Friday, November 26, 2021


“You get to where you used to be,
whoever you claim, it's open to interpretation.
Just remember your number and abandon your name,
and hold on to your name
and hold on to your imagination,
oh no no.
Set me free, sleep come free me.”

~ James Taylor, Sleep Come Free Me

It often happens that an acquaintance made from outside this region will say to me, “you get a lot of winter up there; it gets so cold!” That really hasn’t been my experience. My replies tend to be a playful “We get all four seasons, and in full strength.” Indeed, autumn in New England blazes and flames out in a few weeks. When those full-strength seasons transition, changes in light and color are striking enough to draw attention. And observation. From this vantage point, there is as much written as there is photographic witness. The common expression about “falling back” to Standard Time is portrayed as “giving us back” an hour. Fair enough. Who wouldn’t want a 49-hour weekend? But the hours notwithstanding, daylight is briefly sharp and nights are extended. Lately, I hear myself say Good Evening though my watch reads 4 in the afternoon.

Built into my observances and documentation is a persistent insomnia of many years. At least the dark of 9pm and 4am are identical enough for me to imagine additional sleep possibilities. Also persistent are my efforts to redeem the time I have. When I worked full-time as a photographer, I would ordinarily maximize the seasons of extended daylight and warmth for creating imagery, and the more confining months for printing in the darkroom. Occasionally, my wakeful night hours inspired me to explore photographing under very low ambient light.

Remaining in autumn territory, November still has days above the freezing point. The outdoors can certainly be savoured at any time and under any conditions. Admittedly, I do notice myself perching outside as much as possible now, as though having some sort of deadline. Of late, I’ve caught the year’s final days of access to the terraces at the Boston Athenaeum, enjoying the double immersion of inspiring study and fresh air. Appropriating the broadcast ads of retailers: “While supplies last!” The blustery chill is no disturbance at all; outdoor perches do not require masks. There is no overestimating the respite of unplugging. In mid-October, I added an extra meeting for my Philosophy class. We all sat outside amidst the bracing Maine evening air, but fully enjoyed the setting, knowing the next chance to be outdoors won’t be until spring. Now we’re back to Zoom teleconferencing, yet at least with the experience of having gathered in-person in our recent memories. We were like underwater swimmers reveling in the exhilaration of suddenly breathing above the waterline, enjoying full-faced three-dimensional presence. In our commendable group spirit we imagined the outdoor floodlights might have magically become heat lamps. Let the goodness of the tentative present be a sign of greater hope.

Coinciding with the seasonal transition is the prospect of the second pandemic winter. For countless souls, equally countless lives and plans must remain dormant under the burdens of survival. Learning from the joyfully chilled philosophy students, the simplest satisfactions from breathing fresh air and seeing unmuzzled faces provide cause to take stock. Striking, yet humbling. In my own current studies of early-Renaissance thinkers, I make notes of how these scholarly writers always continued their own pursuits of knowledge and self-improvement- often leading to enhanced ways of teaching others. Some of their innovations live on to this day. While reading about the plagues and unrest of the 14th and 15th centuries, it is easy for me to see similarities with this present age. At the same time, the spirit of perseverance is providing a trail for my own sense of direction.

The dormancy of these times comprises the suppression of thwarted launches. It is as dismaying as it is frustrating. Too many things must wait. But dormant life forms outdoors are modeling by demonstration how the ferment of spirit cannot take place without carefully disciplined patience. A short (or long) two years ago, it was far-fetched to give much thought to unfiltered fresh air, not to mention immunization or sustaining employment. Humble matters are exalted, when focal points become those of continuity and survival. During the severest stretches of quarantining, the ability to experience different places- and even see horizons- suddenly became privileges. My background in visual art ever informs me to vary my perspectives. Try to perceive with as much variety as possible. This is often why I’ll vary my writing and photographic tools, for the purpose of syntactical change. Doing this becomes all the more pronounced now, as physical limits during the pandemic have been so prohibitive. Agility in season and out of season is an ancient and colorful biblical phrasing that refers to a person’s conscious readiness to continue pursuing ways to bring goodness to others in all circumstances. Present circumstances, informed by the dormant trees, require both the health of the exterior environment as well as nurture for the roots and inner being, in order to fruitfully grow.