Sunday Morning

The natural world is not, to me, a fabric of stuff that gleams with revelation of a singular creator god. Those moments in nature that provoke in me a sense of the divine are those in which my attention has unaccountably snagged on something small and transitory – the pattern of hailstones by my feet upon dark earth; a certain cast of light across a hillside through a break in the clouds; the face of a long-eared owl peering out at me from a hawthorn bush – things whose fugitive instances give me an overwhelming sense of how unlikely it is that in the days of my brief life I should be in the right place at the right time and possess sufficient quality of attention to see them at all. When they occur, and they do not occur often, these moments open up a giddying glimpse into the inhuman systems of the world that operate on scales too small and too large and too complex for us to apprehend.

—  Helen Macdonald, Vesper Flights (Grove Press, August 25, 2020)


Photo: Mand. “We had hail one day and I noticed that one hail stone managed to get trapped on a single web strand.”

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

It was over, he said. It was too late, we had dithered too long. Our society had already become too fragmented and dysfunctional for us to fix, in time, the calamitous mistakes we had made. And, in any case, people’s attention remained elusive. Neither season after season of extreme weather events nor the risk of extinction for a million animal species around the world could push environmental destruction to the top of our country’s list of concerns. And how sad, he said, to see so many among the most creative and best-educated classes, those from whom we might have hoped for inventive solutions, instead embracing personal therapies and pseudo-religious practices that promoted detachment, a focus on the moment, acceptance of one’s surroundings as they were, equanimity in the face of worldly cares. (This world is but a shadow, it is a carcass, it is nothing, this world is not real, do not mistake this hallucination for the real world.) Self-care, relieving one’s own everyday anxieties, avoiding stress: these had become some of our society’s highest goals, he said—higher, apparently, than the salvation of society itself. The mindfulness rage was just another distraction, he said. Of course we should be stressed, he said. We should be utterly consumed with dread. Mindful meditation might help a person face drowning with equanimity, but it would do absolutely nothing to right the Titanic, he said. It wasn’t individual efforts to achieve inner peace, it wasn’t a compassionate attitude toward others that might have led to timely preventative action, but rather a collective, fanatical, over-the-top obsession with impending doom. It was useless, the man said, to deny that suffering of immense magnitude lay ahead, or that there’d be any escaping it. How, then, should we live?

Sigrid Nunez, What Are You Going Through: A Novel (Riverhead Books, September 8, 2020)


Notes:

Shut your mouth; open your eyes and ears. Take in what is there.

Meanwhile, on afternoons and on Sundays, Surrey lay open to me. County Down in the holidays and Surrey in the term — it was an excellent contrast. Perhaps, since their beauties were such that even a fool could not force them into competition, this cured me once and for all of the pernicious tendency to compare and to prefer —  an operation that does little good even when we are dealing with works of art and endless harm when we are dealing with nature. Total surrender is the first step toward the fruition of either.  Shut your mouth; open your eyes and ears. Take in what is there and give no thought to what might have been there or what is somewhere else. That can come later, if it must come at all.

— C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (Published in 1955. Describes his life from early childhood in the late 1800s to 1931.)


Daybreak. September 6, 2020. 6:02 am. 63° F. Humidity: 84%. Wind: 4 mph. Gusts: 8 mph. Cloud Cover: 5%. The Cove, Stamford, CT

Walking. With the World all right again…

It’s been a month.  I first wrote about them in a post here: Walking. One Short. From Wing to Wing.

Each morning I look for them, and I just see her.  And the heart sinks a wee bit… Was he hurt? Predators? I shudder to think…

See her above. That’s yesterday morning. Alone. Head down. (And her Head is blurry. That’s not her tears. That’s the idiot photographer who still can’t get it right, but it’s the best shot of her that he had.)

For most of the last 30 days, she’s off on her own on the edges of The Cove, mostly sleeping. Grieving, I’m sure.

So, this morning, I’m off on my walk, expecting a replay.

