Still under the morning sun
Picture perfect day
Bright eye, unflinching
Softness on the edge of flight
Stayed just long enough
A palm for a perch
Bright spots and subdued colours
One fleeting moment
I was filled with a certain sadness when I first read news of Robert Pirsig’s death, the kind of sadness you experience when someone you don’t know, someone who touched your life without knowing it, passes away.
Maybe you are unfamiliar with the name in the title, which would be ok. Maybe you are familiar with what he wrote. Robert Pirsig is the author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which he wrote in the 60s, and was first published in 1974. A friend gave me a copy, convinced that the book would resonate with me; and resonate, it did! I don’t know if I ever thanked that friend… (Note to self: say “Thanks!” to Terry).
The book uses “motorcycle maintenance” only as a metaphor for an in-depth look at life and people, a backdrop for the real story. The bike trip Pirsig took with his son, Chris, takes us from Minnesota to the west coast. I read the book twice and dog-eared many of its pages; it’s something I do. Then I re-read all the dog-eared pages and capture the key messages in a document. Every once in a while, I scan through the document, reminding myself of the author’s ideas that resonated with me. With Zen, I realized that I was a bit of a philosopher, although I’d never venture to write a book about my philosophy. The fact that I was also a motorcycle enthusiast, not a very mechanically-inclined one, I could see myself making that trip. I will read the whole book again…
“…A motorcycle functions in accordance with the laws of reason, and a study of the art of motorcycle maintenance is really a miniature study of the art of rationality itself… the real cycle you are working on is the cycle called yourself.” Pg. 98
Here are some of the messages you would find if you read the pages with bent corners, just to give you an idea:
The truth knocks on the door and you say, “Go away, I’m looking for the truth,” and so it goes away. Puzzling. Pg. 12
You see things vacationing on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other. In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame. On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming. That concrete whizzing by five inches below your foot is the real thing, the same stuff you walk on, it’s right there, so blurred you can’t focus on it, yet you can put your foot down and touch it anytime, and the whole thing, the whole experience, is never removed from immediate consciousness. Pg. 13
Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible and without desire. The reality of your own nature should determine the speed. If you become restless, speed up. If you become winded, slow down. You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion. Then, when you’re no longer thinking ahead, each footstep isn’t just a means to an end but a unique event in itself. This leaf has jagged edges. This rock looks loose. From this place the snow is less visible, even though closer. There are things you should notice right away. To live only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top. Here’s where things grow. Pg. 204
Quality, or its absence, doesn’t reside in either the subject or the object. The real ugliness lies in the relationship between the people who produce the technology and the things they produce, which results in a similar relationship between the people who use the technology and the things they use. […] at the moment of pure Quality perception, at the moment of pure Quality, there is no subject and there is no object. There is only a sense of Quality […] Pg. 290
So the thing to do when working on a motorcycle, as in any other task, is to cultivate the peace of mind which does not separate one’s self from one’s surroundings. When that is done successfully then everything else follows naturally. Peace of mind produces right values, right values produce right thoughts. Right thoughts produce right actions and right actions produce work which will be a material reflection for others to see of the serenity at the center of it all. Pg. 297
If you get a sense that Pirsig’s views were complex, deep, and sometimes confused (or is that confusing?), you’re right. The book takes you along, if you stick with it, and forces you to think about concepts fundamental to life, and to enjoy the journey, which is why I enjoyed it so much. Thank you, Robert Pirsig!
An photo essay on vertical growth, stacking them up as high as we can…
Modern architecture. Shapes, geometry, symmetry, colours, lines of the city: a photographer’s candy store… From far and up close, we never lack for something to look at, to compose, to photograph. But soon enough it all starts to look the same, and losing sight of the forest for the trees becomes inevitable. The wide angle lens is never wide enough. Density and vertical expansion create vertigo. Noise, traffic, crowds moving at a dizzying pace; who has time to slow down? Who even knows to stop, take a breath, look around? We’re too busy.
Thankfully, a little distance provides a welcome relief from the constant din, from the incessant assault on the senses, numbing really. But to stack them up we must, to fit more and more of us in that same sought-after space. Growth is inevitable and must be embraced. Faster, faster, we go… Slower, slower, we get… but where?
Nature, beauty, solitude are my refuge. Where sounds and sights abound, senses are filled, yet where I can find a place just for me. Just to be… To discover… Thankful. Undisturbed. Quiet. Even just for a moment.
The stars are still visible in the lightening sky when I set off for a hike. Passed the floating bridge, I step off the trail into the wild prairie tall grass, shiny with giant drops of dew, and venture closer to the water. The white puffs my breath creates mirror the fog rising from the surface of the lake. The air is still. A bird chirps in the distance. A beaver slaps its tail in the water and swims off, only a few feet from me. A lonely merganser emerges from the fog, drifting. Deepening golden hues announce the imminent sunrise and the clouds shuffle over for a better view. A log—one half on land, the other submerged—provides the only seat I need for this show, just for me…
The sun has climbed high by the time I wake from my hypnotic trance, dazed, awed, enchanted, filled with joy, happy. The camper awakes to the smell of freshly brewed coffee and a smile. Morning. Unstacked. Life is good.
A corollary to Setting of the Sun
It was the time when night would rise from the gray waters of the [Saint-Lawrence] river.
“C’était l’heure où la nuit sortait des eaux grises du fleuve.” Jacques Poulin, Chat Sauvage
We are, well at least I am, creatures of habit. Often, if not always, we see things in the exact same way, and it would take quite a shock for us to think they could be otherwise. Such is the case with sunsets.
We have come to know and describe sunsets as an end—the end of day—likely because of the events that the term conjures, as that time of day when the sun reaches for the horizon, its light dimming, the colours of the sky changing, the night approaching. That time of day could also be know as “night rise;” we could describe dusk with reference to what the night is doing, instead of what the sun is doing…
Colours slowly dissolve, giving way to darkness
Creatures of the night shift about, mostly undetected
Movements become more deliberate, almost tentative
Sounds travel long distances to reach attentive ears
Stars brighten, twinkle, night visions
The black shroud wraps itself around our world
Signalling a time for sleep… Sweet dreams.
I first met ruddy turnstones on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, at the entrance of the Bay of Tampa. From our very first encounter, it was impossible to forget their name (although I didn’t know the name at the time we met) because that is exactly what turnstones do: they turn stones on the beach looking for insects and other little creatures they can eat, quickly moving from one stone to the next, never staying in place for very long.
These two were enjoying the white foam on the shores of Keālia Pond on Maui.
Hey, look over here!
This one looks so familiar.
No, must be elsewhere…
I know I posted a hibiscus photo recently but when it comes to colour and beauty, I thought these deserved their own post.
I approached quietly enough, I thought
Even held my breath
Then I stood at the edge of the water, still
Watching, observing, even admiring
You floated about without a care, but
In an instant you both tipped forward
Holding your breath I assumed
Your behinds pointed to the sky, duck
I see you…