Saturday, April 26, 2008

Salzburg, 13.7.03: Alpine Lakes and Borage

I suddenly realize the mountain is reflected in the lake, something I haven’t noticed before. This is the earliest we’ve been here, so that may be a trick of the morning light which vanishes as the day goes on. In any case, it’s beautiful. By afternoon, you see only green lake. Now, there’s a mirror with mountain and blue sky, white clouds tinged with pink floating in it.

Two brave swans have detached themselves from the others and are floating with seeming effortlessness and majestic dignity to the east across the middle of the lake. As if in parody or Napoleonesque competition two ducks are doing the same, but east to west. Thoreau had it right with Walden: small lake or pond is an entire world. I can’t stop watching and writing.

Just interrupted by a very nice man, Indian, who teaches economics at a small college 45 miles south of Roanoke—Fairham, if I heard correctly. He seemed to have a peaceful and sweet spirit, told me he’s a photographer and fascinated by the mountains. As he approached, a bevy of ducks arrived, expecting a handout. Alas, we’re breadless. But oh! Not so! Steve put half a loaf of bread in my bag. But things are so tightly controlled here, I don’t dare feed the ducks. There may be an Ordnung, as there is for everything. Die erste Bürgerpflicht ist Ordnung—an earnest and pompous German saying the Czechs love to ridicule.

With the wind rising and more clouds, the clear reflection of the mountain has been dispelled. It’s now just a shadow hovering in the lake.

So it is with thought: clear one moment, troubled and fragmented the next. The mind is an amazing thing, the way it moves from point to point along a chain of associations very hidden from us. It’s fascinating.

Yesterday, I saw growing in the swampy area that’s a nature reserve of some sort near here a flower whose name I can never recall. I have more and more difficulty in this regard. I know the name, and know that I know it. But I can’t grab the elusive silver fish that I can just see, now and again, flashing through the deepest pools of my mind.

What helps, I find, is to let associations—no matter how far-fetched—lead me there. I did that the other day as I wrote about something blue as a borage flower. Maddeningly, couldn’t identify the plant, couldn’t call its name.

I could see it in my mind’s eye, taste it, feel its fuzz on the tongue, appreciate the cool cucumbery aroma it gives to a glass of lemonade. My mind began with cucumber, and then moved along a path of herbs starting with c—coriander, cardamom, chervil.

But that didn’t do it. I had to let the process lie fallow, or, better, go underground. And that’s where it becomes mysterious. How is it that, when we seem not to be thinking about something we want to retrieve inside our minds, but we nevertheless are thinking, we eventually reach the end of the chain and find the link we’re seeking?

I don’t know. I know only that I eventually emerged with the word borage. But I did so by pretending not to seek it, even as I knew that some part of my mind was madly whirring away to sort vast stores of information and retrieve the word.

It’s something like not looking at a cat. If you watch their eyes and stare rudely, they’ll snub you. They divulge the mystery of their being on their own terms, if at all.

The name I sought today was astilbe, by the way. And for some reason it came much more easily. I don’t know why this is a name I block, but I do, almost always. And yet it’s a flower I love. If it’s native to Alpine bogs, then it’s no wonder that it’s so hard to grow in the American South, whose hot, humid climate must put any Alpine plant to the test.

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