Girl From Goat Pasture Road

Musings of Susan Swicegood Boswell



Totality, 2017

“I hope I’m not in you guys’ way…” I offered, rather insincerely I’ll admit. An hour earlier, I had surveyed the lay of the land, staked my claim in a sparse grassy area by placing my singular folding chair in my strategically-chosen location for eclipse-watching: in plain sight of the swamp, facing the open the open sky above the parking area at the edge of the woods. Now, there was a large SUV parked nearby, two young couples traipsing about and an assortment of camera equipment strewn around the ground in front of me.

Oh, and did I mention one of the guys was juggling?

“You’ll not bother me as long as my breathing fire won’t bother you, ” he said, and climbed atop the automobile.


I left home at 6:30 AM bound for central South Carolina, the sweet spot on the east coast for one of the best views of this rare phenomenon. When I began thinking last week about viewing the eclipse, I knew that I would not want to experience this once in a lifetime eclipse in a crowded city with a lot of noise and light pollution. I have enough of that every day. I also did not want to travel down the busy I-85/95 corridor from North to South Carolina on major highways due to the anticipated traffic.

Thank God my husband Perry is still “old school” when it comes to navigation. He pulled an old SC/ NC map from the dashboard of his car and handed it to me. With a pencil and ruler, I drew a straight diagonal line from slightly north of Greenville across the state of South Carolina to Georgetown and examined my options. The line of totality. Squelching my eyes, I focused in on a rather barren -looking area in the middle of nowhere, southeast of Columbia. “Manchester State Forest,” I read. There should be a lot of nature there around a state forest, I reasoned. Below that was the Santee National Wildlife Refuge, Poinsett Park and even further south, Lake Marion. I circled my destination in pencil and wrote out the directions in longhand, should my GPS fail me.


This morning, traffic was surprisingly light and I made good time driving thru the rolling Sandhills. In this unfamiliar territory on roads not travelled, I stopped to photograph a large water tower boasting “Alligator Water”, filled my gas tank at the local country store and shopped at a few quirky statuary roadside stands. Oh, and I purchased two really cool, really large metal goats for my back yard.

As I neared my destination, just across from the state forest, a tall wire fence on the opposite side of the road announced “Danger! Keep Out!” Yikes! It was a huge USAF gunnery range. How had I missed that on the map? It looked like- and probably had been- bombed. This area didn’t look very natural, attractive or safe. Still, I turned the car right into the entry to the Manchester State Forest. A mile or so down the long dirt road, I encountered some other folks awaiting their own view of the eclipse. At the of a barren rolling field, they had set up tarps and beach umbrellas for shade in the blazing sun. Ugly stumps poked their heads up around dry, straggly undergrowth. So much for a forest! This was not at all what I had envisioned when I set out looking for nature.

I turned my little car around and ventured further south, towards the water, turning into any number of small state parks and access areas surrounded by the broad expanse of swampland. Eventually, the area became so remote that my GPS stopped working. One turn yielded nothing exciting, then another led me down a long dirt road beside a field. I was enchanted to see hundreds of small yellow butterflies fluttering around and beside my approaching car. At the end of this road, a scenic area of green swampy water with huge protruding cypress expanded before me. Several groups meandered around, loading and unloading their kayaks and fishing boats into the access area. A few other cars were parked in shady spots beneath the trees, lain heavily with Spanish moss. I felt safe enough here. I got out of the car, strolled around a bit and frightened a flock of three egrets who sailed across the swamp in protest.

I parked my car beside a van of two moms and two or three children, unpacked my lunch and prepared to wait the hour and a half or so until the spectacle was to begin.

Shortly thereafter was when I first encountered the fire-eating man, who crawled atop the SUV, repeatedly gulping gallons of a gasoline type substance and literally breathing fire across the air at the sun. I took a photo because I knew someone would thing I was exaggerating. So there!

