‘The Graceful One.’ We’ve seen every hue and shade over this little island today. Bright sunshine, a column of rain, a rainbow, golden sand, red volcanic rock, the blue and turquoise sea. And at twenty-three degrees today, this is a warm and beautiful place to be.
Just for joy – an occasional series entitled Everyday Art – a little record of some of the beauty I see in the world about me every day. Sometimes this is seen in the art and photography of others. At others the photos or drawings will be of beautiful sights I saw with my own eyes. Everyday Art enriches life daily. I’ll enjoy revisiting it from time to time.
Grand staircases like this one enchant me. But I am also jumping ahead to thoughts of cabins, reading nooks and elegant workspaces.
I wonder how many of us have stories, or could write fiction, centred on particular architectural or other precisely designed detail?
I have often heard of ‘the wonders of the earth unfolding’ and meditated on that graphic imagery. Birds, bees, butterflies, flowers, persons and so on. Today I am sitting on an island that rose from the Atlantic Ocean twenty-five million years ago. A mere 300 years ago it was still unfolding. Over a period of 6 years, a new mountain moonscape was formed as tonnes of molten rock erupted from the bowels of the 4.2 billion years old earth, cooling and settling to become eerily beautiful art-desert. Is that a squirrel? A goat? A hermit? My eyes deceive. These are robust creatures of the earth, unmoved for centuries – until succeeding wonders unfold and call forth psalms of appreciation from little awakenings like mine.
I wonder where I’d begin if I picked up a pencil and set about an account of my life? And how many pencils would I use?
Two things strike me as odd about these thoughts. First, I’d almost certainly type such an account on my Mac. I haven’t written much in pencil since I was a young boy. Second, it seems strange that I’m unsure where I’d begin. Surely ‘the very beginning’?
Perhaps the wondering questions what’s important – yesterday, now, or tomorrow – or all three? I’m not going to answer these oddities here. No profundities are about to pour forth – though I would affirm the great value of being present now.
For now, I record the wondering, content to engage.
We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and to know the place for the first time.
T S Eliot
Four Quartets – Little Gidding
Life’s full of choices! A couple of options opened to me a little while ago. I could catch up on current affairs – checking out the newspapers to see what the world’s politicians and spin doctors are up to – or choose a life-enhancing icon (this world is full of them) to meditate on for fifteen minutes before supper. Either way, I’d pen three words to describe how I felt after the exercise. I chose the latter. I recommend good icons.
I feel great.
A light breeze stirs the wall of architectural mirrors before me. The movement distorts the reflection a bit, so the lines of the hills and the branches of the swaying trees don’t quite meet up where they should. It’s beautiful. Only a reflection of reality’s fullness, but a work of art. Like me. Or you. Tremors distort a little sometimes. Bits don’t quite meet up where they should. There’s more to reality than we reflect at any one time. But we’re art, too. We spend our days and nights among living, breathing, art galleries.
I so wish the United States of America well on this day of Thanksgiving. A photograph of gridlocked traffic on CNN today touched something deep in me. I saw a nation literally queueing up to offer thanks. Now that is great – in the already great nation that is beloved home to favourite writers, poets and journal keepers – Roger Housden, Mary Oliver, Parker Palmer, May Sarton and William Stafford.
Home also to dear and hugely valued friends and teachers – Lori Ferguson, Mimi Krumholz, Ivon Prefontaine (also writers), and the marvellous Wolverson family. I shall remember the Cafe du Monde in New Orleans and a lovely wedding in Covington, Louisiana for the rest of my days, together with a most generous hospitality and grace.
And I look to the day when a happy little group of dreamers assemble in rocking chairs on the sunshine filled deck of Mimi and Andy’s new home. We’ll share grilled cheese, good coffee and the miracle of friendship that has blossomed between people who have never met. We are, truly, connected by more than the eye can see.
That’s what I want to say the biggest “thank you” for today. The immeasurably valued relationships that exist between people who have connected only by way of shared goodwill, or learning, or poetry, or the arts generally, or quiet reflection and contemplation upon the sheer gift and wonder of life. Without them, my life would be poorer. I greet them all, with love – and Thanksgiving.
I have a friend who could render an accurate likeness of tonight’s sunset in watercolour – a gift that leaves me gasping in admiration. But more praiseworthy still is the cyclical event itself. Always present at the very core of the Universe is an artistry that, quite literally, knows no bounds.
Creative possibilities are infinite, and many geographical perspectives afford each of us a unique view of creation’s fine art, never to be seen in quite the same way again. I read today that her peers call a thoughtful blogger I follow ‘Puppy’. I’m long past puppy-likeness but am still stirred by youthful exuberance and delight when I contemplate nature’s glories.
