Tag Archives: Webb Lake

Beer Cans, Sandwich Wrappers and Other Flotsam

“Beauty is the battlefield where God and Satan contend for the hearts of men.”  The Brothers Karamazov,  Fyodor Dostoevsky

Sunset from Dummer’s Beach campground, Webb Lake

When our son Gabe was seven or eight, we were driving back from Portland to our home in Farmington, Maine. At some point on Route 202 near Winthrop, he rid himself of a pesky bit of trash out the open back window of our Ford. In Maine, then as now, littering is a hanging offense, and a state trooper spotted the infraction and did a quick U turn behind us. A mile or so down the road, he pulled us over.  He politely asked if I knew what we had perpetrated, and I pleaded ignorance. He instructed me on the serious nature of our offense. Gabe in our backseat looked like a puppy who just ate the stew meat off the kitchen table.

I asked the trooper, who understood exactly what had happened, if Gabe would have to go to prison or just work off his fine in home confinement until he was twenty-one. We negotiated a just settlement, and the trooper took me at my word we would reverse course, find the offending litter and retrieve it, which we promptly did with no Maine State Police vehicle following us. Gabriel learned from his experience, and it was many years before he had to spend a night in jail.

We’ve noticed on our bike rides here in Maine that roadside litter is much rarer than in Rhode Island, where it is a plague – an occasional yahoo beer can on these rural roads in Maine, but if we see three in a mile, it is unusual. In Rhode Island, just past the welcome to beautiful Rhode Island signs, the mess begins along the road, even on the beaches after hours. I’ve often wondered what combination of neglectful parenting, ignorance and arrogance prompts passersby to believe it is someone else’s job to clean up after them.

I think the lack of jeopardy may account for some of it in Rhode Island-I’ve never seen littering laws enforced; and in Maine residents and visitors alike harbor a respect, almost a reverence, for the beauty around nearly every turn.

“Late have I loved thee, Beauty ever old, ever new; late have I loved thee. Lo, you were within, but I was outside, seeking there for you, and upon the shapely things you have made I rushed headlong.”  Confessions of St. Augustine [i]

 As we stood silently for long minutes watching the sunset just to the south of Tumbledown across Webb Lake, I was struck anew with the gratuitous beauty of sun, clouds, mountains and water. Why was nature made beautiful instead of pallid and enervating? Why are human beings such that their senses and spirits perceive the beauty? What grace and gift is at work here? The same grace and gift moves artists of music, form and hue to create as best we can a reflected beauty. And, most importantly, what Truth is to be found congruent with the Beauty?

When we fail to ask such questions, when we persist without respite in the endless business of commerce and noise, amusements and entertainments precisely to avoid asking such questions, we dodge not just blundering through some sophomoric speculations, but hazard missing why we are on this big blue beautiful ball hurtling at unimaginable speed around the galaxy and through the void: we risk missing the entire point. We fail to pay attention to the jeopardy of forgetting our teleology, the end for which we exist as separate from the other creatures on this fragile planet, and perhaps from the other creatures (if there are any) in this universe.

In an Associated Press syndicated technology article this week in the Lewiston Sun Journal, the latest “big leap” in Apple technology was lauded. “Augmented reality” (AR) will be rolled out in the next iteration of software for iPads and iPhones with built in capability for entrepreneurial “killer apps” to layer on enhancement to our staid, just plain old reality. Related to virtual reality, it will feature the ability, like the washed-up “Pokemon Go” phenomenon, to allow us to visualize in our surroundings magical apparitions that aren’t there. Millions will be able to spend billions of their finite, irreplaceable hours distracting themselves with these wonderful apparitions because, apparently, we don’t have enough distraction already. Facebook, Google and Microsoft are frantically working to roll out their own AR versions. Tim Cook, Apple CEO, hailed AR as “profound technology.” Indeed. “I am so excited about it, I just want to yell and scream!” exclaimed Mr. Cook.  Exactly so, I say; I have a similar urge. [ii]

I would make a modest proposal to Mr. Cook and to you, dear reader. Perhaps we could better spend a little time undistracted, unentertained, without a screen, with some unaugmented reality. And in that quiet without noise and interruption, without beer cans and roadside trash, ask ourselves some questions. I would suggest that a sunset over Webb Lake, looking towards Mount Blue and Tumbledown might be a good place to start.

“We’re all haunted by (death) in one way or another. And it’s the easiest thing in the world to push away, you just get a cappuccino. But, yes, you’re haunted by it in a different way (as you get older).  I feel its presence. I feel it in my sleep, in dreams, in waking.” Sam Shepard, who died this week at 73.

 

[i] Quotes from Dostoevsky and Augustine were cited in “Strangers in a Strange Land” by Charles Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia. In writing about these things, Archbishop Chaput quotes some lines from “Evening,” a poem by Rainier Maria Rilke and continues with his own comments:

Slowly now the evening changes his garments

held for him by a rim of ancient trees;

you gaze: and the landscape divides and leaves you

one sinking and one rising toward the stars.

