Silence is topical in my ecosystem*. I am reading about silence, thinking about it, seeking it, observing it, and, sometimes, dwelling in it.
Silence, as I know it, or as I desire it, is neither complete nor profound. It is simply stillness, calm, and quiet, dappled with distant bird song, the gentle ticking of a kitchen clock, and little sighs of pleasure from a resting dog. When I can rest fully in this silence, I am content. But those resting periods are rare and often elusive.
With Christmas hurtling towards me (or is it the other way round? :D), I feel a deep need to capture more silence ; to hold it tighter as a buffer against the maelstrom of noise and nonsense which swirls in with the silly season. Yet to capture the small, transitory silences dotted around me is hard.
What can I do to gather in the silence? Create a silence-catcher akin to a dream-catcher?
I read “Praying” by Mary Oliver.
It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
Her words fill me with hope. There is a doorway into a wondrous silence. There is no need to catch or harvest or grasp silence. I need only open the door, slowly and gently.
This Advent I will do just that. Silence, plentiful and peaceful, will be my Advent quest.
Will you join me? Each day, as part of my quest, I hope to post a daily image from my place of silence. Please note the word “hope”. 🙂
As well as my images, you may also enjoy the blog posts linked below. They inspire me to think about silence.
Postscript: ecosystem* I am amused by the current/catchword overuse of this word. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to play with it.
I like to recycle calendars. My friend and photographer, David Dobbs, made the featured calendar in 2017. I have added a fresh December page to the December image. I keep this calendar in my bedroom. I will eventually make a few entries on it but mostly I will leave it bare to remind me that each day is a blank canvas to fill, or not, as I choose. I have David’s 2018 calendar in the kitchen. That calendar is cluttered with appointments and reminders!
There is a perennial vegetable plant in my garden which has an unusual flower; unusual to me, that is.
The first time I saw this flower was on this day in 2013.
I picked it and took a photo of it, as it reclined elegantly upon a favourite plate of mine.
Since 2013, the plant has continued to grow and flourish, and provide us with delicious nourishment. But not a single flower was produced until earlier this week, almost 5 years to the day from the first flowering. And this time, there was not one flower, but two. I was surprised to see them.
I picked them, arranged them in a vase with some foliage, and photographed them.
Now here is the question. Do you know to which plant these strange flowers belong?
Keen gardeners will know, I am sure, and they will also know the possible reasons for the plant’s flowering schedule.
But, if you are not a gardener, and/or are curious and eager to know the origin of these flowers, take a peek here .
Are you surprised by what you read in the linked post?
I have said this before and I am happy to say it again. I am in awe of people who can remember their past, particularly their childhood past, in high-definition clarity. I see and hear my past through flickering scenes of snowy noise, crackling static, fragmented pixels, and faulty signals. Occasionally, I am able to focus on what seems to be a clear, defined, image, yet when I try to hold it, to still it in a frame , this is what happens: a split screen of alternative possibilities.
Frame One: Dinner with Nana
peas boil, custard bakes,
leg of lamb on stove top rests,
roasted juices, pink.
“Bloody meat,” sighs Nana Maud.
we grin, dinner not done yet.
Frame Two: Dinner with Nana
The peas are boiling, the custard bakes,
gravy, silky and peppery, simmers and plops.
Nana, pinny-wrapped, and double-bent, is busy’
with sharp-pronged fork, testing the mid-day roast.
She pierces the bubbles of crisp skin
and pearlescent fat, to the bone inside,
and watches, as the juices spurt,
clear and sweet.
“It’s done, ” she declaims, satisfied.
“It’s well-cooked,” she adds, decisive,
“I don’t like bloody mutton.”
No part of sheep would defy that tone.
We grin, we tease, in mock horror.
“Nana! Bloody? Did you say bloody?”
Intent on serving dinner hot,
blind to childish nonsense, she huffs,
“No, no, of course, I didn’t, but
I don’t like bloody meat.”
We giggle quietly into plates, bountiful
with succulent tenderness.
We eat, pudding next,
knowing, even then, we would remember
the day we pretended Nana swore.
Which of these pictures , I wonder, is closest to the reality of that day? Sadly, I can no longer say for sure. The editorial hand of time has steadily and stealthily, spliced and resectioned memories which once seemed solid; immutable.
But this much I do know:
Both recollections are faithful to the essence of my grandmother, and the good food, love, and security which were produced in copious quantities in her little, sunny, kitchen.