I’m halfway on my 5-mile loop, and my eyes scan the water for the snow white coat.  [Read more…]

Lightly Child, Lightly

I worked at a falcon-breeding center. In one room were banks of expensive incubators containing falcon eggs. Through the glass, their shells were the mottled browns of walnut, of tea-stains, of onion skins…These were forced-air incubators with eggs on wire racks. We weighed them each day, and as the embryo moved towards hatching, we’d candle them: place them on a light and scribe the outline of the shadow against the bright air-cell with a soft graphite pencil, so that as the days passed the eggshell was ringed with repeated lines that resembled tides or wide-grained wood. But I always left the incubation room feeling unaccountably upset, with a vague disquieting sense of vertigo. It was a familiar emotion I couldn’t quite name. I finally worked out what it was on rainy Sunday afternoon. Leafing through my parents’ albums I found a photograph of me a few days after my birth, a frail and skinny thing, one arm rings with a medical bracelet and bathed in stark electric light. I was in an incubator, for I was exceedingly premature. My twin brother did not survive his birth. And that early loss, followed by weeks of white light lying alone on a blanket in a Perspex box, had done something to me that echoed with a room full of eggs in forced-air boxes, held in moist air and moved by wire. Now I could put a name to the upset I felt. It was loneliness.

That was when I recognised the particular power of eggs to raise questions of human hurt and harm. That was why, I realised, the nests in my childhood collection made me uncomfortable; they reached back to a time in my life when the world was nothing but surviving isolation. And then. And then there was a day. One day when, quite by surprise, I discovered that if I held a falcon egg close to my mouth and made soft clucking noises, a chick that was ready to hatch would call back. And there I stood, in the temperature-controlled room. I spoke through the shell to something that had not yet known light or air, but would soon take in the revealed coil and furl of a west-coast breeze and cloud of a hillside in one easy glide at sixty miles an hour, and spire up on sharp wings to soar high enough to see the distant, glittering Atlantic. I spoke through an egg and wept.

— Helen Macdonald, Vesper Flights (Grove Press, August 25, 2020) 


Notes:

  • Photo: Incubator
  • Post Title & Inspiration: Aldous Huxley: “It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.”

Sunday Morning (So Help Us God)

The Arctic tern has the longest migration of any animal. It flies from the Arctic all the way to the Antarctic, and then back again within a year. This is an extraordinarily long flight for a bird its size. And because the terns live to be thirty or so, the distance they will travel over the course of their lives is the equivalent of flying to the moon and back three times…

(They) ask questions about the birds. How do they know where to go? Why do they fly so far? Why are they the last, why these ones, what makes them luckier than the others? I don’t know the answers, not really, but I do my best and, anyway, it’s not really answers they want, it’s simply remembering what it feels like to love creatures that aren’t human. A nameless sadness, the fading away of the birds. The fading away of the animals. How lonely it will be here, when it’s just us.

Charlotte McConaghy, Migrations: A Novel (Flatiron Books, August 4, 2020)


Photo: Phil Gower of an Arctic Tern

Walking. To Unclenched.

3:50 a.m.

I’m up.

Groggy from Tylenol PM. I stare at the clock, do the math, a whopping 7 hours of uninterrupted sleep.  Whaddya know! 1 day in a row! 

The euphoria burns off quickly. An 8 a.m. appointment weighs heavily. I punch out a few notes for the meeting on my laptop, close the lid, needing at least a full hour to prep for the call.  Unfinished. Unprepared. Anxious. I drag the three horsemen with me as I head out the door.

I’m off.

The Head is not in this game this morning.  That is, my 5-mile walk around Cove Island to start the day. It’s Month 4 of day after day after consecutive day of 90-minute twilight walks. You could have passed on the morning walk, finished your prep to take a load off, but Nooooo. That’s not how you roll.

I’m rushing.  I’m not Here. I’m not There. I’m a bit everywhere. I need to cut my loop short and hurry back.

I tuck the camera away, I’m half way home. I pick up the pace.
[Read more…]

Come on People.