 

And you are left, to none belonging wholly,

not so dark as a silent house, nor quite

so surely pledged unto eternity

as that which grows to star and climbs the

night.

 

To you is left (unspeakably confused)

your life, gigantic, ripening, full of fears,

so that it, now hemmed in, now grasping

all,

is changed in you by turns to stone and

stars.

 Philosophers and psychologists have offered many different theories about the nature of the human person. But few have captured the human condition better than Rilke does in those twelve lines. We are creatures made for heaven, but we are born of this earth. We love the beauty of this world, but we sense that there’s something more behind that beauty. Our longing for that “something” pulls us outside of ourselves.

 [ii] Why Our Screens Make Us Less Happy, TEXx talk, Adam Alter

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Noise

 “There is a silent self within us whose presence is disturbing precisely because it is so silent: it can’t be spoken. To articulate it, to verbalize it, is to tamper with it, and in some ways to destroy it. Our culture is geared in many ways to help us evade any need to face this inner, silent self.” Thomas Merton, Love and Living.

Webb Lake wall panelsSteve Griffin, owner of Island Carpentry, has done much precise, beautiful work in our house in Middletown. We have come to know and value Steve’s friendship. Last year when he directed the installation and did the carpentry to install our gas fireplaces, he built a box over the mantle of one of them to mount our television. Bartering for our replaced electric kitchen stove, Steve’s wife, Mary Ann, created with Steve a four panel door to hide the box. Using old photographs Rita gave her, she painted a composite scene of our many summers spent in a rented old camp on Webb Lake in Weld, ME. This week she finished.

One of the many gifts Webb Lake gave us was solace and silence, especially early in the morning when the lake was mirror calm. I’m an early morning riser and have been for at least fifty years. Silence for private time, prayer and reading that leads to reflection and meditation is a before dawn activity for me, as it was on Webb Lake in the canoe. Here it is birdsong and sometimes the distant, muted foghorn in Newport Harbor which carries in the pre-dawn stillness. Is there anything more grand than that first cup of coffee in the sunroom looking out over the garden, the eighteenth century stone wall and Rhode Island Nursery across the lane? As Thomas Merton wrote, “our culture is geared…to help us evade any need to face (our) inner, silent self.” Yet this “inner, silent self” is where we most need to wander at leisure if we ever expect to find our peace, our self-knowledge, our connection.

“We live in a state of constant semi-attention to the sound of voices, music, traffic, or the generalized noise of what goes on around us all the time. We are more or less there.” Thomas Merton, Love and Living.

To Merton’s constant semi-attention in the last few decades, we’ve layered on omnipresent emails, texts, Facebook, Snapchat, Tweets, YouTube, television with a thousand channels, Pandora, videos and video games on demand, the insistent phones on our belt and on and on.  And on.  We don’t have to do much to completely avoid our silent, inner selves and the meaning of our increasingly preoccupied lives. In truth, we seek commotion: for after all, within those distractions persists our ability to avoid what we truly need to engage. For the ‘unexamined’ life is frenetically busy, exhausting even, but on the surface painless, while vaguely troubling underneath is a deep discontent like a tumor without symptoms yet. Without recognizing our core, what is left wanting, and what change is prerequisite to peace, we are left without a center at rest. Human beings are born with restless hearts, with a hole in the center. Do we seek what will truly heal it or do we squander our time by obfuscating with the deluge of stimuli?

” A great strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind, an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake, a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire the sound of a gentle blowing. When Elijah heard this, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold a voice came to him and said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”  1 Kings 19: 11-13

“What are you doing here?” is the only relevant question we all must answer.

Garden 2016As I was going through the painstaking process of pulling the disassembled tomato support cages from the ceiling joists of the shed, straightening out the bent members, cobbling them back together for one more year and erecting them around this season’s hope for red tomatoes, Rita remarked to me that I was a patient gardener. I have never thought of myself as particularly patient; Type A, driving for perfection, impatient with myself especially. But times and souls change, especially when we spend the time to fill the hole in the middle.

I realized planting the last of the pole beans, the yellow bush beans and peas today with Gianna and Ellie, our two oldest granddaughters, that the hours pass quickly. We laugh, teach, learn and plant. They tell us where to put the pumpkins and sunflowers, their favorites. We can also be quiet together. Gianna is eight and now is the official reader of seed packets, discerning depth and spacing. Why are cucumber and the various kinds of squash planted in rings called hills? Why are some seeds planted an inch deep, and some only a quarter inch? Why is the squirrel eating the new corn and cucumber sprouts? If we see the baby rabbits out there in the garden, will I turn into Mr. McGregor?

I further realize that the overriding sensation of the garden in the sun with sore muscles, dirty feet, red knees and calloused hands is contentment, deep, abiding contentment. And that is enough.

“We are not fully present and not fully absent; not fully withdrawn, yet not completely available. We just float along in the general noise which drowns out the deep, secret and insistent demands of the inner self.” Thomas Merton, Love and Living.

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