A Southern Warming
Chapter 1

I'd had enough. We had experienced cold, snow, and more cold. It was turning into the longest winter I could remember. I needed to get out of the state and into a place where I could run around in shorts and a t-shirt. It was to that end that I began looking at a map of the southern United States.

The previous week I had taken off early. It was a sunny day with a sky so blue that you just wanted to dive into it. On a whim, I decided to grab my lawn chair and lay out on the driveway. The banks of snow around me were, in some places, four feet high. The only area barren of snow was my driveway. Otherwise, the landscape around me was white and beautiful.

I put on my jacket and boots. I lay back and closed my eyes. Silence was all around me. Occasionally I would hear an icicle fall as the sun warmed the shingles on my roof. Peace and quiet and a feeling of warmth enveloped me. Despite the fact that it was twenty five degrees outside, I soon found myself drifting off into a warm and womb-like rest.

A passing car woke me from my slumber. "What kind of nut is lying out in the sun", I imagined him thinking. I looked around and noticed that the snow drifts were sparkling. It looked as if someone had sprinkled colored pepper on the mounds of snow. The small flakes of glitter were mostly colored blue and yellow. They twinkled and shimmered and brought an additional dimension of beauty to my range of vision.

That little respite gave me the incentive I needed to plan my trip. I knew that a storm was coming and days similar to what I had enjoyed would become few and far between. I made up my mind; to the ocean I must go.

Work would be picking up soon. The present sounded like a good time to leave. I searched the map for a place that would provide me with the warmth I needed. I had been to Galveston recently, so that was out of the question. Florida was a possibility, except for all the kids. South Carolina kept making its way to the forefront. Charleston looked like a very nice choice.

I informed my employer of my vacation plans and began to gather my gear for the trip. I always placed my camping supplies in one special area. All I really had to do was to load them in the car. I double checked to make sure the poles for the tent were in the bag. I never wanted to make that mistake again.

The next Saturday, I sat in the car and entered my destination into the gps. As I prepared to leave, I heard the sound of birds flying overhead. Cranking my head, I was pleased to see a pair of trumpeter swans making their way over my house. I took that as a good omen for the start of my journey.

As I drove, I would occasionally check my progress. I calculated twenty miles from the odometer readings. It sure seemed like more than that. The next observation yielded thirty seven miles. I began to realize that my trip of thirteen hundred miles was going to take a bit longer than I thought.

I studied the world around me. The city gave way to farmlands and fields. I spotted a group of turkeys, a pair of deer, and a beautiful red fox. The snow covered fields ran on for miles, some displaying drifts that any snowmobiler would love to explore. I became entranced in the world around me. It was at that point when the miles began to fly by.

At one point I drove along a high wall that followed a winding river. Water that had seeped between the rocks had frozen into strips of clear and frosty ribbons. The sun caught the icicles in such a way as to display them in amazing color.

Sparkles and rainbows were everywhere. I wanted to stop and gaze, but there was no place to pull off. At the speed of fifty five miles per hour, I only had a brief glimpse of the frozen scene. Fortunately, it was enough to keep my attention for the next twenty miles.

Further down the road, I noticed the huge blades of a wind turbine rotating in the sky. It didn't take me long to realize that there were many more. The white sleek blades looked very futuristic and impressive. In my creative imagination, I could see them as space robots sweeping across the fields leaving devastation and destruction in their wake.

As I continued along, I started counting how many of the large white objects stood in a row. Doing some quick math, I figured there must be around five hundred units in this massive field. It was by far the largest wind power farm that I had ever come across.

Eventually the sun began to make its way toward the hidden horizon. I had stopped to gas up and was fortunate enough to be able to watch as it dipped slowly below the hills. When it was gone, a flash of colors filled the sky; one last hurrah before the impending darkness.

Somewhere around ten, I began looking for a place to sleep. I never liked the thought of shelling out a pile of money just for a place to close my eyes. All I really needed was to lie down in a clean and quiet place. Most of the signs I saw were for rooms priced around a hundred dollars. I wanted to find a place that was half of that.

Just before I drove through Lexington Kentucky, I saw the sign for a budget motel. From previous trips, I knew they were usually clean and efficient. I called the number from the GPS and learned that there was a room available. It looked like I would have a warm bed for the night after all.

The room turned out to be what you would expect for a cheap hotel. One of the cushions had a dark stain. I put the remote in a clear plastic bag. From what I had read, the remote control was one of the items that contained the most disgusting of germs.

I pulled back the bedspread and looked at the sheets. Seeing no creepy-crawlers, I prepared myself for bed. I had driven almost nine hundred miles and had made good progress. I would finish my trip by the early afternoon of the morrow. I closed my eyes and gradually drifted off to sleep.

I arose early the next morning and headed down to the meeting room for breakfast. A quick look around reminded me that I was not staying at the Hyatt. Would it really have been so difficult for someone to put a little more effort into wiping down the chairs and table? I looked at the plates and figured that they had been run through a dishwasher. The selection of food was sparse, but it would give me a good start for the day.

