Monday, February 18, 2008

Of a morning

As I have mentioned before, I am a morning person. Which is just as well. More westerly as we are than much of Britain, we are nevertheless on Central European Time, an hour ahead of them. The springing forward change of the clocks in March takes me weeks to fully adjust to, and even people who've lived here all their lives find it difficult, and by the time it comes to the falling back at the end of November, the Toussaint holiday and the extra hour in bed, I feel like I'm hanging on by my fingernails, I long for it so much.

In the summer, we have to stay up until nearly midnight to see a starry sky, and for much of the part of the year I spend working, I need to be out of the house, and even arriving at work, well before first light. In the dark, our accustomed, visually assured place in the world uncertain, we are very small and powerless. Stepping out of my cosy, controlled, electrically lit domesticity, my typically uselessly female rod cells ill-equipped for dealing with headlights, listening to the owls or the wind or the rain, looking up at the stars or the glow before dawn, I have developed a peculiar kind of prayer of petition, if you will, which is not a request, but simply to ask Einstein's question: is the universe friendly?

I don't know quite why, or how, I ask it. It isn't a grovelling plea - be nice to me, don't let bad things happen. I know there is no reason why I deserve comfort and freedom from harm more than anyone else, and I doubt the existence of, or wouldn't want to know, a teleological God who listens and attends to me and my needs while deciding not to bother with Darfur at the moment. Perhaps I ask in the spirit that a comfortable but fearful slave asks a capricious master, in the third person: I trust Sir is feeling well this morning? He doesn't quite know if he'll get a smile or a kick; the master has been pretty good to him so far, but one never knows, he can turn, and he's seen how he's treated some of the others...

It may just be a ritual formula of words which steadies and reassures simply by its repetition, I don't know. I receive, of course, no answer. Yet, insignificant as I am against the dark and the stars and the sunrise, something in me believes I have the right to ask.


My slightly later start on Saturday, to be in Lamballe at 9, meant I was at the fishing pond before the sun was up, to give Mol her walk first.

Everything was visible but nearly monochrome,

and the mist and the water were doing their smoke and mirrors trick.

The frost was hard and stingingly crisp,

etching a world of thresholds,

and as we made our tour of the pond, colour began to return to the world.

I am unable to know of the friendliness or otherwise of the universe. In this pinpoint of it, I know of its beauty. That will have to do.


Jean said...

What a wonderfully evocative essay, wonderfully illustrated by the photos. I enjoyed this very much, and feel somewhat the same about being out in the dark (though it's never really dark where I live in the city, of course).

Rob Windstrel Watson said...

Lucy, stunning photos and hugely entertaining narrative that prompted so many questions - a wonderful piece of writing.

I fear that to ask if the universe is friendly not only is a question of deity or deities that might be hiding in a black hole out there, it also involves the potentially millions of life forms that astronomers and scientists think are probable.

I was hugely struck by a program of TV that talked about two galaxies colliding - yes I did say galaxies. Millions, if not billions, of stars with their planets simply banging into each other as if on a huge cosmic snooker table.

Assuming for a moment that life has grown elsewhere, how must the creatures have felt, who may even have developed higher levels of awareness than us, to see planets or suns approaching on a collision course.

A little closer to home, I discovered the other day that our sun travels around our galaxy (the Milky Way) on an elliptical course and every so often goes through an area where other suns are particularly closely clustered. Apparently, we are just emerging from this area at the moment.

So, is the universe an unfriendly place? I think it is.

Are human beings unfriendly? I think we could all do better (me included :-)).

Is the universe beautiful? To us humans, it certainly is and I bet the hyper-intelligent three headed hydra of wherever would absolutely agree.

Rob Windstrel Watson said...

Lucy, many thanks for visiting my humble abode. Yes it has many rooms ... Which I suppose is not really very humble.

Love your phrase 'some kind of hyperkinetic web presence who can't help spinning stuff'.


You've got a wonderful way with words :-)

The place most people meet up just to chat as opposed to themed conversation at mine is at my blog

It's free and easy, lighthearted and we're serving virtual alcoholic Chocolate Freezer Cake today.

But, of course you are always welcome on my other blogs.

Hope to see you there :-)

jzr said...


Your essay is wonderful! Don't we all have these rituals of asking the universe for its favor??

Your photos are equally wonderful. Thanks for sharing all of your wonderful thoughts.


Granny J said...

Oh, how you captured the emergence of color from the black of night and the grey of almost dawn. Especially that sudden burst of sunlight. Words from a night person, who loves the early hours but can't manage her time to enjoy them.

Rosie said...

I dont find the universe friendly...more like capricious...sometimes it comes on as though it is a chum, and then it does the dirty on me...I dont trust it further than I could throw it, which probably isnt very far..

Anonymous said...

Fabulous post, Lucy, both your way with words and images! I'm with you about 'daylight saving' time, a misnomer! And we now start earlier and end later because of the US, supposedly to save on gas!? That's the kind of universe that bugs me, all man's doing, but I think otherwise left alone it's beautiful.

Pam said...

Yes, indeed, very thought-provoking post. And wonderful pictures, though now I know why I live in Scotland rather than France: it's clearly a lot warmer. (?)

meggie said...

