A Journal of Life Pursued

Archive for the ‘The Examined Life’ Category

11.26.2015, Thanksgiving

In Dogs, Life, The Examined Life on November 26, 2015 at 3:49 pm
Sunrise Pano

Sunrise, Casco Bay

The pummeling started at sunrise. I was in my chair, sipping my coffee. I didn’t see it coming, but who would? At 186,000 miles per second, it’s easy to miss. Then it began, rushing across the frozen vacuum of space, at the speed at light, across the Atlantic, caressing the turning curve of earth, dodging the coastal islands of Maine, zipping across Casco Bay, then–bam!–photons of light crashing against the resistance of my cheek, first a trickle, then a cascade. It does not take long, the earth turning to the warmth like a hungry animal chasing prey. Within minutes the room is filled with light, dancing and spinning, a photon ballet for an audience of one. And the day begins.

If language is the bridge between reality and thought, as Wittgenstein claimed, I was rendered mute on this particular morning. This state of attention without the intrusion of cognition is actually quite pleasant, and one I welcome into meditation practice. It is also a state of presence I experience on occasion while working hard, like hiking in the mountains. I’ve been known to study my dogs to try and discern if this is their natural state. It seems to be the case, dogs being pure beings of presence, at least to my mind.

Why is the firing squad mustered at dawn? Why does the raiding party prepare in darkness to raid the enemy at first light? Of the handful of mountains I’ve climbed, the summit was always saved for sunrise. There is magic in the sound of snow crunched below boot in the twilight before dawn. And of course, vampires must return to the coffin before the sun comes up, or they die. Or so goes the legend. There is something extraordinary about the dawn of a new day no matter how you look at it.

My daughter dated a young man for a while who often slept until noon. I found this an affront on nature and my attitude toward him reflected it. He was a decent guy otherwise, though too often he helped himself to too much of my whisky, a lesser offense.

I’ve written often here about my love of morning, so I apologize if I’ve spent too much time on this subject. But here’s the thing: This ballet of photons has been going on for billions of years. It will continue on in this fashion for, presumably, billions more. That I occasionally participate in this cosmic dance never ceases to amaze me. It is Thanksgiving, and this is one of the things I am grateful for.

Repost: “Elliott, God is my Lord.”

In Photography, The Examined Life, The infinity of ideas on November 21, 2015 at 10:43 am

I’ve been combing through old postings, looking for a few themes, maybe something worthy of expansion. I came across this post from April, 2010. It grabbed me and I thought I’d share it.

* * *

I gave a talk this evening, a talk about photography, to a group of about seventy-five. The talk went well enough, with slides, travel, ideas and stories. The audience was attentive and the presentation seemed well received. Afterward, a man approached me. “Elliott,” he said, extending his hand. “It means, God is my Lord in Hebrew.” I shook his hand. “Doug, dweller by the dark river. Gaelic.” His eyes bugged out. “Man, that’s why you’re a photographer.” I wasn’t sure what he meant by that.

Elliott and I talked for quite a while. He was, what I would call, a natural seer. That is, as he said, he can walk around Back Bay where he lives, “five hundred times and always see something different.” He continued: “I needed a shim, a piece of wood for something I was working on in the house. I went down to the water and picked up a piece of wood, nicely worn down. I held it to the sun a certain way and I could see the ridges in it, all worn smooth.” He was animated. “I took it and scraped it across my face.” He got excited. “It was just a shim, just a piece of wood, but it wasn’t.” I told him that Picasso said that he spent his whole life trying to draw like a child. I continued: “You, Elliott, God is my Lord, have a child’s gift. You see the world as we all want to see it. Fresh.”

Elliott said that my talk made him think about how he viewed the world and that he was excited to put into practice some of the principles and ideas I had talked about. “No, Elliott,” I said to him. “Forget everything I said. Forget it. Don’t think about how you see. It will ruin everything.” He said he was afraid of that, but that he could do it without it being “artificial.” I admonished him. “You walk around the Back Bay five hundred times and every time is new. That is a gift. That is the universe in a grain of sand.” With this he got very excited. “The universe!” he said. “Yes. It’s all about bringing everything together and seeing it whole, as a universe.” I felt as if I was in the presence of a prophet, a seer, a Zen Master. In fact, he had been a teacher. Fifth grade. Retired. “I was a great teacher,” Elliott told me. “Yes,” I said. “I am certain you were.”

Restlessness is a god of liberation.

In Adventure, Life, The Examined Life on November 4, 2015 at 6:31 am

I have no notion where I will be this time next year. This is not a statement of philosophy. I’m not suggesting one of those squishy notions like, We have no inkling what the future holds, or, Embrace today, for tomorrow may never arrive. Nothing like that. It is a simple fact, I have no idea where I will be this time next year. Next spring, Carole and I are moving into our Airstream trailer and will become nomads.

I do not trust most things to be as they appear on the surface. I am not a skeptic nor a cynic, necessarily. I simply know that things are most often more than they appear. On its surface, this is a trip to explore North America. I’ve seen a good bit of the world, but not as much of home as I’d like. We plan to rectify that. It’s not an original idea, the road trip in search of America. The majesty of the purple mountains and all that. Too, I am a traveler. I have been a traveler all of my adult life. This pending road-trip makes sense in that respect. But these seem surface explanations.

