Sunday, August 16, 2009

Square 50: Head space

Square 050

I have been reading Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez, a series of meditative essays published in 1986 about his experiences in the high north latitudes. It was recommended by my friend Rebecca years ago and I have since read several of Lopez's books, some essays and some short fiction, but finally came across a used copy of the book itself on Bloor Street in Toronto recently. The chapters dwell thoughtfully on the landscape, anthropology and biology of the Arctic. The facts are a little dated; the text makes no reference to climate change or how it is threatening species, such as the polar bear, that depend on ice for habitat. But the writer paints timeless, vivid word pictures of an environment few of us will ever visit yet strangely crucial to life on Earth as we know it. He reflects laterally on human perception and consciousness, which makes the reading deeply engrossing.

I am attracted to Lopez because his life work has successfully explored the border between nature writing and fiction, the two genres that appeal to me most as a writer. His language is elegant and eloquent, elucidating a concept of mind transcending the human, seeping into cosmology. He almost persuades me to resume believing in a higher creative consciousness, though he rarely speaks directly to that matter. He demonstrates that Nature is greater than we can ever fathom, and we meddle with it at our peril. I have always believed that, whether or not I believed in a god.

I used to write more frequently in this same vein, but for some years my mind has been too cluttered. This problem became vividly apparent over the past week's vacation while I delved into more pages of this profound tome. I need to make more room for my own thoughts. The peaceful corners of my new apartment invite me to sit, reflect and write. Now I only have to make time for it. It's so easy to become obsessed with the million urgent and necessary matters that clutter a day.

Thursday evening I drove Marian and Kerri home from the cottage to Port Hope, and made the return journey along a quiet and forsaken road. Highway 35 winds through low hills and dense forest. On humid nights, trees along the roadside always shine as if with frost. About midnight a waning moon rose and began to appear periodically through clefts in the landscape, casting silver light across each lake I passed. It was a rich voyage for the senses.

I wanted to derive cogent insight from that motor pilgrimage, but nothing came to mind. All I knew was, I need to start making space in my head again. Maybe we all do. Are you too busy to look for lessons arising from your daily activities? You only are because, like me, you tell yourself so. Or you're so preoccupied you don't even ask the question.

Moonlight stretches along the road before me. The dotted line curves out of sight like the threads of yarn into future squares. I will continue to follow, and see what I find.

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