thoughts from the beach [1/2]

[ what follows ’twas written a few years prior to now, on or shortly following a trip to explore the lowlands of south carolina, as part of an experiential education based literature class ]

saturday – on the road

Limnology: The study of lakes. Limnic eruptions: Exploding lakes. This seemed like an excellent topic for a volcanology paper… until I actually sat down to write it on Friday evening, the night before our departure for South Carolina. Time is a funny concept—the more time you desire, the faster it seems to slip away. This was certainly the case on Friday evening, the fourth of March. Seven pm became eleven pm; I vowed a short nap would allow for the final slog through the background portion of my paper, and the necessary packing for the long-awaited trip whose departure drew ever nearer…

Neither of these proved to come to fruition. I awoke, groggy and confused, to a muffled alarm at 7:20am…paper unfinished and gear strewn about all corners of my house. Oh man, oh no! Barely twenty minutes to get everything sorted. This sort of story does not normally end happily.

Thankfully, this not being my first rodeo in packing, and with the kindness of my roommate Darren (I bribed him with 2/3 of a sixpack, to be truthful) I made it to the vans only several minutes late, and only forgot one rather replaceable item. Not too shabby for what could have been an extremely unfortunate morning. And, a pleasant surprise that there’s room enough for the guitar!

Unsurprisingly, Trevor, Sarah, Em, and I ended up in the same van, with Tyler driving. Thus began the savages (part two) trip… Trevor, Sarah, and I had all partaken in the Wilderness Literature class a few years prior, and had cemented a friendship during a Dolly Sods backpacking adventure. We had come to know Ty (Creek) over that trip, and others too. As such, there was a good deal of nostalgic reminiscing, storytelling, catching up, and (inappropriate) joking that ensued for the first few hours of the drive. Our first pit stop inspired the first jumping photo of the trip, complete with shorts in the snow. The rest of the drive left time for a well-needed nap, further discussion, the final slog through the mechanics of limnic eruptions, and the capture of a gorgeous sunset over the water just prior to crossing the NC-SC state line.

As darkness began its slow envelop of the surrounding land, Sarah and I kazooed a fw miles away before opting for the slightly less annoying sounds of our voices. There’s something about music and road trips—a song can take you back to a moment with just a few notes. As the final miles passed, a chorus of ‘woo-yips’ filled the van, as a new group of soon to be Sewee Savages sung along to Don Edwards’ ‘Coyotes,’ in a mildly restless anticipation of the adventures to come in the following week.

Along the banks of the inter-coastal, real coyotes chorused their welcome as our vans pulled in to the drive, and a pack of eager humans tumbled out, anxious to explore.

. . .

sunday – swamp

Today dawns bright and early… earlier for some than others, in fact, as Sarah ventured out near dawn, an unsurprising occurrence for those who know her well. And even for those who don’t, it is difficult to wake up on the wrong side of the proverbial bend, when Sarah’s exuberantly cheerful face is the first greeting your sleepy eyes have the pleasure of making upon stumbling from your slumber At least, this is how I feel… but perhaps it’s an acquired preferences, judging by the mildly disgruntled faces of a few of our cabin mates…

After a relaxed breakfast, and an intimate, though often deadly series of meetings with many of the local gnat inhabitants, we headed off for the swamp. The word swamp carries connotations of less-than-pleasant inhabitants of all kinds, and truthfully, some swamps host such residents. Swamp: Dark, murky, pungent odors of wet, slowly decaying organic matter… such a description does not do justice to the experience of paddling through blackwater swamp.

Giant Cyprus trees and knees populate the edges of the waterway, and as far from those edges as you can peer back. The light is dappled on the water between the trees; it looks far more like a flooded forest than it does a stereotypical swamp. There is a quiet, ethereal atmosphere that envelops us as we paddle further into the flooded Cyprus wonderland. It seems we have arrived before the advent of the insects, and this, especially after the gnat swarms this morning, makes for an enjoyable experience. The smell is earthy, wet; it is dark in a peaceful and comforting way, the way soil becomes a deeper colour after a hearty rain. This swamp smells of life as much as it smells of death.

I had a rather magical outdoor ‘facilitree’ experience… there’s something about having to climb a tree that is at the minimum five times your circumference, perched ever so cautiously on its trunk protrusions so that you do not become rapidly intimately acquainted with the water of questionable depth to your rear that makes relieving yourself quite the adventure.

The sereneness of the area provided, too, for the sort of environment that nourishes easy, deep conversations from minimal sowing. Conversation seems to ebb & flow with the tides—unforced, exploring new paths with neither haste nor hesitancy.

Today too, I was again reunited with my ocean. It is difficult to express the profound healing effects that the sun, surf, and sand have upon my soul, but the inspiration of pure, unbridled joy is damn near close. It is the sort of joy that inspires movement for movement’s sake—for jumping, for running, for swimming, for dancing—all these with reckless abandon. There seem to me few expressions more human than these. To be here, to be in this moment, is to be happy.

monday – between the banks

Today we paddled for a while on the Santee River. The water was wider, more open. Yesterday I was highly content to enjoy the relaxed and quiet atmosphere of the back of the group—today, I struck out for the front—a different sort of atmosphere, though still quiet and contemplative in its own way. I am continually struck by the apparent novelty of the sun on my skin. I’m half convinced I must be at least somewhat photosynthetic, because I seem to be gaining nourishment from these hours in the sun that I’ve been missing these past few weeks.

Why is it that we seem to take for granted, to bemoan even, that which we encounter everyday? Commonplace occurrences lose their mysticallity; we do not often regard everyday miracles with the same awe that we devote to the odd & eccentric. These miracles, in their regularity, transition from the magical to the mundane. Perhaps it is commitment to exploring, to endeavouring to constantly & consistently hold small miracles in an ever-changing light of perception; it is not difficult to continually experience new perspectives if movement is involved. Such movement must not necessarily be Northeast to South, but rather bank to bank, or river to river. The colour, the awe, the magic, seems to drain from life for humans stranded between banks, for humans stranded between walls—for humans in limbo.

I think it is easier than it might seem to get caught in limbo. I find myself there more often than I’d prefer, and certainly more often than I’d readily admit to most people. But it is community that spurs me out of limbo. Sometimes it is human community, and sometimes it is the communion, the connection that I cannot ignore, with natural communities. Sometimes, often in fact, it is a combination of the two. It is the way that Time affects both flower and rock simultaneously, inspiring growth in one, and decay in the other, further mortalising the man beneath the gravestone, and further beautifying the world in which he once lived.

What spurs me from this limbo is the poetry read between friends on the porched that has welcomed countless others, it is the subtle art behind those words and the openness to magic that they inspire. It is the discovery of an old bell that has grown a part of a gigantic oak tree, a tree old enough to have been large when this country’s founders roamed. And so nature has outlasted generations and generations, but we humans have both resolutely & unconsciously left our marks. Nature may indeed triumph, ‘in giant trees, [and] in great rivers’ but not without a few nicks, scratches, and horrendous scars from the interaction with various communities.

We humans have been rather fond of leaving a lasting mark, and it strikes me that such a sentiment has prevailed throughout the years, and is the reason for the existence of that bell in the oak tree. It seems an acknowledgement of limbo, and at the same time, a desperate attempt to claw a way out, to leave for posterity both tangible & ethereal scratches to prove that the bank, the shore, is in reach, and that for however short a time, we found ourselves upon that shore—not to claim, pillage, develop, or destroy it—but to simply be with it, to appreciate it & thus us, as the commonplace occurrences, the everyday miracles that it, and we, are, simply by existing. This seems to me a timeless sentiment.


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