Chimes

All day the wind has been in the trees. I am reading next to the window when I look up in anticipation. Another sound barely breaks through the silence: the barest note of the little chimes hanging over the front door, so obscure that the breeze seldom encounters them enough to coax out a little note. After another tentative note, the chimes fall silent.

A bird calls, more loudly than the chimes were, and then the wind in the trees returns. I decide the chimes have given up, or perhaps the breeze does not want to exhaust them; they are so modest and the wind in the trees so strong. I look out the window. The chimes are trembling ever so gently but not enough to emit another sound.

A butterfly careens from bush to tree to flower to shrub, a wild zig-zag course. Perhaps the wind has got hold of it and it cannot stop to test a flower. The butterfly disappears, then whirls back in crazy flight an instant later. The chimes want to make a sound but fall silent. In the foreground, somewhat startling, a bug slowly crosses the window pane.

As a child I grew up with a room of my own but used it only for sleeping because it seemed oppressively uncomfortable, as if it belonged to someone else. Ever since, I have not cared to have a room, and utilize a corner of the house to sit, surrounded by books, with a lamp and with a futon on the floor, my lap as my writing table.

If I am at this spot I can think, read, daydream, wonder, focus, or be empty. But then I am away from the window, missing something. And at the window, I will miss what can be done in the corner. And reading at the window I miss both. And so it is at every spot, every junction, every turn of mind and body. Perhaps that is how the butterfly feels in its zig-zag course, or the chimes when they wonder one moment to make a sound, another not to.

Tree Cave

T. C. McLuhan quotes Stephanie Kaza’s The Attentive Heart: Conversations with Trees, wherein Kaza relates her travels among Pacific Northwest redwood trees. The passages will resonate with those who seek out solitary places:

I am looking for the cave tree, a tree I once encountered by accident. Underneath this large redwood there is a small dirt chamber big enough to stand in. The entrance is easy to miss; the tree looks as solid as any other from a distance. I ache to climb into this secret hollow today and hide from the world of thoughtless violence. I want to go deep into the earth and sit in the roots of a Tall One. I am hungry for the stillness and wisdom of caves.

A related Hermitary entry is “Don McLellan, Humboldt Hermit.”

This sentiment is very close to that expressed by Rilke in the ninth of his “Duino Elegies”:

Why, if this interval of being can be spent serenely
in the form of a laurel, slightly darker than all
other green, with tiny waves on the edges
of every leaf (like the smile of a breeze) –: why then
have to be human — and, escaping from fate,
keep longing for fate? …

Camus and solitude

Writer Albert Camus lived in the thick of politics and ideology in World War II and post-war France and Algeria. Camus’ political point of view was thoughtful and comprehensive but beholden to no party or persuasion. He suffered for his non-conformity — friendless, surrounded by hostile colleagues, mistrusted by those whom he hoped to reconcile. His attempts to develop a unique point of view steering past ideology and refusing inevitability was rooted in his upbringing between the colonial experience, the European colonizer, and a world unreconciled to peace.

From this experience Camus evolved a point of view not so much based on but perhaps hovering around solitude.

Camus’ solitude was certainly not eremitic but social — if that is possible. Like the stranger of his novel by that title, Camus’ solitude is that of one who does not fit the class, culture, or ideas of his peers, nor of those with whom he has much in common — the European intellectuals, the pieds noir of Algeria, the militant and anti-colonial Arabs. Camus is forever alienated by his intelligence, his refusal to compromise, and his sense of history and justice.

Today, when all parties are betrayed, where politics has debased everything, the only thing left for a man is the consciousness of his solitude and his faith in human and individual values.

This sense of solitude is built in part on Nietzsche’s concept of the perspicacious observer of modern times who no longer fits into the categories of society, philosophy, and religion. This observer no longer can play along with the hypocrisy of false values. Yet where to go with this point of view other than unwittingly or unnecessarily alienating others around him or her?

Embraced voluntarily, solitude on this large scale neither shrinks from confronting the world nor does it renounce it altogether. This solitude is militant and engaged. It is a model of solitude uniquely modern, living for the issues of the present, in part because it cannot accept the moral values of the past, represented by spirituality. This is not for everyone. It is a great risk, like all modern or post-modern scenarios. Yet in the case of Camus’ politics and social views it has a firm grounding in ethical values, and has a great potential for those who are without faith but who still “believe.”

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Technicalities:

Here are a few entries unrelated to the subject matter of “Hermit’s Thatch” but having to do with the structure and design of the journal, for anyone who is interested.