A bibliophile and a lover of words, I also delight in empty new journals of all shapes and sizes. The latter condition probably owes a great deal to the former.
I remember the dry scent of the paper stock room in my primary school more than fifty years ago. The sight of a stack of brand new unmarked exercise books delighted me then, as now. Odd, though, that while my head was full enough of stories, I always wanted to keep a brand new writing book brand new! There was (and is) an instinct for preserving things in me somewhere, together with a distaste for ‘spoiling’ something already beautiful. But such energies conflict – for I also delight in re-reading journal entries years after the writing. A ‘finished’ journal delivers enormous satisfaction and recollection.
Perhaps the psychology is bound with invitation still afforded by blank sheets, where full ones speak of something already done and dusted? Maybe empty journals are a happy call to silence? Or being reminded of long gone days and ways – and the school stock room? But I think blank journals are just plain beautiful too. Do you?
A few days ago I was struck by the Japanese poet Ryokan’s
If we lose something, it is hiding somewhere near us
I was much comforted at the time, and remembered a dear late friend who used to tell me with delight that St Anthony of Padua often provided her with similar assurances! For Ryokan and for Joan I think the basic idea was that one shouldn’t get too wound up about these things, that things have a way of working out – or, better still, turning up.
So I breathed deep and waited for inspiration.
Dear reader, I now joyfully confirm that Ryokan was onto something. And so was Joan. Both encouraged me to walk the paths of peace. And that which was lost was indeed hiding somewhere near us and is now found. All sorts of appreciative images come to mind – the cat with the cream, the dog with the bone, my grand-daughter with cake.
Or a bear like me. Post honey!
Snow topped Fells. Frosted fields. Winter sharpens ancient definition in glorious Lakeland scenery. And every year, noting steaming breath, I marvel at sheep knees and noses withstanding intense cold.
At the Maryport Literary Festival, hosted at the Senhouse Roman Museum where picture windows frame the Solway Firth, I enjoyed a tour de force from Steve Matthews (‘polymath and raconteur’) whose book Lap of Horror tells of early travellers to Borrowdale and Derwentwater.
The genius of the Brontë family came alive in Angela Locke’s illuminating conversation with renowned authority Juliet Barker. Each of Patrick Brontë’s children was shy. Writing became their means to articulate rich inner lives.
A personal and poignant reading by Grevel Lindop, the timbre of whose voice hums in his stanzas before he speaks, brought poetry’s moving power to search depths centre stage.
Echoes of Roman soldiers on the mileforts. Time-travel to walk with early Lakeland tourists. Encouragement to the shy. A great poet’s inspiring to aim high. Solway Firth’s sea and sky. Treasure of a way to spend a winter’s day.
Here is light behind letters that turn into words and sentences and paragraphs and chapters and stories. Expressions of my life – or of yours.
That’s why I write. That’s what brings writers back to blank pages every day. The pursuit of illumination beneath letters.
The light behind letters speaks to me of Creation herself. Darkness and light. Something of light inscribed upon dark. Something dark frames light. One does not exist without the other.
As music needs silence to sound its aliveness, so writers paint dark upon light or light upon dark and know that there is a knowing.
Life behind the letters.
PPP – Poetry, prose, and photography. Three inspiring gifts for which I’m grateful every day. I wouldn’t want to be without any of them. Each shows me something of past, present and future.
Memory, life now, and what may be to come.
Today I am entranced and inspired by this elemental image. A young Buddhist monk, playing as any girl or boy might, in water. I’ve returned to it on and off all day. A bowl of water poured to silver swirl, overflowing and returned to source. Unfathomable tranquillity.
PPP – bedrock for vivacity and contemplation.
A Tom Hanks fan, I’m unsurprised to learn that we share an enthusiasm for typewriters. An Apple fan too, my regard for Mac and iOS aesthetics has roots in much older engineering beauty. The keys in this example invite a typist’s touch. Even in 2016, my words might flow freer by way of clunk, return, whirr and bell.
In all ten directions of the universe …
In all ten directions of the universe,
there is only one truth.
When we see clearly, the great teachings are the same.
What can ever be lost? What can be attained?
If we attain something, it was there from the beginning of time.
If we lose something, it is hiding somewhere near us.
Look: this ball in my pocket:
can you see how priceless it is?
translated from the Japanese
by Stephen Mitchell
If we lose something, it is hiding somewhere near us.
I need only stillness and quiet breath enough to see the pricelessness in what is ‘in my pocket’, my hand, my life, right now. Aware of my heartbeat and that of the universe.
Like Rabindranath Tagore, trying and failing to count stars, I soon lose count of the gifts in my hand. But I have confidence in still further graces ‘hiding somewhere near us’.