White foam marbled the flank of the wave…rich and fatty
The warmth of the water never ceases to astound me. Growing up in Northern California, the ocean was bone chilling, hostile, rocky and foreboding. This one is velvet, rich and supple, its danger in its quiet seduction, hoping that you are unaware of the grasping hands of the rip, caressing you tenderly away from shore before you even realize your fragile mortality.
Each time I struggle with the deep, hot sand at the end and when the dune summit is reached…I gaze so longingly one last moment as sad as if I know it will be my last.
I love the birth of small routines when away from home for a number of days. The walk from my hotel in Spain to get my daily morning coffee. The propping of my pillows each night in Mexico to sit and read and be able to gaze up and out upon the city spread below our epic windows. This week while at my Quaker yearly meeting in Greensboro, my favorite time of day has become skipping one session after lunch in order to have some time in quiet solitude. I can’t bear to spend the entirety of the day inside when the weather has been unexpectedly glorious–a rare reprieve from the oppressive tyranny of Southern summer is not to be ignored. The campus grounds are lush with green and shade and pleasing simply to gaze upon. I take brief walks down the college pathways–I’ve always enjoyed the atmosphere of campuses, the saturation of expectant knowledge, the vibrancy of the young souls gathered. Even when they are not physically present, I enjoy the aura that permeates.
My habit each day has been to squirrel away two cookies from the lunch buffet, grab a cup of sweet tea, and venture forth to seek a quiet corner to read, write, or stare into space while enjoying the creamy breeze. Today I lucked out with a vacant front porch on one of the residence halls. It is everything Southern: grand columns, a row of rocking chairs, a porch swing upon which I now recline. Yesterday it was full up with those chattering in conversation so I went on past in my preference for solitude. I took a rocking chair on a small plaza in front of the student library. After sitting a minute, I was charmed to discover that I could overhear through the nearby walls a piano practice session. We’ve been pleased to share the campus with a summer gathering of music students. As I later rose to leave, I lingered to eavesdrop a minute outside one of the windows.
The last day of a retreat is always bittersweet as the blissful balm of isolation from the cares of the world threatens its imminent removal. We were granted a bit of magic our final night as a handful of us gathered on a porch with a low fiddler serenading our quiet conversation. The trees hummed along with their life within; a peek of stars up above the leafy roof reminded me of what I miss by being a city-dweller. Long we lingered, reluctant to release the bonds of camaraderie.
It’s pure glory out. Just enough sun dappling us through the pines, just enough breeze to soothe, music just loud enough to not overwhelm, just enough company to be pleased yet not burdened, just enough bitter in the beer to savor the smooth.
Sunday in the South and all is well and fine and just enough.
Last week I headed down to Wilmington with my youngest daughter–I’d had such a hankering to go down and finally we had a day warm enough to allow for walking around. Every time I cross the bridge over the Cape Fear River and see Wilmy glistening and beckoning in the sun, my soul heaves a sigh–it is such a beautiful little city and my love for it has never diminished.
First on our agenda was to return to my former neighborhood and poke around. The railings on the front porch of my house had been changed, but I was happy to see the house well-cared for and tended. We walked over to my favorite cemetery and enjoyed the history and headstone names and Spanish moss dripping before heading downtown.
How much changes in a mere nine months! We drove by what had been an empty lot on one of the sketchier streets I used to pass along on the nineteen block walk from my house to the riverfront; now a gas station was under construction. I was pleased by that, but dismayed to discover that one of my favorite downtown eateries had shut down. I have fond memories of appetizers and fine beer while perched out on their miniature two-person balconies overlooking the water, the sun beating down on us as we ate. Today the water is being chopped by the still brisk spring wind. I’m watching the small boats fight it, the passengers’ heads damn near snapped off their bobble necks as the boats slam down off of each crest.
I’m melancholy that the restaurant is gone and ponder how life moves on with or without us. Even as I sit here and write, the world exists in Málaga, in Lisbon, in Panama City without my eyes to witness. Each world that I inhabited for a brief time continues in my absence.
I’ve attended two silent retreats in Durham. It is not hyperbole to report that the experience has been life changing; my self-awareness and faith deepened immeasurably during those reflective periods of quiet introspection and silent worship. One of the activities we joined in as participants were periods of quiet companionship. The leader of the retreat charmingly likened it to a family gathered in front of the hearth, each busy with their own activity and yet in peaceful fellowship with the others sitting nearby. One evening during this period, the leader stood and smiled and said, “Come with me.” We all exchanged perplexed and curious glances as we set down our writing pens, books and knitting needles to file outside into the grassy courtyard of the former convent where we were staying. It was late into dusk, that dim, sublime moment before nightfall with velvet blackness save for a tiny glow along the horizon. The leader pointed up without explanation. The sky teamed and swirled with a mass of activity. I thought they were bats…but they were birds: chimney swifts. Our eyes grew wide with wonder and then each person took up their place to observe the spectacle. I laid back into the grass, the fragrance and the slight itch a kiss from my childhood of summer nights playing outside with my brother. As I began to stare into the sky I became mesmerized by the undulations of the swifts. As I sank out into the balmy night air I felt immersed into a microscopic soup of plankton in a bead of ocean water. Around they swirled. Occasionally I could hear the slap and flap of a wing as they dipped and plunged through their mosquito feast. Organized…chaotic…reorganized. I sank deep into the universe as I watched. Then over the course of some minutes they tucked, one by one, into their chimney and we remained behind, awestruck with the empty sky.