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.
Friday, May 22, 2015
resting easy in friday rambles