I was online the other day and came across an article by one of my favourite photographers, Rick Braveheart, in which he advises that when you stop to take a photograph you do not simply focus on what is in front of you, but turn around full circle, to see what else is there… to take a moment to simply look. It is a great article for anyone who loves wielding a camera, as are so many on his site, but there is often a deeper view that goes beyond the polished lens of the camera to that of our own, inner lens on the world. On this particular page Rick speaks of practising the art of silence in order to tune into the sense of place. Simple advice, but well worth considering.
When I make the long drive north, I will avoid the motorways when I can and take the backroads. It takes longer, but instead of staying awake with music and avoiding lorries and madmen in the speed of the traffic, I can meander through green fields, watch the seasons turn in the hedgerows and feed my soul with the sight of the hills. Driving through such countryside, I too drive in silence. There is just me, the road and the landscape and that intimacy is a far cry from the fraught tension of town and city.
The land is alive, awakening for me as I drive, and I speak to her, greeting her now familiar faces with word or smile. It isn’t lunacy; there is a communication that is beyond words, as warm as the embrace of a mother. To leave the town behind and find the hills is a homecoming for the heart in me. I cannot put it any other way.
It is the same when we walk the landscape. We talk almost incessantly, Stuart and I, at any other time, there is much to discuss and that itself is a joy. But walking we are often silent. What words are needed after all when the essence of the moment is unique and personal to each of us, even when we share a common vision and love of the land?
The time we spend in the landscape is seldom planned. We make plans, but unless there is a specific need to visit a place for the books, we use those plans merely as a departure point… then see what happens. And things do, if you let them. Magic happens when we listen to the moment; when we accept, in all simplicity, whatever gift that moment offers; open to whatever comes instead of simply taking what we can from it and moving on. It is then that the deer or the harrier hawk appears in the morning mist, or the kite lands close by.
There is a hill on the drive back where I almost inevitably stop the car. There are lay-bys all along that stretch of road as it climbs high above the valley and the world curves away to a distant horizon. In winter I catch the dawn, in summer the morning sun. I have seen it in snow and rain, sunshine and mist, dusted with frost and ablaze with autumn colour; it doesn’t matter what the weather may bring…it is always beautiful. The view takes you, yet, turning around you also see the bleak beauty of the moorlands rising, or the far distant hills of Derbyshire, or the city below that wakes to a new day.
The way we live our lives tend towards this same single focus as we move through the day, dealing first with one thing, then another and I have to wonder how much we miss, both from the world and our fellows, with our concentrated energy tight-beamed to each task, our habits and our routines. Things need to be done, of course, but perhaps awareness can be opened, broadened to encompass more of our environment and those small, almost subliminal signals from those around us that tell us so much.
We speak of a turning in the School too. A moment in our lives when we cease to focus on the surface of the world we know and go deeper, tracing the threads that bind life to life, seeking something that is beyond what we can see, touch or taste, to question who we truly are and what our presence in the world might mean. It comes to all of us, I think, at some point in our lives that we ask these questions within. At these times there can be few better places to begin than to look at the earth with new eyes, to turn around within yourself and see not simply the life that moves across its surface, but to listen for the slow, ancient cadence of the heartbeat of earth.