I watched the news as I ate. The pastry was dry and I ended up eating only a few bites. I filled myself with cereal and an apple. I was pleased when I saw an attractive woman walk into the room. She walked over to the waffle iron and began to pour some batter onto the dimpled surface.

The matronly looking lady monitoring the area immediately walked over to engage the woman.

"The sign states that you must spray the surface before pouring your batter," I heard her say.

"The surface does not always need to be sprayed," the pleasing looking lady retorted.

"Oh yes it does!" came the emphatic reply.

"I am a professional cook and I happen to know how to make a waffle," said the tall slender redhead.

Just then the machine beeped that the waffle was done. The woman opened the device and easily popped out her waffle. With a shrug of her shoulder, she proceeded to move over to the area where the butter and syrup were made available. I headed out of the room before the scene became more tenuous.

I grabbed my bag and headed toward the car. It looked like it would be a nice day. The temperature was already in the fifties. After another stop for gas, I was once again cruising along at a comfortable speed. It was when I arrived at the foothills that the scenery around me began to change. As I climbed higher, I became surrounded by a world of beauty. The ground was still covered with a layer of snow and many of the deciduous trees were just beginning to bud. The evergreen trees provided the greatest amount of foliage.

The lack of foliage resulted in a whole new view to the landscape around me. I was able to see much further and could see various objects that would normally be hidden from view. Cabins and outbuildings were suddenly exposed for my pleasure. Creeks and streams were flowing in abundance. Several times I was moved to pull over and observe a beautiful sight. That brief stop would remain in my mind for the next few miles until it was replaced by another.

I saw another section of wall in which the water had seeped through the rock and had formed ridges of sparkling frozen water. Once again I could find no place to stop. That section of road happened to be on a hairpin turn which had no shoulder. To my chagrin, I was forced to continue on my way.

The Appalachian Mountains provide you with a very picturesque drive. In fact, at one point, I turned off the road when I spotted a sign that informed me that there was a waterfall ahead. The pavement eventually ended and I found myself following a winding road that led down into the valley. It turned out to be a greater distance than I had originally thought. I also found that I needed to drive slower because of the gravel and wet spots on the road. The drive was impressive and I spotted many trees that still contained their large and waxy leaves. I believe they were a variation of a magnolia, but I was not completely sure of my identification.

Just when I thought I would never reach my destination, I viewed a turnout just ahead. Sure enough, I found a sign that pointed toward the falls. I had only taken a few steps on the wooden walkway when the first view of the falls came into my line of vision.

I spotted a large outpouring of water that descended from a considerable height. I would estimate that the falls was about twenty feet wide. A white foamy spray hide portions of the falls and other portions were obstructed by trees.

I continued my walk along the path until I came to the lower pool. The water was a beautiful clear aqua color and the rocks around the falls were lush with foliage. I once again spotted the waxy green leaves in abundance. Moss and fungus covered rocks and dead trees. It was definitely a place to sit back and enjoy.

The wooden walkway continued upward, so I decided to further my short adventure. I eventually arrived on a ledge where the water collected before spilling over into the air. I studied the basin and was amazed at the clarity of the water. I noticed a bridge that led back to the base of another falls.

It was fun having this little scene of wonder to myself. However, for a moment, I did wish I had someone to share it with. I thought of how nice it would be to say, "Isn't that a beautiful sight?" or "Are you enjoying yourself?" Unfortunately, I was soon brought back to the realization that I would just have to enjoy this pleasure on my own.

It had all been my fault. I had realized my error at a point where it had been too late to turn back. I had become so involved with my work that I had forgotten to cherish the woman that I loved. The drive to succeed and the need for recognition had overshadowed my thinking and had resulted in neglecting the needs and dreams that my wife secretly fostered.

I realized too late that the things and possessions that I showered upon her did not make up for the love and tenderness that she desired. We shared a beautiful home and a lovely yard. My wife was able to purchase almost anything that she wanted to decorate our home or adorn herself with. The cars were always new and we had people on the payroll that would tend and care for our possessions.

On a trip out east with her sister, she had met the owner of the Olde Inn where she was staying. The fellow owned a number of other properties and had done most of the planning and decorating of the inn himself. From what I had learned, the place was quite exquisite and had provided them with a cozy stay away from home.

Eventually, my wife had learned that Mike, the owner, had recently divorced. The two women decided to stay a little longer and Mike had kindly allowed them to move to an upgraded suite, all the while keeping their fees at the original price. Gradually, one thing led to another, and the two soon learned that they had many things in common.

As time wore on, my wife had taken several more trips to the area. I wondered briefly why she needed to visit her mother so much. They had never had a close relationship, but I supposed, in my ignorance, that they had finally developed a bond.

It came as a great surprise to me when my wife asked for a divorce. She was reasonable about it and had agreed to a fifty-fifty spit. She wanted to remain friends but she said she needed someone to be there for her. She said she wasn't getting any younger and she wanted to experience life's pleasures before she was no longer able to.

I was shocked. How had I been so blind? I tried to reason with her but it was of no use. Too many years had gone by and too many opportunities had been lost. Before I knew what was happening, the house had been sold, our possessions split, and I found myself alone.

