Friday, April 18, 2014

32 answers

A correspondent thought that the final paragraphs of Wayfaring ought to have more impact. I could see how they might be viewed that way, and tried to do something about it. Perhaps by appending an Afterword? It didn’t feel right to write anything new. I thought of asking the question “What is wayfaring?” and finding answers within the text. So I went through each of the 32 chapters to find quotes which might illuminate what wayfaring has meant to me. The results are below. I don’t think I’d want to read them in any Foreword or Afterword, but they may be of interest to a reader somewhere.

1. “Like a gypsy or an Aborigine, I feel imprisoned within four walls. Outdoors, I’m a player, a participant in—all this, regardless of what this is. I pass a currant-bush and tear off a couple of leaves, to crush them and sniff their distinctive aroma. I can imagine nothing better than to lose myself in this moment. In such ecstasy, I need nothing and no one, not even a house to live in. I could be a tramp, a choiceless beggar. ”

2. “On board I escaped from her at every opportunity, exploring the ship from top to bottom and bow to stern, wriggling unimpeded through doorways and up companion-ladders. The crew would chase me from their deck, but I got kindness from six hundred mother-substitutes. The ship was full of war brides emigrating to join their fiancés. After six weeks on board, I remembered no other life . . .”

3. “My children copy the things I’ve long renounced, ignoring what I say today. I wish I had a politician’s honeyed tongue to set things right, or even a shaman’s magic to alter the past. All those years, I swam against the tide to no good purpose. Now I wish they would not follow in my abjured footsteps. ‘You’ll just have to trust me,’ says my son. He’s right, and I shall also take comfort from the Psalm:
The LORD shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.

4. “. . . here I am on a bus: back present in the world, seeing the whole thing in microcosm. I needed to get out of the house since I seem to stagnate indoors. I don’t want to be embalmed while still alive.”

5. “As I traversed The Rye, a grassy park mainly given over to playing-fields, ideas started fluttering around my head like moths towards lamplight, drawn by my empty and receptive head. The surroundings seemed to offer themselves as modelling-clay, responsive to my passing through. Together, we were eager for new beginnings. What struck me was not the beauty of anything in particular but a perfection inherent in the moment: or perhaps an embrace between subject and object, man and scene.”

6. “I’ve renounced being a full-time idler, professional cloud-gazer, pilgrim of windswept paths. I expect to be commuting into a regular job soon, like workers everywhere.”

7. “The eastern sky glowed golden yesterday morning, over the chimney pots and the tower of All Saints’ Parish Church. I saw the outline of a hundred wheeling birds, swallows I think, gathering for their departure to North Africa. Later as I went walking, some half-denuded shrubs were full of birds chirping and hopping excitedly from branch to branch.”

8. “Over there is a car park, whose attendant, in a yellow reflective vest, checks the authorisations of each arrival. Fortunately, as a pedestrian, I can go there without being stopped. I shall wander, lonely as a cloud, through concrete mazes of the built world. I am uplifted, cleansed by the wind. My spirit swells, as if to express ‘This is my home. It welcomes me.’ What more could one ask?”

9. “The last time I looked down from this airy hill towards Amersham Old Town, laid out in the folds of its valley like Camelot, it made me feel connected to something beyond my own tribe. High places lift the soul. I think of Moses, when he went up the mountain and came down with the Ten Commandments; Nietzsche’s Zarathustra; Gibran’s Prophet. They went up into solitude, received a message, came back down to rejoin the people.”

10. “As I walked the damp darkening fields, I felt glad to discover what Christmas had meant to my ancestors, as if their ghosts were communing with me to tell the tale.”

11. “By some instinct I was drawn to a solitary pilgrimage, on New Year’s Eve, away from the twinkling Christmas tree and our cosy hearth, into the hills beyond the town. Wind and rain came in wild gusts, driving anyone sane indoors. I set off along muddy paths to the sunflower field, planted in spring but left unharvested for pheasant provender in the autumn . . . Last evening the flower heads were blackened, shrivelled, hanging down in terminal despair: no longer tracking the weak winter sun which in any case had set below the rain-clouds. . . .”

12. “I was drawn to this desolate pilgrimage in order to understand the value of home, that shelter of roof and walls. The flickering TV screen was an abomination in mine eyes. Heedless of weather, my heart yearned for the open sky.”

13. “I walk out early on Sunday morning, the streets deserted, washed clean from the rain, the pavements shining wet.”

14. “The idea came to me whilst walking, as most of them do. Not that they start as ideas: more like impulses or feelings. The conversion into words is a mysterious process, none more than yesterday.”

15. “I was working on other mysteries as I walked. Why is the sky enclosed by the rainbow always brighter than the sky outside? Clearly it is a property of light refracted from raindrops, but how can they lighten the sky? Or do they darken the outer sky?”

16. “What’s already started now, and just needs more time, is natural weathering, overgrowing, graffiti, a little vandalization. Then we will have a better harmony of nature, divine and human. Paternalism and teenage rebellion will joust, meet their match and agree to differ.”

17. “My true nature can be trusted to know what to do, so long as I stand on the bedrock of my uniqueness. I remain vulnerable and exposed in this world, but angels protect me. They can be trusted too.”

18. “. . . as soon as I got out the door, open air enveloped me. Its sensual immediacy was unimaginable from indoors: this unspoilt sharp air of dawn, its steady fine drizzle from low clouds that painted the sky with a uniform pallor. . . . Reality is that which cannot be imagined: the thing which impacts our senses directly.”

