting of wind-blown, light rain that swept by along the coast briefly; trying to take it all in.

I noticed a couple and their child wading in the surf a short distance away enjoying the skies, also. I hardly ever see people looking up into the clouds, but they did. Who could not notice? It was all I could do to not to pay attention. Every time I found my eyes closing and daydreams starting to gather, I would open my eyes and see a completely new sky. The changing panorama was that dramatic and fluid. Always in motion. The sunset, when it arrived, left me gaping in wonder. It was so splendid. Hope shone brightly in that sky yesterday afternoon and evening. That is why I need to go there.

September 6, 2001

Home in one form or another is the great object of life.

Josiah Gilbert Holland

I just bought a book of sayings about "home." Now that I have a "home" for the first time in my life, I have to remind myself of my good fortune. I have to remember that for most of life life prior to the past six years, I have wondered from place to place, from east coast to west, from South Carolina to North Carolina, from South Carolina to Louisiana. Ceaselessly, staying in one place just long enough to feel momentarily comfortable, then uprooted by cruel circumstance, fate, logic or choice. On the move. Every year or two years. Throwing things in cars, packing rental vans, giving away all my possessions except for a few books, feeling the periodic turmoil and anxiety that comes with all this leaving the only temporarily secure past behind. It was a freer life and a simpler life in many ways, but the chance to settle down always eluded me.

Now that I have my comfortable and quiet apartment that seems to be the one place in this entire city that was meant for me, and where I have lived longer than anywhere else except for my childhood home, I can rest in the knowledge that I have at last found "it" -- home. Right now, although I talk of getting a house, I have no real motivation to live anywhere else. The surrounding neighborhood is neighborhood. I know all the houses, trees, decorated mailboxes, lawn ornaments, eccentricities and landmarks. I know where I can best look up and see the sky and the sunsets. I have taken countless walks through this area. I know every bend in the road, so to speak. I have the comforting sweet gums and oaks that inhabit the ground near my apartment. I have the feeling of belonging here. It is a very good feeling.

September 1, 2001

Tonight on the first day of September I took an evening walk around the neighborhood. It felt good to get out after being inside all day. It was just about dark and everything was still and quiet.

As I walked along, the night gathering around me, I heard from one tree, then another, the wonderfully sweet and nostalgic sounds of cicadas. Solitary ones, I think. But enough of them to make me sense the end of summer in a very real and poignant way. That buzzing sound always evokes memories of summers past. Always. I love to listen to it. Everywhere I go now, during the day when I am at the college during my lunch hour, or on walks in late afternoon and early evening. I listen.

I am going to miss the summer for this very fact: there is no time of year when I feel more comfortable with myself -- usually. I feel more carefree and less stressed. I think being able to go to the beach and relax by the ocean is part of it. But it also has to do with recollections of so many pleasant summers past when I always seemed to enjoy life more. I can't really explain it.

As I was coming back home, I looked ahead to the space between the apartment buildings with a sidewalk running through the middle. There was an old fashioned- looking street light/lamp post. As I was passing through the grounds between an oak and a sweetgum tree, for just the briefest moment I thought I was on some fabled, nostalgic Maple Street in a small town in a neighborhood I had grown up in. It was one of those startling moments when you feel you are elsewhere for a moment, in another time and place. The sidewalk, the light, the evening coming on -- maybe I could have been a kid running down that sidewalk to get home in time for supper. My mother was calling from the from porch.

I walked fast toward my car and then to the front door of my upstairs apartment, and the reveries faded with a return to normal perceptions. But it was interesting while it lasted.

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