Friday, May 22, 2015
This month has been unseasonably cool and rainy, so days and days have been spent indoors, working our way through the Scarlatti keyboard sonatas, reading and rearranging books in tottering heaps, quaffing endless cups of Darjeeling. They have also been grand for revisiting past journeys, and for some reason, the word harbor has been sloshing about in my noggin like an old boat: a kayak perhaps, a canoe, a battered wooden dory or a "Cape Islander". In my mind's eye, the crafts float serenely on untroubled waters, and even their reflections convey ease and contentment.
Some form or other of this week's word seems to have been around since the beginning times, and its origins say something powerful about our collective longing for home, the need for safe moorings and a gentle place to drop anchor now and again. Harbor hails from the Middle English hereberge, thence from the Old English herebeorg (here meaning army or host and beorg meaning refuge or shelter). There is kinship with the Old English beorgan and Old Norse herbergi, both meaning to save or preserve something. In later usage, harbor came to mean marine lodgings, a place of shelter for ships and other watery conveyances. The here- part of the Old English compound form goes all the way back to the Proto Indo-European root koro meaning war.
I think about harbors known once and loved still: Rossport and Old Woman Bay on Lake Superior, Peggy's Cove and Port Royal in Nova Scotia, Gooseberry Cove and Ans le Meadoux in Newfoundland. There are remembered ports of call much farther away, deep water moorings along the coast of Cornwall and the English Channel, remote landings on the breathtaking fjords of Norway and Iceland. Closer to home but no less enchanting, there's one hidden bay on Dalhousie Lake where bitterns boom and loons call to each other across the water at twilight.
Harbors may be vast and noisy or small and secluded. Their waters may be fresh, salty, brackish or somewhere in between, as clear as glass, or fringed with cattails and cloudy with sediment. Whether they reside on wide oceans, inland seas, winding rivers or heron spiced estuaries, they are sanctuaries for those who long for a resting place out of the wind, away from the inexorable tides and ceaseless toings and froings of life.
Harbors are liminal spaces and states of mind. They awaken quiet knowing, a way of being truly present in this world that needs no propping up with words and gestures. When we depart, we carry our harbors within us, and they convey peace of mind and stillness wherever we find ourselves in the great wide world.
We slip our moorings and head back out to sea at times, and that is just as it should be for we are curious beings with a taste for exploration and adventure. Hugging the shores of life is all very well, but the Great Mystery makes its home further out, and once in a while we have to paddle our canoes (or other crafts) out into deeper waters to meet it.
In these eldering days, there is a measure of humor and comfort in seeing myself as an old boat drawn up on the rocks or parked in a quiet harbor somewhere. The craft is weathered and banged up and sorely in need of a paint job, but she's well traveled and truly crafty of disposition, and she longs for one more trip. She had better be firmly tied to her moorings - otherwise she will be off and wandering at the drop of a hat or a hawser. Beyond the harbor lights are mysteries too great to ignore.
resting easy in friday rambles
Thursday, May 21, 2015
the weary eidolons of the spirit and your
wayward thoughts at home in the warm and dry.
Bring only your camera and notebook,
yourself, if indeed a self you have or are.
Leave that self somewhere among the
earthy wetness and the old trees.
Sit quietly with the drenched leaves,
these birds, that flowing stream, and
wait for them to speak or sing in the green
and wordless language that you share.
Know there are atomies vast and
teeming with life in everything you see.
Return home at the end of the day,
as a leaf yourself, a stone perhaps, or a star
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
Hoping for a little sunlight and thinking wistfully about blooming waterlilies, she lays hands on her hip waders and her canvas helmet with its arty mosquito netting, then dons her tatty old photographer's vest.
Feeling (albeit briefly) like a hero in an old African movie, perhaps Katherine Hepburn in The African Queen, she potters hopefully off to the beaver pond with a camera slung around her neck and her pockets full of lenses and filters. Spencer, ever a fan of ponds, shorelines, reeds and lovely, dark, squishy mud, potters along at her side. Did I mention that one whole pocket in the vest is full of doggy biscuits?
When we arrive at the pond, there is no sunshine, just drifting, pearly fog, a web of dreaming trees on the far shore, gently rustling reeds and quiet ripples around the toes of my rubber footwear. A single heron is standing at the far end of the pond like a statue, and we can see it vaguely, but the great bird declines to be recorded on a memory card and floats majestically off into the mist. Occasionally, there is the quacking of unseen ducks, the slow lap of beavers swimming somewhere nearby, a sonorous chorus of horn-throated frogs improvising melodies among the reeds, bulrushes, and other watery grasses.
The place is nebulous and ethereal and perfect in every way. Who needs sunlight and waterlilies on such a morning as this? Earlier ponderings about the meaning of life and my relevance in the greater scheme of things simply seem to fall away. Weeks or months or years from now, I will look at the morning's photos and (hopefully) remember how magical this soggy, foggy May morning was.
dog jumps in
(with apologies to Matsuo Basho)
Sunday, May 17, 2015
The size and age of the Cosmos are beyond ordinary human understanding. Lost somewhere between immensity and eternity is our tiny planetary home. In a cosmic perspective, most human concerns seem insignificant, even petty. And yet our species is young and curious and brave and shows much promise. In the last few millennia we have made the most astonishing and unexpected discoveries about the Cosmos and our place within it, explorations that are exhilarating to consider. They remind us that humans have evolved to wonder, that understanding is a joy, that knowledge is prerequisite to survival. I believe our future depends on how well we know this Cosmos in which we float like a mote of dust in the morning sky.
Carl Sagan, Cosmos
Friday, May 15, 2015
At times this week, we awakened to gray skies and rain beating a staccato rhythm that shunned meter and metronome. A puckish wind capered in the eaves and ruffled leaves in the garden like decks of playing cards. A thousand and one little waterfalls appeared out of nowhere, and limpid, impromptu streams danced their way through village gutters carrying oak leaves, pine needles and fallen crabapple petals. Here and there were precious islands of stillness. Sheltered by overhanging trees, a friend's pond was like glass, its koi hovering almost motionless in the early light with their open mouths like tiny perfect "o"s.
There was water in our garage for an hour or two, and the old Passat rested in a shallow pool until the accumulation gurgled its way down through frantically working drains. When the waters receded, I scooped rust from an old spade into mason jars. Natural iron oxide pigments produce lovely ochres and umbers, and my discovery will be used in various projects during the coming months, possibly on other rainy days.
Claiming my rusty bounty, I remembered that humans have used iron oxides in artistic undertakings as far back as the prehistoric caves of Lascaux - I would be a happy camper indeed if I ever managed to produce something a scrap as vibrant as the Chinese horse.
I thought too about the fact that a heady brew of rust (iron oxides), carbon dioxide and water is where all sentient life begins, and that the Japanese word for rust is sabi (錆) as in wabi sabi (侘寂), the all enfolding aesthetic or world view centered on notions of transience, simplicity and naturalness or imperfection.
Clouds and rain, then sunshine and blue sky, and now we are back to clouds again. Who knows what the day will hold? If good weather prevails, we will be off into the woods. If not, we will read, listen to a little Rameau on the Bose and drink tea. We will watch raindrops dappling the windows, the painterly way in which trees, little rivers and old wood fences are beaded with moisture and shining in the grey. Each and every raindrop is a minute world teeming with vibrant life, whole universes within looking up at us, great and bumbling creatures that we are. Up and down, in and out, them and us, it's all good.