Wednesday, August 15, 2012

In praise of what is

I've mentioned the Kerry-born poet John Moriarty several times in recent days. That's because I have been reading his big two-volume autobiography, Nostos and What the Curlew Said. Perhaps, I shouldn't say "reading." It's not so much a book to read as to dip into, a big grab bag of a book -- you reach in at random and don't know what you'll pull out for your nickel. Moriarty is certainly learned. But, my lord, he's hard to pin down. Philosophically, he's all over the place -– Heidegger, Buddha, Jesus, Vishnu, Dylan Thomas. One minute he's in the Garden of Gethsemane, the next he sitting under the Bo tree, all the while roaming the hills of Connemara. His sources and enthusiasms are so eclectic it's hard to get a fix on substance. Myth, magic and reality are all jumbled up together.

Moriarty was friends with Tim Robinson, whom you have met here on several occasions, another writer living in Connemara, a naturalist and cartographer. Robinson too is best known for a teeming two-volume work, The Stones of Aran, one of the best works of natural history I have ever read. Robinson tramped over every square foot of the Aran Islands, the Burren, and Connemara, absorbing every scrap of natural (and human) history through the soles of his feet. His books are monuments to exact observation and dispassionate (although exquisite) description. And he produced gorgeous award-winning maps to boot.

Moriarty captures Robinson precisely: "Tim quite simply believes that it is our highest calling and exercise to pay sustained, unprojective attention to things as they naturally are." And that is what I have long admired about Robinson. The keyword in Moriarty's description is "unprojective." Robinson is content to let things be themselves, not what we would have them be. Things do not have to mean, they can simply be. Or perhaps I should say, their isness is their meaning.

Robinson strikes me as the sort of person who has no need (figuratively speaking) to sit under the Bo tree; the crab apple tree in the back garden will suit him fine. Moriarty calls Robinson an "evangelist of ordinary things." To which I say, Amen.