Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Song of the Land 

It happens most often in summer. Not that it really happens often at all; often-ness is relative in this case – a rare occurrence is just slightly less rare in a season of warmth and sunlight and siesta-like laziness brought on by the proximity of holidays.

Perhaps it’s warmth as much as anything that’s responsible; bundled in winter’s layers, we’re isolated as well as insulated. But with the freedom of summer, when chill winds and wet soil are but a distant memory, (yes, such times do exist, even sometimes in the UK!), when I might lay bare-armed and bare-legged on the earth, gazing idly at the sunlight filtering through a leafy canopy above, so still I'm putting down roots into the earth beneath; when, once in a while, the everyday clamour which batters the senses is allowed to become still, another, rarely used sense comes into play. I barely want to breath lest the sound of my breathing, raucous and grating by comparison, drowns out the soundless song that needs only an unsuspecting listener for its harmonies to ring:

The song of the land.

Listen for it, and like as not it wont be heard. Go searching, and it'll evade the senses. But just once in a while, a kind of peripheral sixth sense, akin to peripheral vision, catches a hint of something not quite sensed, like a light that has to bend round a corner to be seen.You daren't look straight at it, for it isn't there to be seen. But look askance - hear askance if that makes any kind of sense at all - and in a moment whilst time stops, the song can be heard, resonating gently through all creation.

What brings such thoughts to mind on a cold, windy, overcast day in March, a day when my head is filled to overflowing with thoughts a universe apart from summer and whimsy?

Once again, it was the words of Annie Dillard, as I sat on the train, wedged should-to-shoulder between my silent unknown travelling companions. I guessed dimly the gist of what she was trying to say, but I didn’t experience it, not at first; this time, her words didn’t generate any immediate surge of understanding. She felt the weight of what she called silence present over the land; I felt nothing at all.

But there was just one instant where her experience and mine reached towards each other, touched, and like a Disney cartoon where cold, grey, dead winter turns in a matter of seconds to a Technicolor spring filled with an abundance of life, her words breathed life into the experience whose effect I remembered, even if I haven’t been able to record it adequately.

Annie Dillard saw angels; I heard the song of the land.

[So much for the post below! How could I let a thought like this one, occurring unbidden out of nowhere, go unremarked, even in this half-expressed form?]

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