Finding Solace

October 31, 2014

Foggy morning on the Columbia River, Mount Hood looms

Foggy morning on the Columbia River, Mount Hood looms

by William Stafford, from Crossing Unmarked Snow

Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made.  Ask me whether
what I have done is my life.  Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate as made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait.  We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.

Stafford offers some thoughts on the making of this poem, one of those he calls “accepting what comes.”  He says, “We are surrounded by mystery, tremendous things that do not reveal themselves to us.  That river, that world — and our lives — all share the depth and stillness of much more significance than our task, or intentions.  There is a steadiness and somehow a solace in knowing that what is around us so greatly surpasses our human concerns.”

Sunrise over the Columbia River

Sunrise over the Columbia River

Mount Hood

Mount Hood

I do find solace in Stafford’s poem and in my unknowing.  Why am I here?  What does my life mean?  I do not know, perhaps cannot know.  But I accept with gratitude that I am still here trying to figure it out!






Shadows: replica of Stonehenge along the Columbia River near Goldendale, WA

“It is indeed immensely picturesque.  I can fancy sitting all a summer’s day watching its shadows shorten and lengthen again, and drawing a delicious contrast between the world’s duration and the feeble span of individual experience.  There is something in Stonehenge almost reassuring; and if you are disposed to feel that life is rather a superficial matter, and that we soon get to the bottom of things, the immemorial gray pillars may serve to remind you of the enormous background of time.”
— Henry James, 1875

I have not had the privilege of seeing Stonehenge on the Salisbury plain of England, but I hope to get there some day.  In the meantime, I finally visited a life-sized replica of Stonehenge situated along the Columbia River near Goldendale, WA.  This Stonehenge was built after World War I as a memorial to those soldiers from Klickitat County who lost their lives in that Great War.

I was surprised at how small this replica is — in my mind, Stonehenge has always been a grand monument, somewhat larger-than-life.  Washington’s Stonehenge misses some of the mystery of the original ancient and irregular stones.  This replica is a bit too uniformly constructed.  But its location in the arid range along the gorge of the Columbia River is impressive, and I’m glad I finally made the time to see it.

Replica of Stonehenge along the Columbia River

Just a replica, but still impressive

Stonehenge with blue sky

From inside the circle of pillars

Stonehenge with windmill

Posterized effect

View of Mount Hood from Stonehenge







” . . . a taste for the beautiful is most cultivated out of doors, where there is no house and no housekeeper.”
— Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Columbia River sunrise with Mount Hood, 2007

“We have lost the response of the heart to what is presented to the senses.”
— Stephen H. Buhner, The Secret Teachings of Plants:  The Intelligence of the Heart in the Direct Perception of Nature

Thoreau is advocating for experiencing the world directly, without the barriers of intellect, learned responses, or the opinions of art critics, for example.  In today’s world, we accept even more barriers, content to experience nature through the filter of our flat-screen televisions, computer screens, and hand-held devices.  Yes, there are some benefits — by means of the magic of technology, we can see the wildebeest migrations, swimming penguins, erupting volcanoes, etc. — things we would not be exposed to otherwise.  But what have we lost by settling for this filtered view rather than first-hand observations?

Unfortunately, technology makes it far too easy for us to become viewers rather than participants in life.  It feels like work to actually spend some real time outside and open our senses to what nature provides.  We have to remember that the effort is worth it, even though it’s difficult to articulate how being surrounded by beauty actually improves our lives.  I find that resting in beauty is restorative and feeds the soul.  A life without beauty would be barren indeed.

It may be that taking time for beauty — whether natural beauty or created beauty —  is pointless, but still worthwhile.  David Orr offers this point of view in Beautiful & Pointless:  A Guide to Modern Poetry:

“So what are we left with?  Perhaps nothing more than the realization that much of life is devoted to things that in the end don’t matter very much, except to us. . . . I can’t tell you why you should bother to read poems, or to write them; I can only say that if you do choose to give your attention to poetry, as against all the other things you might turn to instead, that choice can be meaningful.  There’s little grandeur in this, maybe, but out of such small, unnecessary devotions is the abundance of our lives sometimes made evident.”

“Mankind will be saved by beauty.”
— Dostoevsky

Season of Mists

October 3, 2009

Foggy morning on the Columbia River

Foggy morning on the Columbia River

“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness…”
     — John Keats

by Carl Sandburg

The fog came
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.