I love the way Irish poet John O’Donohue describes the way we can emerge into landscapes. I hope you enjoy these morsels below from an interview with Krista Tippett. John was born and lived in the west of Ireland. Here he articulates the reasons I hike and ski the backcountry. I remember, when I lived in a small village in the south of France, things were not going terribly well for me. Religion had me by the heel. I couldn’t dive in and swim with someone I loved and lived with. I learned a painful lesson; piety is a crime against love. As both my faith and the love between us began to fall apart, I retreated to a nearby rock-lined ridge each evening to watch the dusk fall. Occasionally I’d rise with the dawn. I would stay for half an hour and simply sit in the quietude. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to prayer.
‘I think it makes a huge difference, when you wake in the morning and come out of your house, whether you believe you are walking into dead geographical location, which is used to get to a destination, or whether you are emerging out 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.
And I think that that was one of the recognitions of the Celtic imagination — that landscape wasn’t just matter, but that it was actually alive. What amazes me about landscape — landscape recalls you into a mindful mode of stillness, solitude, and silence, where you can truly receive time.’
‘…an awful lot of urban planning, particularly in poor areas, has doubly impoverished the poor by the ugliness which surrounds them. And it’s understandable that it’s so difficult to reach and sustain gentleness there. And I do think — like a friend of mine just in the last week, who was absolutely exhausted in London, just came away down to southern England and spent the week by the slow ocean, and she’s totally recovered. She’s come back to herself.
But I do think, though, that it’s not just a matter of the outer presence of the landscape. I mean the dawn goes up, and the twilight comes, even in the most roughest inner-city place. And I think that connecting to the elemental can be a way of coming into rhythm with the universe. And I do think that there is a way in which the outer presence, even through memory or imagination, can be brought inward as a sustaining thing.
I mean I think that — and it’s the question of beauty, I mean you’re asking, essentially — as we are speaking, that there are individuals holding out on frontlines, holding the humane tissue alive in areas of ultimate barbarity, where things are visible that the human eye should never see. And they’re able to sustain it, because there is, in them, some kind of sense of beauty that knows the horizon that we are really called to in some way. I love Pascal’s phrase, that you should always keep something beautiful in your mind. And 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.’