No Devices

Yesterday, I took in the Biltmore Estate.

I had several hours to spend in the morning and I had made a new resolution to walk each day before I write.  I still have 5 months left on my twelve-month pass, so I decided to walk the grounds and gardens.  However, I decided before I got there that I would not take pictures, nor would I take notes for future writings; I would look, observe, and experience.  (The image, above, is from a previous visit.)

I don’t know if I have ever done anything more difficult in my life.

It was a foggy, damp Monday morning in February; I was practically the only guest there.  With the top and windows down on my little blue wonder car, I crept along the drive into the estate; the engine barely whispered at 1000 rpm in second gear…the speedometer needle never lifted.  I moved so slowly that I could hear the water in the brook beside the road…a brook I had never noticed before.  There were brick and wooden buildings, homes up off the road, never before seen by me.  It was cloudy.  I looked up through the trees and watched the lace go by.  I looked down beside the road and saw large colored blocky rocks (yellow ochre, burnt sienna, and black) and massive vines encircling trunks.

Any cars (there were two) that came up behind me were motioned to go around.  At the curve marked 5 mph, I would have had to speed up.  I didn’t.

The painful part was that there were so so many wonderful images begging to be captured.  I had to promise myself that I would come back next February on a foggy Monday morning.  There were no people or cars to interfere with any pictures I would have taken.  The few people who were there, were quiet, except for a young mother softly talking to her bestrollered child and a middle-aged couple who apparently were getting to know each other because they talked constantly, pointing things out to each other and telling each other stories and facts about this and that.  I didn’t mind their talking; it is their world, too.  Besides, they didn’t have cell phones or cameras out, either, and that made it even more okay.


I refrained from reading labels, signs, marquees, price tags, maps.  (I did not buy the turquoise hat…or the black one, either.)  I was not anti-social; I said good morning to guests, tour guides, shuttle drivers, and men using heavy equipment to re-situate rocks that had washed out of place during the recent heavy rains.  I even silently mouthed “good morning,” when silence seemed appropriate.  (I did, however, think the woman in the fluorescent orange jacket that reappeared around every corner should have been roped and dragged from the estate…but I took several breaths and let it go.)

Thousands of snowdrops mimicking the drooping leaves of the rhododendron.  Millions of robins, barely noticeable, feeding in the fields that lay fallow.  The geese, usually in large flocks, now paired off along the edges of the lagoon; one goose calling for everyone else to stay away.

Water droplets lined up like little sentinels along a bare witch-hazel branch.

Naturally-occurring paisley patterns in granite steps that held small puddles and cups of water.

Try as I might, I could not stop thinking.  My intention was to just look.  Observe.  be.   But, I kept making mental, verbal notes…composing what I would write in this essay.

Ferns curling up from the sides of a vertical rock wall.  Leafless vines winding and intermingling horizontally in mathematical patterns. Blossom-less rose gardens.  Empty planters.

winter still.

Quiet.  A single bird sang.  Another.  Each one, one at a time.  I heard more planes than birds.

Bark-less trees emerging from a single root; wood that looks like olive-wood carvings.  Two purple crocuses.

Words, phrases, descriptions…they would not stop.  I finally came to the end of a vine-wrapped colonnade and stood at the low stone wall at the end.  I looked out over the open brown grass ground, past the copse, to the rank of mountains pale grey blue.  I took deep breaths to quiet my mind.

and looked.

I looked to the right  along the wall   to the one large tree with arced limbs held in praise.  (a perfect picture. shut-up…breathe.)  I looked some more.  and looked. and looked   until I saw a smaller tree in full bronze leaf    beyond    placed just so,  to draw my eye farther on.


I looked left    breathed     looked to see along the trees lined up beside the dirt track trail.  looking up…the upper limbs and branches veered slightly left from prevailing winds over time.

Looking center.  looking  looking  as if appearing one at a time, single trees  some still held their leaves  some didn’t   drew me along as if moving through a chess board, right then left  deeper still   toward the copse.

Something drew my eye.  500, 600 feet away, deep within the trees, slight movement.  I waited  breathed  waited  a deer lifted its head ever so quickly    and then down again.  (God smiled.)

Breathing, quieter now, I walked on.


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