Sunday, February 8, 2015

Literary Introspection: Seeking the Quiet

There is a path nearby; a path that winds its way - gloriously forlorn - through the low-lying mangrove forest. It is the preserve of the key deer, the diminutive cousins of the continental variety, that brave the inter-keys waterways, tackling currents and voracious denizens of the not-so-deep in their perpetual quest for tender shrubbery. The key deer, apparently, have found the preserve buffet rather insufficient to their tastes and have taken nighttime forays into my garden to nibble upon succulent tropical grasses, newly planted. As they venture into mine, so I go into theirs. The path starts at the barrier prohibiting vehicular progress, but welcoming pedestrians with a narrow sideways twist.

The path, bordered by a tangled profusion of silver buttonwood, iron-bark, and golden weed, is a lonely one - devoid of architectural monstrosities, of man-made obstructions, of the metallic jangle and whirr of electronic technology, of the incessant noise that seems inextricably part and parcel of urban life; instead there is only the curl of quiet branch and leaf, the intermittent flower, the industrious hum of bee and the regal solitude of eagle perched. A quiet place. A haven for key deer and reclusive writer alike. For it is in places like these where I do my best thinking; about plausible character motivation - what does propel and inflame a young woman of Edwardian society? - and plot twists - the dubious connections of an Indian nabob to Banda Sea spice trade...

And I wonder - do others of the writing ilk seek this kind of quiet in which to muster thought? The path terminates in the barren dust of a permanent low-tide. Or so I thought - always having ventured this way in the early morn or late dusk. But lately, I ventured forth at an unusual hour of the day (what an adventuress am I!) to find salty brine at the paths-end! And not only water shin-deep, but infant lemon sharks carousing in the ripples! The pull of the moon - that incandescent sphere - that transforms the mangroves from dirt-trodden parched to the wet harbor for babies of the family Carcharinidae - a species of shark threatened - as perhaps are quiet reserves for foraging deer and contemplative writers?

This quiet path seems the very repository of imaginative pursuits - for the mangrove branches seem to emerge from placid, rusty pools like limbs of the drowned; for the darkly clouded sky seems to portend something more than mere rainfall; there is something ominous in the feathered vultures that wait in the leafy wings, in the skeletal remains of the raccoon that are cleanly picked by the path-side (I am tempted to retrieve them - an assemblage of bones that seems quaintly reminiscent of the Victorian collector - but a nameless scavenger makes off with the bony booty before I can make up my mind to act). Rattlesnakes have sunned themselves on these asphalt plains, slithering in languid alarm before human intrusion; deer have foraged, with young by their side, before darting away into neighboring undergrowth. For this is a place where we are the strangers. Where life is governed by access to low-lying pools and scurrying mammalian buffets. Perhaps this is why I like it so much. It is almost a relief to feel a momentary qualm when the red-skinned vulture swoops so low - am I prey? Quick - a hasty movement to assure my feathered friend of life and limb and ability to strike back (as ineffectual as fists and fingers might be against talon and claw!) - for this is not our natural environment. There is neither brick nor glass, steel nor cement...but grass and twig, root and leaf. Here, nature rules; the bloody battle of tooth and claw. And for a moment, we are a vulnerable part of it - thin-skinned and feeble; an evolutionary remembrance of Jurassic-times where we scurried silent and fearful while voracious velociraptors roamed.

And I muse on the necessity of such pathways - for writers particularly - a quiet route (less traveled or, hopefully, often traversed) in which one can ponder the immutable privileges of simply being alive in this most glorious world.