What an enormous privilege it was to be invited to capture some images of a vibrant and wonderfully ‘alive’ book launch for Julie Carter’s RunningThe Red Line on 21 April at The Skiddaw Hotel, Keswick. There’s nothing quite so wonderful as a room full of inspiring and inspired, encouraged and encouraging, charismatic and articulate friends – gathering to celebrate something profoundly rich – and thereby ‘write in light’, creating living poetry in the electrified air.
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A few key dates in William Stafford’s life: born in Kansas in 1914. A conscientious objector in World War II. A man whose habit was to write something daily, who would rise at 4.30am to ‘sit and wait’ for what he knew lay within to be written. His volume West of Your City published by Talisman Press in 1960; Allegiances published by Harper in New York in 1970; the author of over fifty books, he died at his home in Oregon in 1993.
William Stafford thoroughly understood that once we have tasted far streams … / found some limit beyond the waterfall, / a season changes, and we come back, changed …
And therein lies our hope for this old world in our own time and season.
Dreadful elves, goblins, trolls and spiders have always existed. Some of them, some of us too, have sought to be ‘heroes’ – fenced around by their and our own ignorance. It is time for all the heroes to go home.
How then may I and we locate ourselves by the real things / we live by – ?
Perhaps – having tasted – it has always to start with me, with what I now clearly see: that instead of kidding myself it’s my job to change the entire world (whoever I am, whatever my place of birth, gender, skin colour, creed or lack thereof, and wherever on earth I think myself called to be the hero, the unsolicited ‘saviour of the world’) my best contribution to that same world will be to allow seasons and experience to change me.
While strange beliefs whine at the traveler’s ears,
we ordinary beings can cling to the earth and love
where we are, sturdy for common things.
Note sturdy. Not wimps without cogniscence of – or willingness sometimes to act upon – right or wrong. Not people who turn blind eyes to goblins and trolls. Not people who do not grieve, or hope, or offer healing or hospitality, or pray, or live and die. But sturdy. Believing in the possibility of being positively changed. Experienced in the quiet and slow methods and the poetry of seasons.
The songs of small birds fade away
into the bushes after sundown,
the air dry, sweet with goldenrod.
Beside the path, suddenly, bright asters
flare in the dusk. The aged voices
of a few crickets thread the silence.
It is a quiet I love, though my life
too often drives me through it deaf.
Busy with costs and losses, I waste
the time I have to be here—a time
blessed beyond my deserts, as I know,
if only I would keep aware. The leaves
rest in the air, perfectly still.
I would like them to rest in my mind
as still, as simply spaced. As I approach,
the sorrel filly looks up from her grazing,
poised there, light on the slope
as a young apple tree. A week ago
I took her away to sell, and failed
to get my price, and brought her home
again. Now in the quiet I stand
and look at her a long time, glad
to have recovered what is lost
in the exchange of something for money.
What is to be done after a reading of Wendell Berry? A walk outdoors as soon as possible. And if the poem has been feasted upon in early evening then a sunset walk will probably be necessary – with a camera close to expectant hearts.
And so it was … and tonight we did ‘stand / … glad to have recovered what is lost.’ And though these images are written well enough upon the aforementioned hearts, still the photographs, the written record, will remind us, over time, to stand … glad, again and again and again. Awed.
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?
May Sarton, cheerful, reflective, and just back in the US from a happy trip to London, smelled the earth and again took possession of her life there. The very next day she was afflicted by an old trouble, that of believing her life was a chaos!
The affliction is probably chief reason so many love her journals: just like them! – or me.
I want to abide for a moment with the notion of the earth’s scent, and repeatedly taking ‘possession of my life here’. It’s not a once and for all thing. ‘Chaos’ in its many forms is part and parcel of everyone’s life. Great potential rests in our ability, contemplatively and daily, to sense ‘slight lifting of the air’ and come to our senses again, and then again, and again.
Family and friends, and sometimes that quiet old friend the journal, help us to do that.
Teaching people “the most important lesson anyone can ever learn – how to listen to one’s own heart and how to live with heart and mind wide open” has become Dawna Markova’s life work.
It’s a strange thing that many human beings are prepared to listen to almost anybody and anything except our own heart’s instincts. Turning points, whether we like them or not, along with the questions that life inevitably throws up for all of us, can prove to be the liberating cycling superhighway that we’ve all-unknowingly longed for.
Discoveries. Life cycles. The desert’s hidden wells – unexpected kindnesses.