I've been reading The Wild Places, by Robert MacFarlane, partly in honor of this month's emphasis on earthcare at church, but mostly because it looked interesting. In beautifully evocative prose, he describes his search for wild places in the United Kingdom, taking us through stories of history and landscape.
One of his first chapters is "Island" which tells of his visit to Ynys Enlli, an island off the coast of the Lleyn Peninsula, one of the remote places where Celtic monks took up residence. I like the glimpse he gives us into the life of the monks:
Much of what we know of the life of the monks of Enlli and places like it, is inferred from the rich literature which they left behind. Their poems speak eloquently of a passionate and precise relationship with nature, and of the blend of receptivity and detachment which characterized their interactions with it. Some of the poems read like jotted lists, or field notes: 'Swarms of bees, beetles, soft music of the world, a gentle humming; brent geese, barnacle geese, shortly before All Hallows, music of the dark wild torrent.' Others record single charmed instants: a blackbird calling from a gorse branch near Belfast Loch, foxes at play in a glade. Marban, a ninth-century hermit who lived in a hut in a fir-grove near Druim Rolach, wrote of the 'wind's voice against a branchy wood on a day of grey cloud.' A nameless monk, responsible for drystone walling on the island of North Rona in the ninth century, stopped his work to write a poem that spoke of the delight he felt at standing on a 'clear headland', looking over the 'smooth strand' to the 'calm sea', and hearing the calls of 'the wondrous birds'. A tenth-century copyist, working in an island monastery, paused long enough to scribble a note in Gaelic beside his Latin text. "Pleasant to me is the glittering of the sun today upon these margins.'
A man after my own heart, that tenth-century monk.
We were back to clouds and snow today, after yesterday's clear sunshine. The sun hadn't come up yet when I went over to the Rec-Fitness Center this morning. For being dark, it was quite light, with snow coming down steadily and holding the light from the campus lighting system. On the ground, the snow shimmered with a zillion shining sparkles, like a cloak of glittering sequins covering the sidewalk and grass. Though that's backwards -- the glittering sequins are like the glistening snow, which has the longer pedigree.
The sparkles twinkled more rapidly as I looked down at my feet, and more slowly further away. And there were still a few random twinkles even when I moved through shadow. Snow catching the ambient light, I assume -- though when I came home again, day had arrived, and the snow was as dull as the clouds overhead. I'll have to ask one of my physicist friends or relations about that one.
My approach to contemplative photography --
Tell about it."
Mary Oliver in "Sometimes"