Tuesday, May 19, 2009


“Thus I comprehended the need for silence;
for in silence alone
does a person’s truth
bind itself together and strike root.
And above all, Time is what most deeply signifies.”

~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Citadelle

With a slice of unstructured time, I have stolen away to savor momentary solitude. Away from confines of controlled environments and distracting dins, and out to a palpable pea-soup fog. Landscape details are under varying gradations of cover. The sea is in the air, and I am outdoors with rainproofed writing material, making sure to draw deep Atlantic breaths. Answering a built-in alarm prompting me to take the first available instant to mark some thoughts, reminds me of how I’ve learned to maintain a continuum of regathering. There’s no gained ground to lose. And if I can possibly subvert the multitasking- smooth as it may be- with the singular simplicity of collecting thoughts, I will. With imaginings turned to words, I can hear myself think. It’s a treat, and since that is so- I carefully choose where I can savor my sliver of silence.

Acting upon the insight to make opportunities to pause is becoming a cultivated instinct for me. It’s now a necessity. I’m not sure if that makes me a writer, though writing every day does sanction daydreaming and notebook-toting. Recently, I’ve more consciously appreciated maintaining a continuum of articulated thoughts. A tall order, considering the schedules I balance- but a worthwhile order. Noting the journey is an understanding of the vitality of thought. Rather than sedentary musing, I try to give purpose to this adventure- even if simply to savor the road. Indeed, the retreats are rare, so I make the most of short increments where I can find them. In so doing, connecting numerous points through constantly varied days, it becomes possible to notice what has transpired and what is presently before me. Listening to the words of others- as well as my own- and many recalled memories; thoughts stand to be lost or gained. Reeling in the scattered words and thoughts, making sense of them, allows me to realize treasures within the ordinary. When scattered ideas are elusively swept up by interruptions and frenetic paces, just about all I can do with a few minutes is note some words and leaf back through previous entries to find earlier threads. That’s usually when I sense the absence of reflective time. It is as though silence calls to a soul. Much as a gas gauge needle can silently rest over the “E,” while to our eyes it is sounding an alarm.

In the patient recognition of time’s passage, we become able to see transition. Noting these words, while aperch on a rock ledge along the ocean, my attention is drawn by tidal movements. The water is gradually encroaching, though its actual progress will be evident in retrospect. Just as now there are traces of where the high tide had been several hours ago. The quality of meditative observation is found in these words of Exupéry, in Citadelle:

“To be able to sit day by day
on the same threshold,
in front of the same tree,
the same branches.
For thus alone, little by little,
does a tree make itself known.”

A nurturing silence, rather than a desolate void, becomes like water which is both indispensable and unlimited by form. It is in recollective repose that my entrenched viewpoints can be challenged. It wearies me to repeat mistakes, and I hope to barter remembrance for wisdom. Past experiences and adventures ought to be worth something. But that is not the place to affix all my musings, neither is it wise to hasten away time. Careful observing gives place for peripheral vision.

This chilled spring mist blends a housepaint sky with swirled ocean air. The elements’ edges are nicely mixed and undefined. And I am able to enjoy this, having climbed out to a place of seclusion. While driving out here- to neither task nor employment- it occurred to me there’s a history of occasional intermezzos through which my thoughts could be collected. Beginning in childhood, I advanced from long walks alone, to bicycle trips, then to subway rides for more long walks- with camera at the ready. The bigger travels followed and continue to this day; though today it’s a visit to familiar sands and crags. It reminds me of things I used to do, similar yet transformed- much as the sky above the ocean. It also causes me to wonder about retaining so many references to sights and sounds by memory. Perhaps that may be owed to a life of photo images- and now managing archives. It seems I live to worlds that are all far away, yet abide in this one with a navigator’s intent. The unifying aspect is a sense of observation. I cannot imagine ceasing this unfolding voyage, despite the enormous patience required. Another photographic parable: consider how greater depth of field demands lengthier durations of exposure. A sharper picture is made possible by extended- yet finer- openness to light.


Unknown said...

Great post. Time is the only way to really know anything or anyone. I love the quote about the tree from Saint-Exupéry. I am reading my class the Little Prince right now. Great book for young and old. Do you have a favorite of his?

speculator said...

Thank you, S.
Saint-Exupéry is one of my favorites, and I read him in (my native) French, as well as English. I love the Carnets, Citadelle, Terre-des-Hommes, and of course the Little Prince.
What level is the class you're teaching?

Unknown said...

My wife and I teach together in a Montessori class. We teach first through third grade together in one class.

The Little Prince has lead to some interesting discussions. I find that kids are not really abstract thinkers until about the middle of third grade. Books like this are fun because the younger ones get a good story while the older ones start to see a little more in it.

I enjoy the philosophical nature of your writing and your photography, but I have to say that there are times that I want you to do a post about your favorite writing instruments/paper. I know it doesn't really matter but the gear junkie in me is always curious.


speculator said...

Thanks very much, Stephen- for your comments and for reading!

That's a request I've had before, regarding the tools of writing. My previous entry was about the enjoyable experience of gathering the materials- though I felt it got away from the reflective purpose of this blog. I use the materials and tools- with great care and respect- but the instruments are the means toward composing with words and images.
However... I'll try something as you suggest; I think it'll be fun.

Anonymous said...

The writing is wonderful and I wonder what the Christ whispers to your heart at these moments. The pictures are also stunning and beckons me to journey with you. Keep on keeping on brother.

Anne said...

The picture of the woods is gorgeous. I love all the green. Here are my favorite lines: "savor my sliver of silence" "realize treasures within the ordinary" and "nurturing silence".

This was lovely. I've always wanted to visit Maine, and through your blog, I feel as if I am actually able to see some of it! Thank you so much!