I see them too.  Everywhere. As Marie Fazio explains in recent NYT article. On beaches. Floating in Ocean. In parking lots. On sidewalks. Gloves. Wipes. Kleenex. Masks.  Discarded everywhere. Sickening, really.  Come on People.


Experts say the risk of catching coronavirus from a discarded mask is minimal, but the litter is causing concern for other reasons: Used masks and gloves, which cannot be recycled, pose a problem for the environment.

Disposable masks and gloves aren’t necessarily better or worse than any other kind of litter, according to experts.

Like other waste, a mask could be mistaken for food by wildlife. Or a heavy rain could wash it into a storm drain or a river and eventually the ocean, posing a risk for marine ecosystems.

“It’s quite alarming where these are ending up,” said Gary Stokes, founder of OceansAsia, a marine conservation group. “It’s not just the beaches. We’re getting them out in nature, but also downtown; you see them on the streets, in the gutter, on public transport.”

In February, on a routine trip to the uninhabited Soko Islands off the coast of Hong Kong, Mr. Stokes collected around 70 masks along roughly 100 yards of beach.

“We’ve seen it already with whales and turtles with plastic bags, and with masks it’s the same thing,” he said. “Another piece of trash for the next generation.”

Like drinking bottles, fast-food containers and other plastic material that ends up in the ocean, masks collect algae, attracting small fish that in turn attract larger fish, he said. A dolphin or whale could mistake a mask for food, and the mask could get caught in the animal’s digestive tract, which could result in death.

Over time, plastics in the ocean can break down into smaller particles known as microplastics. Those particles become coated in toxic substances and are eaten or absorbed by marine life and could eventually make their way into human food, experts say.

Around eight million metric tons of plastics enter the ocean annually, according to research, and environmentalists fear that P.P.E. litter, as well as more home delivery packaging, will worsen the situation.

A University College London study found that if everyone in the United Kingdom wore a new disposable mask every day for a year, it would result in 66,000 metric tons of plastic waste, plus 57,000 metric tons of packaging…

~ Marie Fazio, from Your Used Mask Needs to Make It to the Trash Can.  They’re on beaches, in parking lots and on sidewalks. You probably won’t catch the coronavirus from a discarded mask, but the litter poses a risk to the environment. (NY Times, July 25, 2020)

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow: and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either…

If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. If the sunshine is not there, the forest cannot grow. In fact nothing can grow. Even we cannot grow without sunshine. And so, we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper…

And if we continue to look we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper.

And we see the wheat. We know that the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. And the logger’s father and mother are in it too. When we look in this way we see that without all of these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist.

Looking even more deeply, we can see ourselves in this sheet of paper too. This is not difficult to see, because when we look at a sheet of paper, it is par of our perception. Your mind is in here and mine is also. So we can say that everything is in here with this sheet of paper. We cannot point out one thing that is not here — time, space, the earth, the rain, the minerals in the soil, the sunshine, the cloud, the river, the heat. Everything co-exists with this sheet of paper…This sheet of paper is, because everything else is.

—  Thich Nhat Hanh, from “Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life”

 


Photo: Anka Zhuravleva with Head in the Clouds

Sunday Morning

I take hope in every politician’s or economist’s statement that Americans aren’t buying enough; in every student’s reference to “sustainability” or “mindfulness”—terms that weren’t in my college vocabulary… I take hope from the growing number of solitaries and the growing interest in meditation, contemplation, centering prayer. I have faith in the capacity of truth, if brought to light and given time, to win its cause, the capacity of love to win its cause. I place little hope in conventional politics, so invested are mainstream political parties in endless, unsustainable growth, or in conventional religion, with its interest in perpetuating its power. Instead I find hope in love, for one another, for our earth. Those of us invested in love can choose, must choose noncooperation. I buy less; I consume less; I take myself off the grid in the face of efforts to force me to remain on it; I dedicate myself to friendship as my organizing, bedrock relationship; I study and talk about how to become, in fact, a society of friends.

— Fenton JohnsonAt the Center of All Beauty: Solitude and the Creative Life (W. W. Norton & Company, March 10, 2020)


Portrait: Source

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