She was a hard-working person; always busy around the home. She was independent, despite being almost blind in one eye. She was capable, she was small, and she was strong. Chopping kindling wood for her fire and coal range were daily tasks she undertook into an advanced age.
Her cooking was excellent. Every kind of food she gave me, be it boiled chicken, bottled apricot, roast dinner, or pikelet , I remember with pleasure.
And, as for those roasts ~ Nana preferred mutton and hogget to lamb but, whatever cut it was, she didn’t like it rare, or to say it plainly, bloody. On that fact, my memory is 100% clear.
(This post is in memory of Nana Maud who died 42 years ago, today, the first day of spring.)
For a long time Honey Bun lived in dark space in the attic, and no one, least of all Honey Bun’s owner, thought very much about him, for all that she had supposedly loved Honey Bun for 59 years.
One evening, when the Woman was going to bed, her head full of worrisome questions about wills and property ( her father’s and her own), and what to do next, she suddenly had a dreadful thought which made her sit bolt upright and demand of herself, ” What will happen to Honey Bun when I am gone?” This was followed by an even more dreadful thought, “But where is Honey Bun? Where have I kept my sweet little rabbit? ”
The next morning, a foray into the deepest recesses of the attic, revealed Honey Bun tucked away safely in a box with other family toys. The Woman sighed with relief and clutched Honey Bun tightly to her heart. “Honey Bun, how I have missed you,” she whispered into his long, soft ears. Honey Bun, with eyes as brown and kind as ever, looked at the Woman and said not a word. There was no need.
The Woman took Honey Bun downstairs to her bedroom, determined to devise a succession plan for her dear rabbit, now slightly shabby, with tail becoming unsewn, but still with the sweetest, pink-embroidered nose, and still with arms outstretched, as if forever poised for a hug.
Whilst the Woman paced the room and wondered to whom she could entrust her special friend, Honey Bun stared at her, fixedly and gently, and remembered how the Woman was when they had first met, all honey-coloured curls, blue eyes, and soft pink skin. The Woman was older now, shabbier and flabbier, wrinkle-skinned, and grey haired but, in the silence of the attic, Honey Bun had recognized instantly the Woman’s footfall and her whispers. Her essence was as integral to Honey Bun’s being as his own stuffing. Then, as Honey Bun continued to stare, the Woman suddenly stopped pacing. She turned and returned his stare. A small, rueful smile played upon the corners of her mouth, and inside herself she said,” Fancy all this fuss and worry over a toy.” No sooner had the words crossed her mind, than she sensed a shimmer of gentle reproach alighting on her soul. Though feather-light at first, the reproach grew heavier as each hour passed.
By evening the Woman was weary and no closer to finding a new home for Honey Bun than she had been earlier in the day. Weighted down by feelings of unease she went to her bed, where Honey Bun lay patiently waiting the outcome of the Woman’s wonderings. In steadfast faithfulness, Honey Bun had remained exactly where the Woman had left him. He had not moved an inch, just as he had not moved an inch all those years of waiting in the attic.
The Woman smiled at the sight of her long-loved bunny and placed her head next to Honey Bun’s on the pillow. She gazed into Honey Bun’s large, shiny eyes and saw her reflection gazing back at her with intense devotion. Her uneasiness lifted. What had she been thinking? Honey Bun was no toy. Honey Bun was a presence as real as all her years. There was no need to part, to find him a new home. Not yet. They had years ahead of them to share . The Woman carefully tucked Honey Bun under her chin and drifted softly into sleep. Honey Bun was almost too happy to sleep, and so much love stirred in his little, soft heart that it almost burst. But, eventually, Honey Bun, too, fell asleep, pink nose twitching, almost imperceptibly, in the sweetness of his dreams.
“It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
With sincere apologies to The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams! (Can you recognize any words I have transposed from The Velveteen Rabbit?) This post was inspired by The Velveteen Rabbit and by my mother’s love for a newly acquired teddy bear.
The teddy bear is about the size of a new-born baby. The teddy bear is named Betty and has a name tag to prove it. Betty wears a dress. But my mother habitually refers to Betty as ‘he’ and occasionally will look at Betty and remark, with surprise,”Oh, he’s wearing a dress.” Which makes me think that when it comes to love and soft toys, its love, not gender, which prevails. Although I have referred to Honey Bun as a male, in order to be avoid being annoying (linguistically) , Honey Bun has never been exclusively male.