For the next few months, I poured myself into my work. I soon found that the accolades and acknowledgement that I received from my boss were not enough. I eventually quit my job and found employment with one of my good friends. The new job allowed me to take more time off to enjoy the wonderful world around me. I also found I was able to work with my hands and be more creative. This new endeavor began to bring me great joy.

I gradually began to slow down into a richer way of life. I began to see trees, birds, and animals again. I would wake up and smell the freshness of each new day. I was still able to fulfill my quota at work, but now I could pause to run my hand along the grain of the wood and marvel at its beauty.

I had encountered several occasions where I could have had a date. It wasn't that I was averse to women; I just found that I needed some time to adjust my thinking so that it would allow me to appreciate a companion in the appropriate manner. The women had been very attractive and seemed to have pleasant personalities. For whatever reason, I found myself to be uninterested and not willing to put in the effort that a date would require.

So here I was ... at an incredibly scenic spot but with nobody to share it with. I stayed several more moments, enjoying my surroundings, and then headed back to my car before continuing on my trip.

Once in the car, I noticed that the road continued on. I still had some time available, so I decided to follow the unknown path, rather than turn around and retrace my tracks. The hillside was scattered with fallen trees and rocks. The lack of foliage on the trees only added to the depth of view. I eventually came to a rushing creek that stopped my further advancement.

I would now be required to make a decision. Should I press on or turn back? Would my vehicle be able to clear the rocks? Would there be further hazards on ahead?

My curiosity overcame me and I decided to continue on my way. I slowly eased my way into the water and felt the vehicle shift as I moved over the rocks. At one point, I heard a scrapping noise on the bottom of my vehicle. I could only hope that the rock had not punctured an essential part of my Rover.

With a sigh of relief, I found myself on the other shore. I had made it through without any noticeable damage. I stopped at a turnout and inspected the underneath of the vehicle. From what I could tell, it appeared that everything was still intact.

Eventually I came out upon a field of cows. Their brown and white bodies let me know that I was back into some sort of civilization. It was not long after that when I found myself once again following a paved road. My GPS began to register that I was on a named road and it soon re-plotted my line of travel. I had only managed to add a dozen miles to my trip. I knew that the detour had been worth the effort. I soon found myself sailing along at a comfortable speed and enjoying the hills and valleys around me.

The hills turned to fields and then I merged onto a freeway. For the next hundred miles, I would be travelling on a relatively monotonous thoroughfare. I searched the radio for a station that would provide some relief to the boredom. I came across a one that played light rock and soon found myself singing along to some familiar old tunes.

It was hard for me to believe that just a few days earlier I had been snowmobiling. My brother had called me up and asked me to go for a ride. Next thing I knew, I was flying across the frozen tundra on one of his Polaris machines.

A fresh snow had fallen and the news stations had warned it might turn into a blizzard. The wind had blown the snow into drifts up to three feet in height. Hitting one of those drifts would gain you some impressive air time ... then you would land in a pile of soft fluffy snow.

I loved the powder. You could sway back and forth as you sped over it. I also loved to turn in tight circles, spraying up snow as I went. The world that surrounded me was filled with post-card shots. A red barn brightened the frosty scene. A gaggle of turkeys took off when startled by our machines. A bushy tailed coyote, caught in the open by surprise, finally decided in which direction he was going to flee.

We wove our way through deep trails in the woods. We descended high hills and climbed up others. We rode along ridges that provided us with expansive views of the countryside. We crossed over a small creek where someone had piled a couple pallets.

At one point, I hit something hard underneath the snow. I had been traveling at a high rate of speed when it happened. I could feel the machine going air borne on one side and almost lost control. Somehow I was able regain my balance and keep from falling. The incident did give me pause and reminded me to use a little more caution. Just a few days before, a good friend had informed me that he had recently seen eight patients with major snowmobile injuries.

We passed over a section of field where the wind had formed patches of barren frozen ice. As the sun began to set, these patches would give off a shiny reflection. The scene became one of various patterns of glowing wonder. I slowed my speed to take in this new experience.

Passing over a ridge, the sun began to dip into the hills. I stopped my vehicle in order to savor the moment. I knew my brother would circle back when he didn't see me in his wake. The bright orange ball began to change its shape as it slid into the distance. Rays of vibrant color shot upward. The round ball began to flatten into an oval shape.

It only took a little over a minute. A flash of light signaled the passing of the sun. I looked at the layers of light on the horizon. First there was red. That was followed by orange, then a yellow, which was followed by a green, then a blue. I remained in reflection for a few more moments before I once again heard the sound of my brother's machine.

He gave me a quizzical look as I turned on my machine and sped after him. We would need to cover a good distance, in the waning light, before arriving back at his place. It had been a fun time and I had stayed relatively warm. I was definitely ready to put that experience behind and enjoy the warmth of that big ball of fire on some soft sandy beach.

A highway sign informed me that my destination was only a short drive ahead.

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Story tagged with:
Romantic /