Thursday Tidbits: Into the Past for the Present

This week’s Thursday Tidbits considers the past through the lens of the present, as seen through my recent visit to the American Civil War site of the Battle of Natural Bridge, fought on March 6, 1865.

“To dwell in the here and now does not mean you never think about the past, or responsibly plan for the future. The idea is simply not to allow yourself to get lost in regrets about the past or worries about the future. If you are firmly grounded in the present moment, the past can be an object of inquiry, the object of your mindfulness and concentration. You can attain many insights by looking into the past, but you are still grounded in the present moment.”
~ Thich Nhat Hanh ~


Grounded in the present moment, standing on the invading side of the battle site breastworks, caught up in the radiance of a June morning 148 years later, the breastworks and I overlook a river bend, surrounded by dogwoods. We are the anomalies.

I am conscious of lives long past and I am just as aware that my presence, my literal and figurative footprint, is already mingling among those memories. Such is presence among the past.
Gadsden County Grays 0613

Memory is always tinted, whatever the reason we recall a moment. What comes to us is tinged, softened around the edges, imprecise. No moment ever plays out exactly as it occurred for we are, and it was.

Each moment we have is a one-time shot whose existence is preserved precisely in the past. The mindful inquiry into the past acknowledges the tinted lens, whether it is the close-up of a personal memory or the wide-angle view of history.

So on a radiant June morning, a still life study in green and light, I tread the dew of a battle site. Although trained as a historian, battles and war are not stories that interest me, yet it is history that has brought me here.
Lest We Forget 0613

The old woman whose story I am writing discovered a part of her past that stumped me, and this battle site is as physically close to the old woman’s past as I can get. Her connection to the Civil War recalled my initial discovery of the Battle of Natural Bridge.

When I first moved to Florida, I lived near battle fortifications that local legend associates with the natural bridge battle but history has proven otherwise.  I always found the legend a great story, and after two years of walking by those fortifications on a daily basis, local legend became my version of the battle.

Now, over a decade later, it is not hard to understand how my fondness for the legend worked its way into the old woman’s story. Yet, the legend did not serve her story but history seems to, so far.
Morning at Natural Bridge Battle 0613

As I look across the still waters of the St. Marks River, I am grateful the old woman’s story has brought me to the actual battle site. It has made for a lovely morning and a memory grounded in the present, an object for inquiry again and again.

Also accompanying me that morning and in the writing of this post was Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.” I hope you enjoy the music and the images. Both are worth the status of memory.

Thursday Tidbits are weekly posts that offer choice bits of information to celebrate our oneness with one another through our unique perspectives. It is how we connect, how we have always connected but in the 21st century, the connection is a global one.

10 thoughts on “Thursday Tidbits: Into the Past for the Present

  1. Lovely post. I love the Barber Adagio, and it is interesting to me that your story crosses with history as an anchor or frame or origin…my husband is one of those people who is very interested in battle history, especially Civil War era (we live not too far from Gettysburg). So I have often visited such sites and contemplated, or reflected, or taken in the now of the then in that past-present tension you describe. Good hard work for the writer to engage in!


  2. Here in NZ we have similar battle sites, of similar age – our ‘New Zealand Wars’ raged at precisely the same time as the American Civil War. Not all the sites are remembered or marked; there has been a sad dereliction of our history. Last year I met a doctoral student from the University of Wyoming who was working on policies, here in NZ, to rectify the point..

    I’ve hunted many of these old battle sites out; and always they remain places to pause and think, places to consider – to contemplate and to try to feel the way things were for the people who were there then. And yet, doing so, I remain firmly and consciously also a part of the present; it is simply the mind that travels, and it is the place where one chooses to make that journey that allows this to happen with the greatest effect.

    Barber’s Adagio is a fantastic piece of music, full of emotion; sadness, contemplation.. I first heard it over 25 years ago and it’s never lost its power..A wonderful writing accompaniment.


  3. Karen, the music fits your lovely photos and post. I just restarted it so I could listen to it as I write this comment. A friend of mine (Thomas Larson) has written an entire book about the Adagio for Strings–The Saddest Music Ever Written. I’ve just started the book and so have listened to the piece several times recently.


    1. Glad you enjoyed the post, Cynthia. I am glad to know there is a book written about the Adagio for it is such an expansive piece of music.As I mentioned to Diana, for me the piece is bittersweet but I love the book title. I always enjoy your site for its book recommendations as well the authors’ accounts of their day; your recommendations and provided many enjoyable hours of reading. Thank you so much.


  4. I love the idea of exploring the past while being fully grounded in the present, KM. it is funny how we are lead to different legends, stories, and sites. I believe that our heart leads us to where we need to go in the past and future. I’m interested to see where this journey takes your character and, more importantly, you. {{{Hugs}}} Kozo


    1. I really like the idea of the heart leading us into the past and future, for it is our heart that opens us to the present so, of course, it is the heart that will take us through the past and future. Thank you for that, dear Kozo. This fine old woman is taking me all kinds of places, and I suspect, we’ve just begun.


  5. Adiago for Strings is one of my all time favorite pieces and it complemented the theme of your writing and the pictures perfectly. I am guilty of getting stuck in the “what if” thinking of the future but as always, your post will keep me reminded that it’s fine to visit but no place to live. 🙂 Glad you enjoyed a beautiful morning.


    1. Thanks so much, Stephanie! It was one of “those” mornings, unexpected, and a keeper. As you can tell from the river shot, the humidity was quite high and whether or not I use a flash (sometimes the camera requires it when shooting into darkness, so to speak), I get what I call a “silk over” effect, as it reminds me of a fine netting. Obviously, past wanderings occupy me more than future musings but either way, a little present moment awareness informs both. Again, thank you for all the support you give this blog. It is much appreciated.


  6. A truly beautiful post Karen – I found the expression of the need for the past yet the necessity to avoid regret very personally relevant. It follows on from some discussions we have had already I think. You have expressed it so well (with a little help from your mentors!).
    Barber’s Adagio is one of my absolute favourites yet almost painful to listen to.
    I shall think of this at the weekend when I have a sad family occasion to attend.


    1. Yes, Diana, those previous discussions definitely frame this post for they were such thoughtful comments and ultimately, brought me to this post, along with my mentors, as you say. This novel I am writing is a constant, past-present tension. It seems to bring Barber’s Adagio to me quite often; for me, the Adagio is the epitome of bittersweet. However, that morning at the battle site, the strains surrounded, almost overwhelming me, which was unexpected but the appropriateness of the Adagio was not. The morning will remain an object of inquiry, I suspect.

      As for the weekend, that time did arrive for you. I had wondered; I will think of you.


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