Saturday, August 11, 2012

Hope Only Appears to Slumber

What IS a poor boy to do? He runs around in the garden, he feeds the birds, he reads, he loosens the knots, he listens.
And he buys books, like this, John Baker's 'Cottage by the Springs', Phoenix House, London, 1961.
A London bookseller and publisher, of far greater attainment than I, John Baker found his escape in Wiltshire, renovating a ruined cottage, and building around it a garden in wet ground.
I am listening to Townes van Zandt, the Texan country/folk music singer, born the same day as my mother...
...and I am collecting flowers, whether they may be from out of another time, or from here, where the winter is giving us spring already.
A certain doggy, of course, needs to recline after a cold day's exertion. "Zara," Faisal said, "tuck your paws under some Texan sound, and dream of springs springing up, and some flighty birds needing to be chased."
John Baker is here "recalling a country experience in which, under the wide arc of the sky, the time and the place and the man combined to create an idyll which may find an echo in many a townsman's heart." THIS townsman, and his doggy, with hearts we hope will keep expanding, hear a song of  hope for all of the world, that for all of its residents, protection and renewal will be given.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Scotland the Brave

If it wasn't for the artist Joanne B. Kaar, I wouldn't have heard of Robert Dick. Please look at her wonderful blog, or her web page,
Only through her did I find out about an extraordinary 19th Century Scottish botanist. ( Forgive me, Joanne, I don't know how to link. )
With his mother dying during his boyhood, and his father remarrying an apparently cold-hearted second wife, the young Robert Dick was apprenticed to a baker, and was obliged to forsake a sense of home.

In Caithness, in the northern reaches of Scotland, this may have been ordinary fare. But not for Robert Dick, with his enquiring mind and an aptitude for perseverance. He not only established a successful bakery, but he worked unstintingly to explore and understand all the vastness around him.
I was thrilled to find this biography appear. 'Robert Dick, Baker of Thurso, Geologist and Botanist', by Samuel Smiles, published by John Murray, Albemarle Street, London, 1878, is one of those books that take you back, way back when.
Despite my apparently Scottish surname and my father's unceasing playing of Scottish music, my own paternal line made its first recorded appearance on the Isle of Wight, back in about 1550, where it still continues. Our name was then styled 'Graunt(e)', and probably came from French settlers.
My own history is irrelevant, except that my love of plants has an affinity with Robert Dick's. This is Morven Mountain, where the young Robert walked, unceasingly, day and night, it would seem. He collected not only plant specimens, but insects, shells, stones, anything intriguing.
It's been a passion of mine to go to Scotland, a land of wandering, a land for wanderers. This is 'The Deil's Brig: Holborn Head'. I can't pretend to know what it was like for the young apprenticed baker to make his way out into the world around him, without precedent, suspected of madness by  the locals.
Entirely self-taught, self-trained and self-disciplined, "the Thurso people did not quite understand the proceedings of their young baker. He made good bread, and his biscuits were the best in the town. But he was sometimes seen coming back from the country bespattered with mud, - perhaps after a forty or fifty miles' journey on the moors in search of specimens. What were they to make of this extraordinary conduct? It could have no connection with baking. What could he have been doing during these long journeys?'
Above, 'Rocks at Holborn Head: Slaters Monument'.
Known, now, for his endurance, resilience, and commitment, his work, consisting of unending collecting and observation, led him to The Royal Geological Society. He would walk for miles and miles, across the moors, often at night...
We think we have it tough today, but Robert Dick struggled against great odds, not to be famous, but to impart his knowledge.
From page 78: On another afternoon in July he goes to the Dorery hills. "I had a ramble," he said, "on Saturday last, after my day's work was over.While on my way I found in a quarry, at a loch, a fossil fish snout or two, and some plants, I got to the hills, about ten miles off, and examined ferns and roses. I had a grand view of the Sutherland hills. I stood in a sheltered nook, and gazed at the sunlight shining far over the distant mountains. I never forget any of these moments. I turned aside this morning just to gaze upon the moon. It was about two o'clock in the morning. All was still, solemn and impressive."
And so, I am still reading about this lone explorer who shunned any limelight, who kept moving, and striving, despite being alone. Though I couldn't be as valiant or single-minded as Robert Dick, I too grow through exploration of all that is around me.