This is a self-indulgent post in which I record my reading list ( read, reading, and to be read); consider how far I have travelled without leaving home; and note very briefly what knowledge, useful or otherwise, I have learned on my literary tour.
It is a post which is the equivalent of an entry I would have made in my version of a commonplace book, more than a decade ago, before the computer stole my soul.
READ (Where I have been; quite far it seems)
What I’ve learned:
Music will out even in the most dreadful of circumstances, hence the establishment of the amazing Afghanistan National Institute of Music
There is a rich tradition of poetry in Ethiopia, which is not well-known outside of Ethiopia. One particular type of scholarly poetry is called q’ene and plays with the double meanings of words. It often introduces words from Ge’ez, the ancient Semitic language from which Amharic derives, now only used in the Ethiopian Orthodox church. So a q’ene will have a surface (wax) interpretation but also a deeper and richer (gold) meaning, giving it the title semenna worq (wax and gold).
Some books choose you. After all what are the chances of reading your life, as it is unfolding, in the first sentence of the first chapter of a book which you selected randomly from a pile of donated books ~”My father is dead and it is raining.” Thus it was on both counts.
Reading about recent earthquakes on my home turf still makes my heart race.
I am a wimp. I would have been a useless pioneer. And it was interesting to realise that a lack of aeroplanes and fossil fuels was never a barrier to travel.
This book is available to us thanks to translation by Jean Anderson, founder of the New Zealand Centre for Literary Translation. To understand each other we need to read each other.
Data collection is nothing new. We have just changed the way we collect it. Before Google and Facebook, there was the Mass Observation project. Mass Observation was founded 75 years ago in 1937 by the South African poet, communist and journalist Charles Madge and two English eccentrics: the filmmaker and polymath Humphrey Jennings and the anthropologist and self-publicist Tom Harrisson. Formed in the aftermath of the abdication crisis, Mass Observation sought to bridge the gap between how the media represented public opinion and what ordinary people actually felt and thought. The Mass Observation Archives are at the University of Sussex.
Cows love to live in family groups and have a rich emotional life, not unlike humans.
Was this the wisest choice of reading material for a Trans-Tasman flight? The book begins “Chapter 1 Dangerous Situation. Right now: imagine dying.” Turns out I can do that in mid-air though it did feel slightly uncomfortable.
I may never understand how different people/groups/races in a country can love their country more deeply and fiercely than they do their fellow man. It’s a strange love that tears a country apart. And Scribbling the Cat is not a good thing to do.
READING (Where I am; in China and New Zealand)
Rewi Alley’s interest in China was piqued by his encounters with the Chinese Labour Corps who worked tirelessly for the Allies during World War One.
To Read Maybe, One Day, Sometime…….. (Where I may go; New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the library)
Wherein I hope to read more excellent essays like ‘ Hours in a Library’ which is the source of this lovely quote about reading lists and notebooks.
If we wish to refresh our memories, let us take down one of those old notebooks which we have all, at one time or another, had a passion for beginning. Most of the pages are blank, it is true; but at the beginning we shall find a certain number very beautifully covered with a strikingly legible handwriting. Here we have written down the names of great writers in their order of merit; here we have copied out fine passages from the classics; here are lists of books to be read; and here, most interesting of all, lists of books that have actually been read, as the reader testifies with some youthful vanity by a dash of red ink. We will quote a list of the books that someone read in a past January at the age of twenty, most of them probably for the first time.
In conclusion: I want to thank my sister-in-law and her sister who keep my bookshelves stocked with a wonderful, eclectic collection of excellent reading material. Without them I wouldn’t have read or travelled very far this year.
I am feeling the winter blues
but let me tell you
about a couple of bright spots in these early days of winter.
First, a gift for me, imagined and crafted by my daughter ~
Second, the arrival of a new battery for my old Panasonic Lumix camera. Arrival? Yes, arrival! One of the quirky aspects of living in a small country which is home to much other quirkiness; read, kiwifruit and kiwis and a pregnant Prime Minister
is that replacement lithium batteries for older model cameras aren’t readily available. They must be ordered and then shipped to New Zealand. My battery, assembled and packaged in Australia, took 8 weeks to reach me. Delivery day to my doorstep was an event; a celebration; an arrival; an eagerly awaited occasion.
No longer am I reliant upon my little mobile phone camera to capture my moods with feeble clarity.
Now, I can focus on finding some light in the gloom.