19. “A thought came in a flash, between two lamp-posts, as the familiar street swivelled before my unregistering eyes and the world went about its business, weaving back and forth, with motorised wheels carrying the ‘well-heeled’ in the thoroughfare, leaving the rest of us, modestly-heeled, on the sidewalk.”

20. “The ground is covered with fresh-fallen leaves. For a moment, I wonder why they appear so poignant, like fresh-fallen snow. I imagine a small child seeing them for the first time; and then a man in the autumn of his life remembering every Fall since he was old enough to walk, especially the first time he noticed the leaves stuck damply to the sidewalk; or dry crackling ones windblown into thick heaps that he shuffled noisily through, holding a parent’s hand. I call him Everyman, and I know that I am he.”

21. “I’m thankful for the sky. It’s still above, always putting on a display, whether it be fantastic cloud-shapes, fathomless blue, dazzling sun or impenetrable night.”

22. “Suppose I am given the rest of my life to do nothing significant, simply to go a-wayfaring, to contemplate existence in places as peaceful as this, and whatever places appear on my route? Then I shall have time enough to discover something, even when I have no idea what I’m looking for.”

23. “Here in the stillness of these woods, with birds echoing across the clearings and strange sounds—clickings, creakings—I pick up quite a different sense of what it is to be human. . . . In writing, I try to be a voice in place of the silence from the others I encounter, or might have done, centuries ago: joggers, workers, peasants, dog walkers, everyone who follows paths in wild places like our ancestors the hunters, or Ötzi the ice¬man; those who touch Nature and let themselves be subsumed in it; yet don’t have the words. I don’t really have words either. They have to be invented.”

24. “Every moment is so full that it’s no sacrifice to let it go. This is life’s bounty. Those who experience a few grains of gold, painfully panned from the river of time, in which it is far outweighed by mud; those are the ones who hang on to life, and yearn for immortality. But those who have seen the infinite in a moment, who see that it’s no mud, but gold and jewels, every bit of it, constantly renewing itself, a kaleidoscope—how could they fear death?”

25. “On this sunny morning in early March, the route I intend to take towards that place is not just some random dotted line on the map, some spontaneous navigation of public footpaths through town and outskirts; but to walk with an hypnotic rhythm, and slip into a mapless dimension.”

26. “So I see that everything is there all the time. All it needs is a quiet presence, and some kind of trigger, for Oneness to be manifest. Or it might never happen in this lifetime. But is this what I am doing in my life, beyond mere survival: to seek little openings to that Eternity whence I came?”

27. “I can’t decide if Heaven consists in this—the world of the senses, including my sore feet—or in the constructed images of my waking dream, hovering a few feet off the ground, with my individual identity blurred and melted into what I perceive. Is it my Heaven to live in a mystical cloud, or to be right here, in the body God gave me? I shan’t choose one way or the other. All I know is, I have touched it. I have touched it in my good times. I have touched it in my worst times. And that’s enough.”

28. “And then I try to communicate in words, and find that more words won’t make it easier. Fewer words are better when the task is to point towards something that can only be felt. It is not my description that will make things clearer to the reader. It can only be the reader’s own journey, which I must not hinder—to an untouched place, an archipelago of imagination.”

29. “I’m on this path. I don’t know how far I’ve been, I don’t know where I am on the map. I hear planes criss-crossing distantly above the fog. I’m on the crest of a slope, looking out on rows of stubble, which bristle in parallel stripes over the curved surface of the fields. The landscape is wild, hardly a human habitation to be seen, yet deeply scored and shaped by human purpose: for example this foot¬path, which goes off in straight lines across the piece with a self-important certainty.”

30. “But in the seventh mile, twenty minutes from regaining sight of the Fox and Hounds pub, an odd idea popped into my head, out of the blue: it’s not a good idea to try too hard. The world is overheated with it—literally. Enough striving, ambition, “pursuit of excellence”. Teachers should stop urging their pupils on. . . . I’m just reporting the thought that came to me in the dappled sunshine, walking back up to Christmas Common, back up that Hollandridge Lane. And since I didn’t know where it came from, I tried to give it meaning and context. Suppose we each did what we found came naturally: sometimes lazy, sometimes driven by the joy of doing what we can do, even indulging it to excess. The standard of living would fall. We would no longer be such slaves to productivity and economic growth. We would gain in personal dignity.”

31. “What I see in these fields, cultivated for two thousand years at least, is effort: by man but also his near and distant relations, the fauna and flora. Impulse precedes effort. For the miracle of life there has to be potential energy. Most of it comes from the sun. Then there has to be purpose, at any rate, that’s what I lightly believe. If you say it was randomness I will not burn your books. Potential energy is there but purpose-driven impulse, I think, is what lets off the brakes so that potential energy turns into kinetic. Or to put it another way, Nature doesn’t fool around in mindless interaction for its own sake.”

32. “While I glanced to the right, still waiting to cross the road, my eye glimpsed a single hair, outside the frame of my glasses, quite blurred. I thus unexpectedly caught sight of me, at least a part of me big enough to carry my DNA, the blueprint of this body. DNA is a special thing. It encapsulates your uniqueness but also your membership of a species. From imagining myself to be someone else, I entered a different dimension, one of agelessness, where time, space and individuality were just constructs. Here was a human being, the thing I call ‘me’, but my consciousness had escaped it to become an observer, feeling a vast respect for that thing, and its membership of something vaster than itself. The experience itself lasted half a second . . .”