A View from the Hill: Listen to the landscape

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Early Saturday morning, as the waning gibbous moon slipped toward the horizon, I studied it out the window for a while, and I wondered:

Moon, you’ve been out there for 4.51 billion years, just a little shy of Earth’s age. As Earth’s only satellite, you orbit this planet every 27 days or so. Over and over again. You’ve seen it all. 

Andrew MarstersMeanwhile, the average human these days lives about 79 years. In historical terms, we see basically nothing.

Yet we are consumed and often overwhelmed by what we see. A friend recently told me that her bandwidth has been totally hijacked by three current events: the impending invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the angry rogue truckers in Canada, and climate change.

We all have our own list. The ugly abuse by adults of a child athlete competing in the Olympics. COVID-19 behavior. Racism. We seem to have been uniquely designed to worry. Stress is our default.

We’re not here anywhere near long enough to develop any useful perspective. Even the 300,000 years that humans have been on the planet is but a blip. 

But, Moon, you’ve certainly been around long enough. I wish I could get your take on our situation. What wisdom might you share? What advice might you give? Based on what you’ve seen, what’s next? How should we live our little lives on Earth? Where is the meaning?

What an interview that would be.

Saturday morning you, Moon, dominated the first landscape I saw. Later I would look at the landscape of the city. I would take a walk and my landscape would be the sea and islands. There is always a landscape, though we’re not always conscious of it.

Today, it was with you that I communed.

I’m an amateur photographer. I like to shoot landscapes. When I do, I become very involved in the landscape. What is this landscape telling me? How can I document that in a way that I can present it to others, that I can preserve it for myself? I want to hold on to it.

Recently I heard an interview with the Irish poet John O’Donohue, who died in 2008 at the age of 52. He believed that landscape – like the landscape I awoke to this morning – “can be a way of coming into rhythm with the universe.”

O’Donohue grew up on the ruggedly beautiful west coast of Ireland, in the rocky Burren region, where he could hear “an ancient conversation between the ocean and the stone going on.” Landscape, he believed, informs who we are and who we have been over the ages.

“I think it makes a huge difference when you wake in the morning and come out of your house, whether you believe you’re walking into dead geographical location, which is used to get to a destination, or whether you’re emerging into a landscape that is just as much if not more alive as you, but in a totally different form, and if you go towards it with an open heart and a real, watchful reverence, that you will be absolutely amazed at what it will reveal to you.”

He’s talking about you, Moon, and how, seeing you before anything else this morning, I began this journey inside my head. And yes, I believe the poet is correct: You are, with all your age, more alive than I will ever be.

And what might O’Donohue’s advice be to my friend whose bandwidth has been consumed by events of the world?

He might tell her to “always keep something beautiful in your mind – a landscape. I have often – like in times when it’s been really difficult for me – if you can keep some kind of little contour that you can glimpse sideways at, now and again, you can endure great bleakness.”

For a long time when I couldn’t sleep or was stressed or sad, I would close my eyes and call up an image. It included just the sunny corner of a dock and a little piece of some rippled water at a lake where I spent a lot of my life.

It almost always worked. Now I know why.

Andrew Marsters is an award-winning Maine journalist and former journalism instructor at the University of New Hampshire. He lives on Munjoy Hill.