Turns out, he was a performer and was trying to stage a publicity shot. Well, the sight of one man juggling and the other man perched across the roof of his SUV with all that fire shooting across air laden thick with insects and yellow butterflies and old trees, literally dripping with what was likely highly flammable Spanish Moss unnerved me, just a bit. I moved my chair away from the swamp and closer to my parked car. There, I met a nice couple, David and Valerie. They were from the Raleigh area. David is a “real” Santa Claus; he was even on one of my favorite shows- CBS Sunday Morning- last year when they did an episode about the big Santa Convention in Branson, Missouri. On this day, although he is attempting to be “under cover” dressed literally in camo, it cannot hide his big white beard and well, his “Santa-ness.” A little girl comes up, warily checks him out and her parents ask to take a picture. I chatted David and Valerie up about their recent travels, about our families, about David’s daughter back in Greensboro. Somehow, a phone call came through from her while we were standing there and she face-timed a photo of the skies back in Greensboro. Daunting grey clouds hung heavy over the city. I shook my head. Flying insects swarmed around me and I doused myself with another coat of insect repellent. I was glad to be at the swamp.

Whew! The heat made me drink lots of water. Anxious to get “comfortable” before the big show began, I walked across the parking lot, noticing a sign for a trail that traced the edge of the swamp. I stepped from the clearing cautiously, looking out for poison oak and snakes. I didn’t travel far before the darkness of the swamp enveloped me. No porta toilets here- no sirree. I did my business right there and high- tailed it back to the car.

Back at the boat ramp, a peculiar light was beginning to envelope the swamp… a mixture of dancing light and subtle shadows. I pulled my solar glasses out of my bag and stood in amazement as I gazed up to see the moon slide slowly,  imperceptibly across the sun. After a few minutes, a small bite appeared to be taken out of the sun but that bite slowly grew and grew until all that was left more closely resembled a crescent moon, although it was the sun. I was surprised, even with only that sliver of sun left, that it was still relatively bright.

All of that changed at the moment of “totality”. The very second the moon  stood in front of the sun, the birds and animals from the swamp and surrounding land grew quiet and there was an audible gasp from my fellow observers. At the same time, everyone pulled off our glasses, our welding masks and hat- boxes to discover that in a matter of moments, it had become as dark as night. We stood together awe-struck, gazing in amazement as the outer rim of the suns’ corona flashed white and pulsated around the dark perimeter of the moon. To the right a star- a planet actually – glowed huge in the sky. Everyone, strangers and friends, adults and children, wandered around like dazed zombies, eyes glued heavenward. Even the fire-breather was no match from the brilliant show of the celestial bodies.

It was incredibly beautiful…

It was spiritual.


It was…


Suddenly, a sharp arc of the sun burst forward as if it were being birthed again and we quickly donned our protective eye gear . Like that, it was, within a matter of seconds, another re-creation: darkness, dusk, mid-morning and then daylight. We watched the moon’s exit as the world re-awakened.

I felt really alone for a second, not in a bad way but in a real way, a good way. It’s the kind of thing a person will ultimately need to experience and process (or not) in their own way, in their own spirit. Witnessing such a rare event so intimately-  it occurs to me at that moment, that it’s the kind of thing that is between you and the Holy Spirit, our Maker, the great Creator. You know, right then and there what is real and what it’s about- and it’s all it’s between you and Him. Like it has always been between man and God and beast for thousands and thousands and thousands of years.

Before saying our goodbyes, I chatted a bit more with my new friend Mr. Santa Claus. We shared similar stories of losing our mothers. He shared my lamentations about the growing number of family members and friends who have been either sick or have passed away these last few years. Then, I shared with him one of my recent “A-ha moments”, a tiny nugget of self- discovery…

While walking in the neighborhood this past weekend, I noticed the leaves on the dogwoods had begun to tinge the slightest shade of red. I tensed with dread. Those pretty pink dogwood leaves and their fat red berries are one of the first signs of an approaching autumn, and well… I have never cared much for autumn. Like my mother, I get depressed that time of year. It’s not that I don’t like the changing of the leaves, the cozy sweaters, the warm fires, the pumpkin- flavored drinks at Starbucks… No, I simply cannot enjoy the autumn for the dread of the winter that is sure to follow. In that moment of my walk, however, I realized that none of us are guaranteed a winter, nor a fall for that matter. How foolish of me to live in “dread”.

