Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Nooksack Falls painted from memory / The sight of trees / The Solace of Fierce Landscapes

"... The marvels of technology did nothing to impress the Arabs.  They wept, however, at the sight of trees.  These Arab bedouins had never seen a waterfall, a river, a rose.  The only natural world they had ever known was flagrantly stingy with its gifts.  Years of desert attentiveness had trained them to expect only shortfall and subtlety.  Back home, where water was precious, they might walk for days on end in search of a tiny spring, maybe a handful of palms.  So when they stood in a high alpine meadow beside an enormous waterfall in the French Alps, its water roaring out of the mountain in a huge braided column, they had no way of comprehending such lavishness.

'They stood in silence.  Mute, solemn ... gazing at the unfolding of a ceremonial mystery.  That which came roaring out of the belly of the mountain was life itself, was the life-blood of man.  The flow of a single second would have resuscitated whole caravans that, mad with thirst, had pressed on into the eternity of salt lakes and mirages.  Here God was manifesting Himself:  It would not do to turn one's back on Him.' 

(am's note:  This is a quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupery's Wind, Sand and Stars, pp. 138-144, used by Belden C. Lane as he writes about Saint-Exupery's North African desert reflections)

They refused to leave, adamantly declaring to their French guide that honor required their waiting ... waiting for the end.  Knowing the water could not last much longer, they awaited the moment "when God would grow weary of His madness," when this wild extravagance would suddenly and finally exhaust itself.  Resolutely, they stood their ground.  "But, you see," the guide at last proclaimed, "this water has been running here for a thousand years!"

Having known the depths of desert thirst, these men could scarcely fathom a surging torrent of water, rushing forever from the rock.  Nothing had prepared them for it -- other than desire itself.  Their hearts set aflame by longing, they had learned through the years an indifference to everything less than love.  Apatheia had taught them that purity of heart is to will one thing.  Hence, they could fiercely say no to locomotives and Gallic conquerors of the sky.  But they must stand in silent awe before a raging cataract, beholding in wet-eyed wonder the unwearying madness of their God."

Perhaps this is where we all eventually stand, held attentive by what we cannot understand but vehemently love.  The heart trained in poverty lives perpetually in hope of wonder.

(transcribed from pages 203 and 204 of The Solace of Fierce Landscapes:  Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality, by Belden C. Lane, 1998)

My painting from 2007 in gouache and watercolor is "Nooksack Falls Painted From Memory."  If I get in my car and drive east toward the Cascade Mountains for one hour, I can visit Nooksack Falls.  For some reason, it is rare for me to be drawn toward the mountains.  My instinct is usually to go in the direction of the Pacific Ocean, which to me is a fierce desert-like landscape which has given me solace for much of my life.


ellen abbott said...

it never occured to me to think what a Bedouin would think or how they might feel seeing a waterfall or a forest having never known anything bur desert.

I prefer the ocean too. mountains are majestic but such a narrow slice of sky.

Anonymous said...

I am drawn to the ocean too. Mountains are so beautiful, but the ocean pulls me.

Sabine said...

Oh how I love these quotes. Thank you.

In German history, mythology, arts and culture, forest plays probably the most important role, as a metaphor, symbol, place of worship etc.

Trees are sacred to some, the Germanic and Norse mythology is based on a tree of life.

In the European Middle Ages (6th to the late 14th century), specific trees (usually oak and /or linden) were selected for court hearings and sentencing sessions in rural areas, some still exist.
When I lived in Ireland, the only thing I missed were forests. Ireland was depleted of its vast forests by the British during colonial rule who used it for shipbuilding, as timber for roofing (most cathedrals in the UK are made from roof beams/trees cut down in Ireland), while charcoal was used for industry and so on.

I recently read two books about trees and I wonder whether you may be interested.

The Overstory by Richard Powers, a novel about people who dedicate their life fighting for trees. It's somewhat long and the story lines are a bit convoluted but still worth the effort I find.

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, a forester from near where we live. This is a book about the science of trees, some of which is used in Powers' novel.

There is short interview with Peter online:

37paddington said...

A beautiful painting. And even in the mountains it seems, it is the water that draws your attention. I am a mountain girl, although I cant really climb them anymore. Thanks you for these evocative quotes.

beth coyote said...

I love both. The painting is beautiful.

Friko said...

I think I am going to like this blog and would love to return. How can I follow you?

am said...

Hello Friko. Thank you for stopping by. The only way I know to follow a blog is to click on what I have listed below. Each click will bring you to the next place to click:

1. Design (at the top of your blog -- upper right)
2. Reading List (lower left)
3. Blogs I Follow (upper left)
4. Add to where it says URL:

That should do it (-:

am said...

Correction (-:

I'm not good with right and left.

3. Blogs I Follow is on the upper right.

am said...

Hmmm .... guess I'm not good with instructions either (-:

Here is the revised list of things to click on:

1. Design (at the top of your blog -- upper right)
2. Reading List (lower left)
3. Blogs I Follow (upper right)
4. Add.
5. Where it says URL, enter:

I should have taken a nap before I attempted to do this. Thank you for your patience!

bev said...

A wonderful post, am. I enjoyed reading it very much. Having now spent several winters in the Arizona desert, I have a small inkling of how desert dwellers feel about water. I have the happiest memory of my first summer here in Nova Scotia, getting a phone call late one night while I was outside photographing moths. It was my closest Arizona friends, laughing and shouting that it was raining there -- I could hear the thunder and the pounding rain over the phone. Tom kept saying, "the blessed, blessed rain." I've since heard other friends from the desert speak those very words. I am thinking about forests a lot these days -- I started an environment and ecology group for our area to push back against all the clearcutting. It seems important. Something I must do right now. I hope you are well. Take care. bev