Monday, October 27, 2014

The old railway to Keswick and wabi sabi

For me old railway lines and canals fascinate me as weaving together of nature and human imagination and I have walked them for over 30 years well before most of them began to be restored.  Now I see them as examples of wabi sabi and as hidden places, sanctuaries able to provide ways for birds and animals to travel and vegetation to flourish free from weedkillers. the line from Keswick weaves between river and bank with not far away the A road which gives the illusion of a flat landscape which one observes rather than a participatory landscape.

Gravel grates underfoot, yellow tiny leaves eddy in autumn sunshine, town sounds give way to an interplay of running river and running traffic. Under the concrete bridge arching overhead the remains of a tunnel buried under earth a patch of darkness, a reminder of so many stories that like the bright green lichen flow along this path, the freight framed in bridge arches that carry us and in bridges and tunnels that frame us.

Old signs lean over in decay, bridges and tunnels, the carved walls of blasted out granite remind the walker that we are strolling on the sweat and work, the oil and steam and coal, steel hammered out in red hot furnaces now with their patina of rust and dew encrusted cobwebs on show to these walkers.

The  old line is set in a modest dress of trees offering a decolletage of soaring fells and flirts with the weaving river singing her watery songs ignoring the proud highway that rushes by. This track is about waiting and movement as trains moved and gave way to each other on this single track we now pause to open gates or step aside for cyclists.

Stopping for water and chocolate to refresh, the coal and water of the walker, as squirrels chase each other across the path and birds sing then fly revealing flashes of blue and yellow. 

We make our own turntable and timetable as the parking meter ticks back in the town near the old platforms now suggesting a fossilized sea wave in mid floe from the iron and steam tide which ebbed from here in 1972.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Walking Poets, Wordsworth and Basho at Grasmere September 2014

Stationary in this car park with rain falling like curtains of gossamer on this autumn Cumbrian Sunday. The bell of Grasmere Church where pilgrims come to venerate the graves of William and Dorothy chimes across the fields of bright grass intersected by jigsaws of stone walls with their mantle of lichen. The rain beats against the window as we step over puddles towards the grey buildings with their grey slate roofs, the home of the Wordsworth Trust and Dove Cottage in England's Lake District.  Above the door a sign for the exhibition, 'Walking Poets, Wordsworth and Basho.

I have been here before, but never like this. At the age of 17 my imagination was ignited by Wordsworth's 'Prelude' and it's descriptions of this sense of the Presence of great mystery, something that I too was experiencing discovered in nature and in daily life, this great luminosity, this sense of being in the Divine Love.

Sitting in zazen Kyoto
Then Basho discovered three years later as a University Student then as now drawn by Zen Buddhism. I was drawn by this 17century prose and hokku poetry account 'The Narrow Road to the Deep North'. I note that this is also the  title of Richard Flanagan's Man Booker novel which I look forward to discovering. Matsuo Basho like Wordworth is an extraordinary walking poet holds for Japanese people the stature of a Shakespeare or Chaucer as well as being a strong influence on Modernist poetry.  There are times just for myself when I compose haiku poems to capture and express an experience.

I have been here before, we have been to this place visiting Dove Cottage, the home of Dorothy and William where they welcomed Coleridge and others and have sat in meditation in Kyoto temples visited by Basho but we have never been here before in the sense of two visionaries brought into dialogue.

Walking around the galleries we contemplated letters and texts by Wordsworth and his friends and manuscripts and drawings by Basho together with many contemporary art works, interpretations, installations and music inspired by a literary dialogue between the two poets separated by a century, by culture, by geographical distance. Soon the exhibition was filled by many Japanese visitors and others and we flowed around each other making our own discoveries at this encounter, this imaginary dialogue, worlds brought together a sense of universality.

There is a sense of loneliness and exile here in these walking poets a homesickness and a longing. Basho calling himself a weather exposed skeleton  with the sore wind blowing through his heart. His poetry does not resile from the ugliness of life or of the bloodshed and death in the uneasy peace of  17 th century Japan already experiencing visitors from the west. Wordsworth and Coleridge moved by injustice and wanting to awake citizens not to a narrow world denying religion, not to sentimentalism but to a generous affirming spirituality, promoting not pessimism, but courage and hope,  all of which we need to live fully today.

Stepping step back into the English rain our mind on coffee and the hope that if the rain clears we might pull on our boots to walk a Cumbrian fell or two.

I feel as if I have been to a good church service, discovering, contemplating, conversing and re imagining. I'm seeing afresh beyond the superficial which is where faith and spirituality begin and return to be refreshed at the well so that as I walk my week insights translate into action and into question.

I must cultivate wonder, seeing the burning bush in daily life, the great mountain that questions my hubris with its immense brooding presence. I must dialogue with my inner apathy, my inner fear, that feeding on opinion, that participating in our national conversation of meanness and resentment.  My spirituality must be nourished so that I can speak not from a book but from an inner experience of the presence of the great Love as a walking poet.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Kingfisher seen at Grange in Borrowdale.

The curtain of rain opens momentarily, and amid the stippled surface of the living river I glimpse you the only stationary, still and silent presence in this theatre of water surveying the ever changing boundaries of your Kingdom.

My movement may have released you from your task for like an arrow exploding into movement released from the bow like stick now swaying with emptiness you take an electric blue trajectory across the water suddenly swerving to rest further upstream, the arrow of out reaching wings withdrawn by your side in repose.

Kingfisher you are an elusive monarch on whom few human eyes may rest these days in a noisy well frequented Lake District. Yet beyond my sharply drawn breath a silence is released within me to join with the spirit of this serpentine river now singing to the drumbeat of the stinging rain as it shapes this autumn torrent.

Soon I will draw apart on my own chosen trajectory but if you look into my eyes there may still be a track of electric Kingfisher blue seen when my soul is silent in the
turbulence the wounded fisher king made whole again.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Geese seen from Borrowdale

This cool autumn morning, the white painted walls of this farmhouse seem to be sinking into the rich soil, weighed down by three centuries of human stories and   by an invitation to be still beside the mirror like water of this beck winding between shoals of pebbles.

The sun has cut the mountains into sharp patterns and the shadows suggest a breathing landscape. Against the pale bright blue sky suddenly breaking the silence, a skein of geese so high in the sky that they are like a  pencil line drawn on virgin paper.I think of an invisible hand sketching them them as they cross my vision, this conceit seems satisfying.  Their wild  echo around the open hands of the valley reminding me of my smallness against the extravagant extent of their flying formation flung across empty sky.
 Even through they are an interruption to the clearness of the sky they add to its wildness and emptiness. Surrounding cultivation and earth bound walkers is a wildness which these exultant geese define for me a visitor, a transient in this place but generally in life

I am suddenly more energized and the weight of sleep seems to slide from my shoulders bleary eyes clear again. These geese cross my vision like the blink of a great eye.

Silent places

Follow this link to a beautiful slideshow about the new Carmelite monastery in Liverpool UK. It seems to be a building that is crafted to cultivate an inner silence of the heart in an austere beautiful and timeless way. I hope the nuns as they create this new community in a new building which preserves an enclosure but is open and welcoming to guests find blessing and encounter with the way of silent Love.