And in this new moment, standing in the middle of the swamp, with the incessant buzz of the cicadas, sweat dripping down my neck, chatting with Santa Claus as the Fire-eater packed up his gasoline, following my own, unique view of “totality”, I could somehow see- more clearly now- that each day, each moment is there for us to enjoy. To exhale the fire. To find the sacred. To share a smile and most importantly, to continue our dance with divinity, where mortals meet sacred, like the sun and the moon, each, on our own eternal journeys.

Late Frost

 My calendar says that it is spring outside but my azaleas beg to differ. Their profusion of pale pink blossoms have withered, shrunken and brown, due to a late- season frost and bout of cold weather that we all knew to anticipate, but somehow hoped could be spared.

I was not here to witness their destruction. My husband, Perry, calls me “lucky” and jokes how I often manage to be out of town when we have the worst weather. Last week was no different. On the two coldest days in March, when Greensboro’s low temperatures dipped into the 20’s, I was visiting a friend in sunny Miami, where the balmy daytime highs reached the upper 70’s and nighttime lows never dipped below the 60’s.

As the plane circled a few thousand feet above the North Carolina soil during our flight’s take-off and landing, the landscape revealed itself in bleak patches of brown and grey. Spring, when viewed from such lofty aspirations, was nowhere to be found.

Back home, I simply can’t rally myself into wanting to garden this year. My heart is heavy and in a state of mourning over matters much more significant than my frost-bit azaleas. Some of these losses are real and others have yet to occur. I find myself bracing internally for the impact. In the inner sanctum of my heart, I am buckling down the hatches- covering the shrubbery with sheets and raking the mulch up over the exposed roots and tender growth of my soul.

It’s not just me. I don’t have to tell you there is a lot of collective suffering out there. The damage is rampant-  look on Facebook; listen to the news. The cold snap that took my spring blossoms took those of my friends and neighbors, too.

I witnessed that. Saw it from the sky.

Logic and common sense tells me that my worries, that reacting to an impending sense of doom is a waste of good time, that what will be, will be. I simply must get on with that.

I keep thinking if I would just get outside and put my hands in the earth, maybe I’d feel differently, yet I am caught up in my inner turmoil, yet to let the dirt collect beneath my nails. As I make my daily walk from the house to the driveway and back again, I see the persistent signs that indicate life will keep coming at us despite an erratic forecast. Pretty clusters of snow drops congregate by the warmth of the retaining wall; white blossoms cling and fall from our two ancient cherry trees; bright green shoots among the beds of perennials poke their heads from the mulch, curious. The weeds and hellebores, on the other hand, are quite resistant; they live in outright denial and laugh at the cold. Like some people, they have simply decided not to give in.

From my vantage point, this morning in my little den, I sit curled up with an afgan strewn across my lap (and a cat overlooking my shoulder) on the vintage sofa my dad purchased for my grandmother in November of 1945, just after he returned from fighting in the South Pacific theatre of World War 2. I’ve been waking up too early these days- too much is on my mind. While the sun has not yet risen, I can hear the birds beginning to sing their songs outside the french doors, excited for the gift of a new day. A few blossoms from my camellias were spared from the cold and I see that Perry has clipped them and placed them on an adjacent table so that spring might find us indoors.

It’s funny, the way things work in life. On these days, when we find ourselves donning jackets and boots in March and April, we must live in a type of suspended belief. The promise of fair weather tomorrow must fight to reveal itself, when our senses would tell us otherwise.

Pets and children innately know how to live in the moment, but for most other living beings, our “nows” are peppered with “yesterdays”.

Memories are one of our greatest gifts but are also the bittersweet reminders of what is no more.

Of all the emotions, grief, in particular, seems to be cumulative. For some folks, a loss is not a single loss. Like a filter, it gathers and hangs on to all the losses that have come before it. Grief keeps score and gathers those losses like stray kittens and locks them down tightly in our hearts. Grief also has its own intuition. Like a trained meteorologist, grief expertly discerns the early warning signs of  change in the weather, that wait for us, just over the horizon. While the condition of PTSD has garnered much attention lately, in regards to our veterans, it is also something that most anyone who has experienced trauma can experience in varying degrees. Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder is a condition which causes us to experience all the side- effects of stress, even when the imminent danger of the threat has long been over.

