archaeology of solitude

"Guided Missal" by sculptor, Philip Jackson.
“Guided Missal” by sculptor, Philip Jackson.

When I write, I require equal measures of concentration and solitude. Everything I do begins to move into the realm of meditative practice. Baking bread, walking the dog, digging a new bed in the garden. On any given day, these activities can hold vast meaning, and, on truly remarkable days, they bring about a blessed untangling of thoughts in my mind.

2. Heaven – Haven

A nun takes the veil

I have desired to go
Where springs not fail,
To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail
And a few lilies blow.

And I have asked to be
Where no storms come,
Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
And out of the swing of the sea.

– Gerard Manley Hopkins

I often think of this poem before I put pen to paper, the words floating through my memory as a hopeful invocation, a reminder of my choice to write. My first experience of these words was actually through music, in singing Samuel Barber’s brilliant setting in his “Four Songs for Voice and Piano,” op. 13. I’m fortunate to have met the poem that way, as the melody still sits on my breath and in my throat, equal partners with their meaning on the page.

a day's work.
a day’s work.

The other day I chose to dig a new bed in the back garden. As I turned over clods of stubborn weeds and grass, I thought of the careful, meticulous work of archaeologists. I imagined that they must, after a time, come to think of the trowel is an extension of the hand. The difference between stone, pottery, china, glass, wood and metal, eventually becoming more feeling than sight or sound. Their scratching about with tool in hand as sensitive an act as taking their fingernails to the dirt.

These thoughts, of course, slowed down my progress and I soon gave up my shovel and replaced it with a small toothy hand tool and a simple trowel. By turns I pulled up roots and glass, medicine bottles and bits of china, and even a battered old fountain pen. Useful things? Long ago, yes. And in a different way, maybe more so now.

All in all, a good day’s work.

As I return to my solitude, to find the melodies of words, and to go about a slow, mindful dig for whatever it is I’m supposed to find, I’ll leave you with this.






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