Early days, but May (so far anyway) can best be described as a hat full of rain... That makes it a perfect time for arranging books in tottering heaps, quaffing endless cups of tea and revisiting anchorages known and loved - it goes almost without saying that the word harbor has been sloshing about in my brain like an old boat this week: a kayak, a canoe, a battered wooden dory or even a "Cape Islander". The color of choice is always red.
Some form or other of this week's word seems to have been around almost 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 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.
On wet days, I find myself thinking of harbors once known and still loved: Rossport and Old Woman Bay (Lake Superior), Peggy's Cove and Port Royal (Nova Scotia), Gooseberry Cove and Ans le Meadoux (Newfoundland), Iqaluit (Baffin Island) and Gjoa Haven (King William Island in the high Arctic). There are Pacific ports of call too: deep water moorings on the coast of Cornwall and the English Channel, remote berths on northern fjords. These days, there is a special bay on Dalhousie Lake around twilight time when bitterns are booming across the water and loons are calling around the point.
Harbors can be vast and noisy with traffic or small and secluded; their waters may be fresh, salty, brackish or somewhere in between; as clear as glass, or reeded and cloudy with sediment. Places on wide oceans or inland seas, winding rivers or heron spiced estuaries - all are peaceful sanctuaries for weathered boats and weary spirits longing to be out of the wind and away from the tidal "toings and froings" of life. Quiet states of mind and liminal spaces all, harbors are not merely the small chambers or coastal inlets suggested by the Middle English origins of the word cove - a good one awakens quiet knowing, a mindful way of being and relating to this world that needs no description or propping up with words and gestures.
We all slip our moorings and head back out to sea at times, and that is just as it should be. Hugging the shores of one's 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 craft) out into deeper waters to meet it. We carry our harbors within us when we go, and they convey peace of mind and stillness wherever we find ourselves.
These 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 harbor somewhere. The craft is weathered and banged up and sorely in need of a paint job, but it's well traveled and truly crafty of disposition, and it longs for one more trip. It had better be firmly tied to its moorings - otherwise it will be off and wandering at the drop of a hat or a hawser. Beyond the harbor lights are mysteries too great to ignore.
04 May, 2012
resting easy in friday rambles