The housemate is staying with a friend near the city hospital as she undergoes her tests, so I am alone at home with three dogs. Which is fine and comforting — there is work to be done ( a relief) and I potter around in the garden, revise fiction, make myself regular meals, drink my tangy oolong tea and watch the charred buds of compressed and rolled tea unfurl. I collect small samples of interesting teas from time to time — green teas, smoked teas, herbal infusions, tisanes. Then I wake up one morning and know that only a mug of strong coffee will do and I stay with morning caffeine for a month or so. After which I go back to teas.
Sat and tried to work out where to plant a new lemon verbena — it has a wonderful fragrance and is very pretty in flower. I need to put it somewhere the dogs will not trample it and where it has room to spread a little. A single leaf tucked under the base of a sponge cake or muffin filling will give a fresh appetising scent. I do the same thing with scented pelargoniums, the rose geranium as it was once called.
And of course, I have a houseful of books for occupation, preferable at times to the silly twittering of the Internet. Books have helped me map the digressive journeys of my life and kept me company on sleepless nights. Robert Kaplan:
“You don’t find the books that change your life by accident; nor by design. One finds them the way a ragpicker finds something useful in the garbage, or the way a hunter accidentally encounters his prey. The enterprise demands vigilance, says the philosopher Walter Benjamin: it takes practice to lose one’s way in a city in order to discover something important about it.”
Last night, reading about Thomas Merton’s close friend the hermit poet Robert Lax, who went off in 1964 to live in solitude on the island of Patmos, I was reminded of something Lax wrote:
Learn how to look. Take time to look to see what’s right there in front of you, to let what you see sink in. When you look at a flower opening or a tree moving with the wind, you just relax and take it all in. Try and see everything like that, if you can.
Looking and listening lead into everything… . You become more totally aware of reality. It’s so true — everything we need to live well is already within our possession. Wisdom is right before our very eyes.
In hard times everything gets simple. Not easy and I walk around with a knot of dread inside, but just staying in the moment, not chasing hopes or fears, just doing what has to be done for now. And paying attention, taking comfort from the everyday routines and rituals that have shaped my life for years now.