A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Thursday, 2 January 2014

A Madeleine Moment

Beating the bounds.

I'm not much of a one for New Year resolutions, but I do have five modest daily goals:

(1) To read a little. 
(2) To write a little. 
(3) To walk a little. 
(4) To exercise for 20 - 30 min. (stretching, aerobic and resistance exercises). 
(5) To be mindful of what I eat and drink, to enjoy eating and drinking as a 'ritual', to be aware of the calorific content and health value of the food, to enjoy the taste in a heightened, mindful way.

Yellowhammer. (Wikimedia Commons.)
This morning after a light breakfast and 20 minutes' exercise I went for a walk — beating the bounds of my local territory. Waves of storms have been passing over the UK in recent weeks, but today dawned cold, clear and bright. The Midlands landscape round here is quite ordinary. No mountains, no spectacular views — just flattish farmland, river flood plain, gravel pit lakes, dykes and ditches, hedgerows and copses, muddy lanes. But I like it. It may be unsensational, but it's my home ground.

There were quite a few birds about: blue tits, chaffinches, dunnocks, rooks — the common species. I passed comfortingly familiar sights, natural touchstones of the season: bunches of limp ash keys hanging from branches, new sooty ash buds, skeletal oak trees, bulrushes — some with their cottony seeds still attached — tall and sentinel at the edge of the pond. Then a flock of yellowhammers flew out of a hedge and disappeared back into it further along the track. As soon as I spotted those flashes of brilliant yellow and those white outer tail feathers I experienced what can only be called a Proustian moment. 

You remember how in Proust's À la Recherche the taste of a madeleine cake soaked in lime-blossom tea suddenly and vividly conjured up lost details of the narrator's childhood, and how that little musical phrase by Vinteuil revitalised Swann's love for Odette? Well, the unexpected sight of those flitting birds gave me instantly the same feeling I'd had as a child when birdwatching in the countryside and coming across an unusual species: an intense excitement, a sense of mystery, a thrill coursing through my whole body.

So, for a few seconds today, I became a child again, experiencing an innocent wonder at the marvels of the world.

Madeleine cakes. (Wikimedia Commons.)

14 comments:

Ruth said...

Pretty great, for such an "ordinary" landscape! It's these moments of connection that make life sweet and extraordinary.

George said...

May your goals be achieved, Robert. It's good to have a few goals at the beginning of the year, but wise, I think, to keep them modest and with the range of achievability.

While I'm delighted that you were lucky enough to have one of those madeleine moments, I find it interesting that you like the unsensational landscape that surrounds your home. This is something that I am beginning to experience with more and more frequency. For so much of my life, I have sought out the extraordinary and lamented over the fact that so much seemed rather dreary. Increasingly, however, I have this rather comfortable feeling that things are in their proper place, that I'm in my proper place, that everything from the the ugly to the sublime is a meaningful contribution to the mosaic of an individual's life.

Loren said...

Strangely enough all those "common" birds would seem exotic here in the Pacific Northwest, unless, of course, it's just the names that are different.

That "jackhammer" looks familiar, but we don't have any birds of that name in America, or at least not listed in my Stokes.

Bonnie said...

Your modest goals sound like a prescription for "the good life"!

Happy 2014 dear Robert.

The Solitary Walker said...

'It's these moments of connection that make life sweet and extraordinary.' Yes!

Indeed, George — wabi-sabi rather than the gleaming and sensational.

Amazing to think these birds — which I just take for granted, so common are they in the UK — are exotic to you, Loren!

Happy New Year, dear Bonnie!

Nick said...

To experience the familiar , and find it exotic - one of life's real joys.

Dominic Rivron said...

The landscape around us here certainly is sensational - dirty great hills, etc. I think the landscape down your neck of the woods is sensational, too, in a quiet, easy-to-miss-if-you're used-to-hills-etc. sort of way.

Goat said...

I'm looking forward to lots of those moments now that I'm back on home turf after two years away. Like you, birds are sparking a lot of flashes of recognition and reminder. I just wish they wouldn't start so bloody early in the day! Still, beats garbage trucks and construction sounds!

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks Nick, Dominic and Goat, for your comments.

dritanje said...

Lovely writing solitary walker, the simplicity and the power of the 'ordinary'. This reminds me of Christian Bobin's writing, I wonder if you have come across it? In particular, it made me think of the passage I've pasted below (from Autoportrait au Radiateur.)

Je cherche des le réveil ce qui est nécessaire au jour pour être un jour: un rien de gaieté. Je cherche sans chercher. Cela peut venir de partout. C'est donné en une seconde pour la journée entière.
La gaieté, ce que j'appelle ainsi, c'est du minuscule et de l’imprévisible. Un petit marteau de lumière heurtant le bronze du réel. La note que en sort se propage dans l'air, de proche en proche jusqu'au lointain.
Quand nous sommes gais, Dieu se réveille.

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks so much, Dritanje, for your comment on my writing.

I hadn't heard of Christian Bobin, so I've just looked him up. I'm immediately interested. His meditation on the life of St Francis appealed to me at once. Thanks for introducing this writer to me! Are there any books of his you would especially recommend?

dritanje said...

I thought his writing would appeal to you and very glad it did! Interestingly enough it was Les Plus Bas, his writing on the life of St. Francis that I first read, though I didn't realise at the time that was what it was about. I am currently reading Autoportrait au radiateur, which is in the form of a journal, a form I really enjoy as it deals with the everyday, 'simple' things,flowers, sky, light, full of 'madelaine moments' and his thoughts about them, and it forms a narrative too. so I would definitely recommend that. I have another 2 to read when I've finished this one - I nipped over to Paris at the end of last year to buy several books, his among them, good excuse to visit Paris of course. And I should say, for those who don't speak or read French I'm pretty certain that Alison Anderson said she had translated one of his into English but I haven't looked this up. I should write a post about his work - or maybe you will, once you've read some of it, before I get around to it! I think it will appeal to all those who enjoy Rilke.

Vagabonde said...

That is a pretty bird for sure. We have one around here that is very yellow too, but I think it is an American Goldfinch. We also have the Yellow Warbler – they are so pretty. We placed extra seeds in the 6 bird feeders in our yard because of the unusual cold today and at one time we counted 15 doves on the grounds and dozens of birds around the feeders – they were fighting each other to get to the feeders. It was 6 F at the time (about – 15 C) – the coldest day here was 10 F in 1970!

The Solitary Walker said...

Thanks for your comment, Vagabonde. It's not as cold here in the UK as in the US, but we may still get the big freeze.