I’ve heard it said that grief is a hole in our hearts that can never be filled and that we must simply allow our love to grow bigger around it. I know this is true and that God is there, almost exclusively, for that purpose. Like the changing of the seasons, we must be patient. We must forgive the cold snaps. We must remember that our growing season takes time and that grief is simply one portion of the price that we all pay for love.

Post Thanksgiving 2015

atumn leaf

The remains of Thanksgiving dinner are still in the fridge. I cannot will myself to throw away the pumpkins on the front porch and replace them with Christmas garlands and lights. On my walk through the neighborhood yesterday, a balmy golden autumn afternoon that didn’t even require a jacket, car after car passed by me with their Christmas trees tied to the top.

Sure, I know Thanksgiving came late this year and there is already less than four weeks til Christmas but at the risk of sounding like Scrooge, I must  ask myself if that really matters. Do we really need to rush from one holiday to the next?

You couldn’t have paid me to fight the crowds at the Black Friday sales events, which of course begins on Thursday these days. “Consumer spending is down,” I hear on the news. Come on people, our cheeks are still salty from the tears spent mourning the lives lost in recent terrorist attacks in France, the downing of the Russian airliner by ISIS and the refugee crisis in Syria. I am distraught that my fellow Americans might actually elect such a pompous fool as Donald Trump to the White House in the most hostile and politically charged time in the history of the world since World War 2. So, tell me again how is it that we are supposed to give a rat’s ass about US consumer spending statistics?

If living well is the best revenge, the point can be argued whether or not we, as a nation, are indeed living well. According to my financial statements and my employer’s CEO, my little corner of the world in Greensboro North Carolina has yet to fully recover from the 2008 recession. And yet, I treat myself to a $5 Iced Chai Latte at Starbucks and fritter away $200 bucks on a single trip to Costco. By world standards the NY Times reports that the bottom 5% of the US inhabitants are still better off than 68% of the world’s population. Despite the heated discussions in our governmental chambers on our acceptance of Syrian refugees, no one can dispute that life here or practically anywhere would be a great deal better from whence they came. ironically while these people clamor for our shores, more Mexicans are migrating out of our country rather than into it. You wouldn’t know that by listening to discussions on “deporting twenty million illegal immigrants”. Why spend so much energy talking about deporting them when things are so bad here they are now practically deporting themselves?

All these things really tell me is that depending on your vantage point, there are mass discrepancies in people’s perception of reality. The world at large seems to be suffering from a mass lunacy. Things are really great or they are really horrible… I’m just not sure which.

It’s been simultaneously a very difficult and very wonderful year for myself and my family, I hardly know whether to laugh or cry. Our family has lost three pets and two close family members even as we are blessed to gain a daughter-in-law this coming September. On the same day recently I received great news from my friend Cindy that she will be a grandma this spring while another friend called to confide that she’s received a bad mammogram and will be undergoing further tests in the next few weeks. My husband woke me up at 4:30 AM this morning to let me know there is a roof leak in our kitchen.

It’s a hard thing for me to do-  to let things just roll off my shoulder like the water  pouring through my kitchen chandelier. It’s human nature, I believe, in difficult times for us to hold on to life even more tightly. It’s hard to put a lot of trust in the world, I think, even in my husband who has begun practicing navigating me backwards in the “fox trot” . We have begun taking ballroom dance lessons at the local Fred Astair Studios. As we move in a counterclockwise motion around the room, he attempts to dodge a deaf sleeping dog and a stray pair of slippers while according to our instructor, I am not supposed to “look down.”  When Perry fumbles, I take control and he says through clenched teeth (because he’s trying not to lose the beat) “Let ME lead”. I wonder if this re balancing marks a new point in our relationship.

We practice at night in our empty living room that is awaiting new furniture because the cat peed on our furniture. Repeadedly. At the end of my rope, I finally booted her outside several weeks ago. It is still painful to think that we lost her this weekend, not only to a viscous dog attack but even more to my own bad judgement. I just want to say again how sorry I am Nala. Other than peeing and scratching my furniture you were a really good kitty and I never meant you any harm. I think about this, talking to this dead cat, as I spin around my living room.

This is a lie; we are not spinning. It is only the leaves outside that spin and dance, along with the world. You can barely even call what we are doing dancing. Still, I hold my husbands hands lightly, look him straight in the eye  and wait for the count to begin.

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