August 9, 2006
This post from Our Girl in Chicago struck a chord:
When the world is too much with me, I reach for Gilbert White. The eighteenth-century naturalist made 10,000 daily records of the flora and fauna, weather and harvests of his Hampshire village, Selborne. These are his notes from August 1771.
Aug. 5. Young partridgers, strong flyers. Soft showers. Swifts. Pease are hacking.
Aug. 6. Nuthatch chirps; is very loquacious at this time of the year. Large bat appears, vespertilio altivolans.
Aug. 7. Rye-harvest begins. Procured the above-mentioned specimen of the bat, a male.
Aug. 8. Rain in the night, with wind. Swifts. Sultry & moist: Cucumbers bear abundantly. Showers about. Procured a second large bat, a male.
Aug. 10. Flying ants, male & female.
Aug. 11. Heavy clouds round the horizon. Lambs play & frolick.
Aug. 16. Rain, driving rain, dry. Four swifts still.
Aug. 18. No dew, rain, rain, rain. Swans flounce & dive. Chilly & dark.
Aug. 19. Swifts abound. Swallows & martins bring out their second broods which are perchers. Thunder: wind.
Aug. 22. Bank-martins [sand-martins] bring out their second brood. Swifts. No swifts seen after this day.
Aug. 23. Young swallows & martins come out every day. Still weather. Wheat-harvest becomes pretty general.
Aug. 25. Wheat not ripe at Faringdon. Winter weather. Oats & barley ripe before wheat.
Aug. 26. Nuthatch chirps much. No swifts since 22nd.
Aug. 28. Dark, grey, & soft. People bind their wheat.
Aug. 29. Fog, sun, brisk wind. Sweet day. Wheat begins to be housed.
Aug. 30. Young Stoparolas abound. Swallows congregate in vast flocks. Wheat housed.
I really do bliss out reading these journals. The above, for me, is a story, a poem, and a picture all at once, minimally wordy but maximally expressive, piquing every sense.
All true. I would add that there is a special relationship between the words here--minimal, sharp, observant but not effusive, descriptive but not lingering or self-conscious--and the experience they describe, which is not only essentially non-verbal, but elementally impersonal. The pleasure evoked by these descriptions is not a linguistic pleasure, or even a particularly thoughtful one, though it is a knowledgeable and aware one. You might call it a modest pleasure, or at least one that is not in the least ego-centric. There is no self in White's entries, though there is an outlook; he reduces himself to a pair of eyes and impartially records what they see. As OGIC notes, there is a type of bliss involved in such simple acts of registry, one that arises from the erasure of self--however momentary--they imply.
Donegal does something similar for me. Here's a White-like description of my yesterday afternoon: Warm wind & mist. Crows and starlings swoop. Barley bent and gold.
Every day is different, even on the same walks in the same lanes. The sky is a face (I think Charlotte Bronte once observed that), and the hedges, fields, and herds are always changing, always new. You can walk until you forget yourself, which is a very fine and necessary and increasingly rare thing to do.