Wendell Berry had this to say about imagination. "The term “imagination” in what I take to be its truest sense refers to a mental faculty that some people have used and thought about with the utmost seriousness. The sense of the verb “to imagine” contains the full richness of the verb “to see.” To imagine is to see most clearly, familiarly, and understandingly with the eyes, but also to see inwardly, with “the mind’s eye.” It is to see, not passively, but with a force of vision and even with visionary force. To take it seriously we must give up at once any notion that imagination is disconnected from reality or truth or knowledge. It has nothing to do either with clever imitation of appearances or with “dreaming up.” It does not depend upon one’s attitude or point of view, but grasps securely the qualities of things seen or envisioned.
I will say, from my own belief and experience, that imagination thrives on contact, on tangible connection. For humans to have a responsible relationship to the world, they must imagine their places in it. To have a place, to live and belong in a place, to live from a place without destroying it, we must imagine it. By imagination we see it illuminated by its own unique character and by our love for it. By imagination we recognize with sympathy the fellow members, human and nonhuman, with whom we share our place. By that local experience we see the need to grant a sort of preemptive sympathy to all the fellow members, the neighbors, with whom we share the world. As imagination enables sympathy, sympathy enables affection. And it is in affection that we find the possibility of a neighborly, kind, and conserving economy."
I've been thinking and chewing on Wendell Berry's description thoughtfully in regards to my journey with Pete my husband since the two of us hooked up in the mid 1990's. In one of the stories we tell I dreamed him up. Out of my misery and loss I saw Pete in his Carhart coat float through the upstairs window of the sweet cedar cottage I was renting. My dog Watson was my only bedmate, and I have no doubt Watson a sleek black and golden Cocker Spanial never saw Pete coming. In fact, when Pete did show up Watson was no where near ready to share the bed. Pete was my imagined knight. Watson was my real life dog.
What Berry suggests "By imagination we recognize with sympathy the fellow members, human and nonhuman, with whom we share our place" is the value the two of us, together and separately, have been fleshing out from the small and beating heart of a golden wagon on wheels. If my heartstrings can pluck a melody to harmonize with my finger tips this piece will say what my heart feels. I'm hoping for that. The cold weather does something very specific to a body. Unlike the milder seasonal changes of Hawaii, the shift from fall like fifty to barely twenty degrees will stiffen even the stoutest among us. Our small domiciles are equipped with modest trappings and simple remedies to keep us warm. The foil wrapped insulation packets that encase the Quonset Hut moderate the chill but still layers of clothes make it more comfortable. Last summer the Mouse Family found the cozy shredded denim insulation too hard to resist. Their nightly tunneling finally spurred Pete to open up the ceiling and excavate. No mice were harmed in the process, but the insulation what was left of it had to be removed and it was not replaced. So, part of the Quonset is less effective against the twenty-nine degree freezes. I'm grateful for the long red fleece robe hand-me-down, and the bright beanie hat sewn by a friend. The wool socks with patched heels toast me sufficently warm. It's a good feeling.
“It takes a lot of courage to show your dreams to someone else.” Erma Bombeck said that and she's right I guess. It does take some courage to write about a dream of living 'like Gypsies' in a world where wanderers and vagabonds, and homeless immigrants can and do have laws written specifically to make us unlawful. Awful stuff those laws. When we were in the early stages of imagining the vardo our olden wagon, it was the toasty excitement of living under the curve of a roof like the sky's that inspired us to draw up the plan. First we took pencils to paper with no ruler to draw the wagon to scale we simply saw what we could love. The curved roof was the key to it. No straight lines, the sky allowed for an open-mind. We were living in our car, parking between lines on asphalt at the edge of an island world that was once my home first as a girl and then as a woman with ideas and ideals of my own making. I had made up my mind and I'd written bad rhymes as Leon Russel said. While we tried to imagine what a life could be like with an illness no one really believed existed outside my imagination, the dream kept dreaming itself with us in it. Being a writer and a dreamer, Berry's notes are inspiring me to consider the virtues of living a life imagined at the edges of civilized and lawful citizenry and to make a case, or at the very least, braid thinking and activities into courageous wings from my silver threaded bird's nest of hair, the counter-balance to those awful laws and makers of awfulness. Let my heartstrings pluck a good collection of chords to go with words wanting to share space.
