Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Within the constant motion of my life, I’ve had to learn to find stillness within the rush, and to understand what the Chinese philosophers mean about there being five directions, not just four— north, south, east, and west, but center too, where all the others come together.   

I found a greenish glazed clay sphere one summer at an art fair, marked with the alchemical symbol for “compose”—reminding me that composure and composition come from the same place; that the ability to combine diverse experiences into meaning rests specifically in one’s own quiet core.

A passage I found in a wonderful book by Padma Hejmadi, a friend of a friend, describes so perfectly how one’s life is composed in traveling or the return home:  “It is, after all, that old process which Katherine Mansfield once described as ‘going out and looking at a tree and coming back plus the tree.’”   

I’ve come back from travels plus so much of the world, plus a rich history.  Plus Bonnard, plus Mahler and Bach, plus the frescoes on old Roman walls, the short-lived mountain flowers called settembre, the Etruscan towns of painted horses passed at dusk, the shimmer of cottonwoods and thunderheads and high aqueducts or abandoned poi and rice fields in far valleys (like the white heron in the vanished lake:  remembering water).

Across the moment, aeons speak with aeons.
More than we experienced has gone by.
(Rainer Maria Rilke, The Sonnets to Orpheus, appendix, II)
I’ve found a strong sense of the continuities of time as well as space.  I loved tracing the water of the fountains back to snow-melt, through the water-channels of Roman aqueducts, late in the day, late in the turning year—back up into the mountains where the temples were to gods of storm.  I was thankful for the moments and the aeons, both together; for the concurrence of the two thousand year old frescoes and the blue mountain flowers that are called settembre because they don’t live out the month. 

They give me pause, these backwards glances, the pause it takes to become composed.

image:  Pont d'Ael (Il Pondel),  Tapazovaldoten


  1. Dear Christie,
    I loved the description of your pluses. It really seems to me you're able to take in each small detail you encounter on your way, which is a rare gift. I think I have it too, and I concur 100%: they give me pause too.
    I know very well the flowers you mentioned; they're one of my favourite flowers. I used to have them in my garden, thick bushes with these little purple, or yellow, or violet small patches, although I've always known them by the name of Settembrine. I always anticipated the moment they'd start blooming.
    Thanks for arousing such dear memories!

    1. Jay—
      What an amazing thing to have those elusive flowers find me again! I’d guess I misremembered or misheard their name. Was your garden in northern Italy, then? These would have been around Lake Maggiore. Maybe I’ll try to find some seeds, now that I know I didn’t just imagine them…loving their symbolism as well as their color.

  2. Yes, it was my garden in Northern Italy, and the garden of a friend of mine who used to love them too.
    Last September/October I was walking somewhere in Montreal and I ran into a bush with lots of Settembrine. I hadn't seen them in four years. I almost cried for joy.
    Maybe I just imagined them that day...