I started thinking along these lines when it occurred to me that in 37 years of marriage we have owned and lived in six houses. The longest stay in a single dwelling was not quite ten years, when the kids were little. I have never served in the military, never moved from base to base. Nor did I work for a corporation that sent me hither and yon. Six houses, six moves, all of our own choosing. Spring will be six years in our little place here on the water in Maine. And now we are picking up and going. Again. Packing up our few belongings, renting out our home, and heading out for parts unknown, as Twain referred to such adventures.

Restlessness is a god of liberation. Tucked deep into the twists and turns of our deoxyribonucleic acid is the urge to get up and get going. That is what kept our ancestors on the move, out of Africa to all points north, south, east, and west. Most of us have grown adept at suppressing this urge, myself included. Yet there are tell-tail signs that I’m not completely successful at this suppression business. There is boredom, for instance. Boredom is the road sign you notice on your journey to a quiet ending. If you notice it at all. Liberation, on the other hand, creates a ruckus. Say no to quiet endings.

And then there is repetition. Repetition is the agent that removes what I call our innate peripheral vision. That is, as a young person the world is broad and the horizon expansive. We are born with full peripheral vision. But the very repetition of existence triggers the lessening of that world, the shortening of the horizon. Day-in and day-out becomes the sum view of things. My shit detector begins to beep when this starts to happen, when the edges move in. It appears that it takes six or seven years for me to hear it.

* * *

 I haven’t posted here in over a year. For those of you paying attention, I apologize. I am sorry to have just walked off like that. But as you now know, I have a basic aversion to repetition and I was beginning to repeat myself. And, yes, occasionally I grew bored too. Stay tuned. There is adventure ahead.

Tuesday, 9.2.2014

In Life, The Examined Life on September 2, 2014 at 6:08 am

I live for this time of year, the beginning of fall, the end of summer, my least favorite season. Fall, and behind it, winter, give me permission to be my real self, the self that likes the dark, the cold, and the comfort of the hearth. A few years ago I swiped my inner cheek and sent the sample to a lab. They reported that my DNA concentration rested somewhere in Northern Europe, thirty degrees north longitude or so in Sweden or Norway or some such place. It is highly likely that nationalistic geography wasn’t a factor when my dark ancestors were mixing the blood and semen and sparking the gray matter that would eventually become the stuff of me. That might explain the draw to places dark and cool, if not cold–hence my happiness at the season’s homecoming.

A boat passed under my kitchen window while I prepared dinner last evening. I looked up from my cutting board. According to the stern, the boat’s name was Carpe Diem. Seize the Day–a common admonition among those given to easy motivation. I am by nature suspect of simple perspectives. Of course, seizing the day is better than letting it crash over you mindlessly. But it is more my nature to simply be ready, to be prepared for the day’s presentations as best I am able. That seems the better nature of things. One does not seize the fragile butterfly. 

Aside from my comments above, it has been a good summer. There was time spent in wilderness, not enough perhaps, but sufficient to take the edge off. Too, significant advances were made toward matters of importance: reading, thinking, time spent with people I love, dogs on the run, and breathtaking sunrises. That’s the stuff of the last breath, the stuff I hope will rest with me when all the other stuff turns to ash.




Saturday, 8.9.2014

In The Examined Life, Wisdom on August 9, 2014 at 6:51 pm

The Maine air this evening (6:26pm) is easy and the light the color of honey. There is a wedding going on across the water and I can see the bride adorned in white and sporting tan shoulders and I think on what perfection it (I hope) must feel to be married on such an evening as this. Youth and marriage and an expectant future on a perfect Maine summer evening. Imagine!

I made blueberry jam this morning. That is what I do when the Maine blueberries come in. Two quarts berries yields nine pints. Nine pints of blue perfection to give to friends to spread on morning toast to pair with honey-roasted peanut butter between slices of rustic seeded whole wheat to paste on brie.

Can wisdom exist without tradition I wonder? It was the question that came to me on my morning walk. It was an early walk and the air like this evening was perfect except it was perfect morning rather than perfect evening air. Somewhere between the small hill and dead oak the question presented itself and I have wondered about it since. Wisdom I can’t see detached from tradition and yet I wish it was a thing singular if that makes any sense.

All that is esoteric enough for a night like this. Why spoil such a perfect moment with thinking? (Might a person just experience and appreciate a thing–enough already!)

Sometimes disjointed things come together and it seems that way this evening everything falling into a place and time.

I am sorry for the lack of commas. I just wanted to see what it felt like.




Friday, 7.18.2014

In Life, The Examined Life on July 18, 2014 at 9:38 am

I hurt my back about thirty years ago, then re-injured it ten years ago. If flares up on occasion but mostly I am able to manage the problem. Until yesterday. Now I am flat on my bed watching the reflection of the water below my window dapple the ceiling. That is something, at least.

Sometimes when I am sick, or, like in this case, incapacitated, I attempt to absorb all the discomfort and trouble possible so that when I am well again I will have something to reflect on and be all the more grateful. This works well and is a reminder of how fortunate I am to lead an active life, to have good health, to be able to be up and around and physical. Someday that might not be the case. Should that day come, I want the satisfaction of making due with gratitude.

Lucy, knowing something is amiss, is curled up against my leg. She is a good dog. I have my book and the morning paper, my Pandora station, my computer, and the reflection of the water on the ceiling. This moment will pass, but not without my full attention.