The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 10: A Contemplative Life
The forecast in the Arctic for novel feathers was discouraging. My local source in Hammerfest said all was quiet save for gulls and crows; I don’t get excited for gulls or crows. Returning from teaching one afternoon I thought I spied a small raft of diminutive ducks in the harbor. A quick retooling and I was walking the harbor promenade when I saw an odd loner, my catch of the week. Satisfied. In Nordkjosbotn I saw either Parus palustris or Parus montanus. Oh so close to claiming the latter, I am so close to certainty…but, close to certainty isn’t good enough.
New birds: one
Teist (Cepphus grylle)
A Contemplative Life
“On the road again
Goin’ places that I’ve never been
Seein’ things that I may never see again
And I can’t wait to get on the road again”
Being on the road, riding the rails, and plying the currents of the skies, is to be a Roving Scholar. Also, to be a Rover is to be somewhat exhausted, the travel connections, the new hotels and the new pillows, the same breakfasts…all are the glories and grind of travel.
An unadvertised element of these job has been time to think. Without a car, I am a rider, a passenger, someone who waits. Be it waiting at a bus stop or airport gate, waiting to arrive, or just my hotel room, I wait. I wait a lot in Norway. And time to wait is time to think, if you let it.
As a luddite there are some tech habits I resist more than others. One is going about in public with earbuds or headphones. I just hate it, I think it looks ridiculous, as if one is plugged into a troubling messaging system that is delivering instructions from afar. Two it’s dangerous because you can’t hear cars or people overtaking you, to say nothing of the fact that you can’t hear the birds.
Instead of tuning in, I tune out. And when I tune out I get to hear something precious: my own internal voice, my conscious. Travel has made this possible in ways I’ve haven’t experienced before, not to this degree. Being able to tune out because of travel compliments my go to method for tuning out, running. Accordingly I have been able to do a lot of thinking in Norway. Sometimes I even get to think about thinking.
This thinking about thinking (people in education like to use the term “metacognition” here, generally the one big impressive sounding word they can get away with using) got me to wonder about how our ancestors thought as they lived. They lived out of doors and interfaced with the natural world so much more than our sealed building and cars permit. Were they all big thinkers?
A woman at her cabin loom, attending to a familiar pattern, she hears the wind without the walls, the groans and creaks of the trees. What did she think?
Sitting but not resting, watching but not looking, the collier may have been the ultimate philosopher. His thoughts smoldered like his work, energy transforming and emanating from a central core.
So many other jobs, so much other work, lost work that were handmaidens to contemplation. I don’t envy their poverty. Would they pity my modern distractions?
I run to think. And on lonely roads my footfalls quickly fade, replaced by the sounds of nature and my own internal dialogue. Maybe a live action brain scan could show me actually having a conversation.
“What animal tracks are those?” “A hare, but why would it cross here?” “No clue, though they lead towards that mountain.”
“The stratum of that mountain reveals its thrust and displacement from the level.” “Yeah, but wouldn’t it be cool to climb?” “There are a lot of mountains in Afghanistan.” “Hmm, when will they have peace in those mountains?”
And so it goes. A small sensory detail or stimulate flows and winds, curls and blooms into new thoughts and topics, paths of logic and discourse I never would have imagined. But because I had the time/space to think, it did.
In week 10 I got to a lot of time to think. My time engaged in travel was sufficient for a post of its own. Fortunately I was able to match the contemplative time engaged in fossil-fueled transportation with meaningful runs in the deep fjord. I might be ready to make a claim that the deep fjords are the most thoughtful spots. But such a declaration will have to wait until my travels are done. Until then I will keep my senses open for the offering of nature and the blessings of a contemplative life.
Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.