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a lake, a movie, a mountain, a poem
By J. S. Porter, Hamilton, Ontario
I know a lake in the mid-north of Ontario called Mirage. In the morning, very early in the morning, the lake is enveloped in a heavy mist. You think you see things that aren’t there. Sometimes you don’t see anything at all.
I know the facts about the lake: it’s fringed by a mixed deciduous and coniferous forest; it’s about 25 feet deep in its centre; most of the lily-padded lake is shallow and fed by underground springs; it’s good for small-mouth bass fishing. I know this lake because my parents had a cottage on it and my sister and brother-in-law have converted the cottage into a house. I know this lake because I’ve swum in its waters, I’ve paddled a canoe along its shores and I’ve walked each of my dogs in succession around its perimeter.
To a degree I’m intimate with this lake, and yet not nearly as intimate with it as my sister. She lives on it, she knows its seasonal moods, its marshes and groves of weeds, its currents and temperature. What is the secret of such intimacy? Love and time, I conjecture.
You need to care about someone or something for a long period of time. Caroline has loved this lake longest and deepest so that she is more intimate with it than I am. She knows the life stories of the cottagers, knows the resident animals from beaver to loon, knows the lake’s beauty and mystery in four seasons over decades.
To be intimate with a painting you need to look at it repeatedly, preferably at different times of the day. To be intimate with a song you need to hear it many times. To be intimate with a woman you need to re-visit her lips frequently.
I’ve looked at my friend Wayne Allan’s blue and white Zen Garden painting on wood dozens of times a day for over 25 years. Intimacy needs time to grow. I’m intimate with Emmylou Harris’ Stumble into Grace CD, and her song “A Cup of Kindness,” because they’ve entered my ears a hundred times. I’m intimate with my wife’s lips because I’ve kissed them a thousand times.
Perhaps it is not death we fear most, but the possibility that we’ve lived without deep connection and intimacy. We seem to have a drive to enflesh the conviction that the deepest form of knowing is that which comes from friendship anchored in time.
To be without intimacy is to be weightless. Think of the George Clooney character in Up in the Air where his highest aspiration is an empty knapsack. He seeks to untether himself from the burdens of friendship, family and relationship. He’s most fully alive in an airplane 30,000 feet above the human sweat lodge. Having shunned intimacy throughout his adult life, he floats weightlessly, like a kite without strings. By the end of the film, he stands still, staring at an airport destination board, reflecting for the first time in his life, re-thinking his choices. Can you live without intimacy? Of course. Many do. But who in the yearning heart would want to?
The drive for intimacy is as strong as the drive for sex – at a certain age, even stronger. And what is sex anyway, leaving aside its biological function, but an attempt to have complete intimacy by touch, scent and voice with another human being? Our drive for intimacy is so strong that we even apply it to inanimate objects.
Paul Cézanne lived within walking distance of a mountain he painted throughout his life. He could see the mountain from his studio window. He painted it in every season, with objects and without, in photographic detail and in abstract lines. Between the time of his mother’s death (1897) and his own (1906), he furiously increased the number of his pictorial tributes to the principal mountain of his childhood and old age.
When my wife and I visited his studio and garden on our 25th wedding anniversary, Cheryl made a point of touching the bag he carried his paints in. I came away with a poem I called “Cézanne’s Skulls:”
He paints what’s in
a tea pot, a table, some fruit,
hat, coat, his walking stick,
son, wife, his maid.
He paints the skulls on his shelf,
ten times, and his skull of stone —
Mont Sainte-Victoire —
87 times, as if by repetition
he could restore his mother to life.
Love and time. You need both for intimacy.
J. S. Porter - www.spiritbookword.net
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