“I know what I have given you... I do not know what you have received," wrote Argentinia poet Antonio Porchia. You don't know what other people think of you, and if you're a writer, the chance that you become published, famous, loved, and acclaimed is not the reason to write. Blogging gives us writers a publishing flatform (I'm grateful for it.). Fame comes to a few, and even the famous are forgotten. Loved for your accomplishments? Well that is a tricky fickle pickle experience if you have no investment in losing your heart just because that's likely to happen whether you try to or not. Just look at the twelve year old September in Catherynne M. Valente's wonderful tale The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. "“One ought not to judge her: all children are Heartless. They have not grown a heart yet, which is why they can climb high trees and say shocking things and leap so very high grown-up hearts flutter in terror. Hearts weigh quite a lot. That is why it takes so long to grow one. But, as in their reading and arithmetic and drawing, different children proceed at different speeds. (It is well known that reading quickens the growth of a heart like nothing else.) Some small ones are terrible and fey, Utterly Heartless. Some are dear and sweet and Hardly Heartless At All. September stood very generally in the middle on the day the Green Wind took her, Somewhat Heartless, and Somewhat Grown.” When I bumped into Valente's Fairyland tale I was out looking for a few good quotes about wishing. I came across just the words I for which I was hunting,put it in the hidden captions of a post about a New Moon and followed my nose to our local library where I reserved The Girl Who circumnavigated Fairyland in a ship of Her Own Making and am thoroughly in love with September and her adventures.Before leaving for an adventure of his own with new people in our south Whidbey Island community Pete heated a large stone in water to tuck into an old sock. When the heart-shaped rock was ready he climbed the steps to the vardo and handed it to me wrapped in my old wool sock. "Put it under my feet," I said from under the heavy weight of comforter and blankets. He left me with a kiss and the promise of warm feet.
"It's all about relations," he said. "New friends."
"Yes, I said, waiting for the heat to climb out of the rock and into my foot. We are growing a dream, imagining a community made up of younger people who are eager to explore their ideals. An aging population of community activists (us) needs to pass responsibilities on to a young generation. We're excited to envision and commit to this goal. Wendell Berry's lecture began to feed me inspiration as I composed a fundraising letter to hire an intern at our local Tilth organization. It was Wendell Berry's example and passion that fueled the creation of the Washington Tilth Assoication back in the 1974 when he spoke at the Spokane symposium "Agriculture for a Small Planet." In 1974 I lived just across the Salish Sea from my present Whidbey Island home. I lived a life as a new mother, and wife to another man. Pete was not even a smatter of a dream yet. My imagination would need to grow into a place where that was possible.
Change is slow and evolution a spiritual and physical game of chance, application of will, and a unique fondness or resistance to things that are new. If I had continued with life as a wife to a man other than Pete this version of my fairy tale would could have been different. As It turns out this is the version I am living and writing: sharing space with two lesbians, a highly strung Border Collie and a large blonde cat on five acres of Stewardship Forest. I see what Berry means when he said, "It all turns on affection." (the title of his lecture). This is our sixth winter living in this Stewardship Forest where those who lived here before us did so with an eye of affection. Trees were chosen, wrapped with ribbon like gift-wrap and not logged. For sure there was money involved in the cutting, but the whole of the forest was not cleared. There was a wholeness of thinking, imagining what this land would be like once the trees and their companions rebuilt, and healed from the losses. We live and feed the land with our growing hearts and wildly wavy shades of graying heads filling and emptying with our various fairy tales.
We thought we would be moving from this land, going to a drier climate where mold and moisture weren't a constant. It would or could be easier on my body and the trickiness of living with Environmental Illness. Instead, at least for now, the story included a visit to dry country tides where the dome of a sky was as clear and Milky Way studded as we had ever experienced. An amazing, incredible long distant alignment applied itself to us but the dry country was not to be our home. Instead a move of fifty yards keeps us here on an island in the Salish Sea and we keep learning about applied affection as a value of humane humanity. Our friends who pay a mortgage on this Stewardship Forest find a place of affection for the folks who live in a wavy-walled golden wagon at the edge of the communal parking lot. Pete helps with chores they cannot do and gets paid a bit of cash to cushion life living on Social Security checks. We complain a little, but not much. We consume less and set as a goal to learn to share better. That second part of the equation is the bit that makes Berry's attitude of affection a gear worth greasing.
Those fundraising letters asking for help with our imaginings have begun their adventures into the stream of snail-mailery wrapped in bright orange envelopes emblazoned with superpowers (Wonder Woman stamps). The words were assembled as a story and sent on their way before the Moon slipped into her Waiting Gowns (those moons we call the po 'ole or quarter moon phases). I finish up this rambling in the early morning after the 'ole. She the Moon is fattening now and new activities can proceed. The gears of affection pucker for their share of love, and that would be us who can supply a heart for that call.
The photo above was taken not long ago as we headed out of Langley town where Sheep and Heron share space.