Those photographs are wonderful to illustrate your questions.
I love the mornings the best, too.
This morning was blanketed, & muffled under thick fog, which deadened all the sounds, & tricked me into sleeping in!
We ask all the questions, & see almost glimpses of answers, in small wonders such as the buds of Spring.

Lucy said...

Thanks, good people, for lovely responses.
For someone as clever as Einstein, it was perhaps a rather daft question. The idea of friendliness in terms of the universe is probably irrelevant, as is hostility, caprice or any other human-derivied, affective notion. The universe simply is. I suppose I think perhaps we just owe it to ourselves as humans not to just crawl about fatalisitically and helplessly, but at least to kid ourselves that we're engaging with it, whether by questioning, railing against or daring to love it, or all three.
The human-contrived universe is, indeed, another matter, and the question 'are human beings friendly' is probably a more practical one. An even more practical one is 'is an antiquated Citroen BX a reliable form of transport?'
Alcoholic freezer cake sounds very friendly...shame it's virtual.

vicki johnson said...

Love these images, Lucy...and your words echo much of my own struggle with the subject of beseeching and/or petitioning the powers that rule our existence, our lives. i also believe i have the right to ask...and what i mostly ask (whether it is in regard to the natural world's dominance of my existence or the human interaction/interference) is for discernment...please help me to discern how i should act or respond to {fill in the blank} ...that is my most frequent plea...

Lucy said...

Bless you Zephyr. that's more or less what I do too.

Pam said...

Couldn't agree more with your English teaching comment, Lucy! I spent 6 years being disembowelled by secondary pupils and that was enough. And Hardy - hmm. A tad on the gloomy side for me. I'm so glad it's not "Jude" - couldn't read that again. "Tess" is bad enough. I liked it the last time I read it, which was in 1968, but my tastes have changed a bit! Still, not here to enjoy myself, am I?

julie said...

Lucy, any universe wherein you exist must ipso facto have a strong vein of goodness running through it.

Thanks again for letting us see through your eyes :)

Jules said...

Once again you have the most wonderful pictures. And your essay made what some might call a very ordinary day, a day to remember.

Thank you for sharing.

Lee said...

I have long given up the hope that the universe is fair but I am pretty certain that it is not malevolent either.

Love the starkness of the photos.

We will be in France 16-25 June. A few days at La Turballe, south of you I think, plus a day trip to Marseille, the rest of the time in Paris. We will using the trains to get about.

Avus said...

Exceptionally good photographs, I thought - perfectly realised.
As to the Universe question - Like you I say it just "is" and will get on with doing its thing.
"In the end absolutely nothing matters at all", maybe a nihilistic attitude, but it is true and can sometimes be strangely comforting.
As David Gordon has it in "The Ballad of Ways and Means":
"There are millions of laws legislators have spoken;
A handful the Creator sent.
The former are being continually broken;
The latter can't even be bent."

Beryl Ament said...

My daughter—also called Lucy—spent a year (98-99) in St-Brieuc teaching English in the high school. We were not able to visit her at the time. I wish I had had some of your photos. They corroborate all her descriptions of the greyness of Brittany. She found it hard to see beauty in monochrome and it is great to see you celebrate it.

HLiza said...

Lucy, I'm very much a morning person too..once the sun hides, I'll be sleepy too! Nice photos there..amazing scenery..makes you just wanna sit there and consume all of them at once...

Lucy said...

Thank you.
Isabelle - 'Done because we are too many!' Aargh! I did 'Tess' for my A levels, it was OK but I wouldn't want to go over and over it. Quite right about not here to enjoy. Tom's first wife (also a teacher) used to tell him what he did wasn't work because he enjoyed it!
Julie - you do say the nicest things1
Jules - welcome, and thanks.
Lee - the light was really quite special. I'll pop across and leave my e-mail, lest you should tire of the colourful charms of Paris and fancy hopping on a train out to monochrome Brittany!
Avus - compared to you, Marcus Aurelius was emoting all over the place! Thanks for stopping by.
Beryl - what a coincidence! It's taken me a long time to appreciate St Brieuc as a town, though compared to Brest it's positively light-filled and jolly, and being there away from home teaching lycee ( I did that too, not a picnic...) I can imagine she wasn't very charmed. But there is beauty to be found here, and the soft blues and mauves and greens and golds are very lovely when the light is good. It has a different quality again from the south of Brittany.
Hliza - hello! Glad you like it; do you not find living in a hotter place you pick up a bit in the cool of the evening? Afternoons are my slowest time, whatever the weather, though I can't really do late nights at all...

Anonymous said...

Third picture down - stupendous!

I like walking around in the dark. But, as Jean says, it's never *really* dark in the city.

apprentice said...

Agree with everything that's been said here. A great time of day to be out and about.

leslee said...

Agreeing with RR here - that 3rd photo down is strikingly beautiful.

Alas, too tired here for contemplation of the universe's friendliness or attention to our desires, though I don't think it's necessarily a zero-sum game. Not Einstein to begin with, and fewer working brain cells this evening than usual. So I come down to the focus on the microcosm - the joy of a beautiful photo, the taste of good food, and perhaps a good night's sleep.

Anonymous said...

How is it that the third picture contains more in the water than in the air?

It might be some kind of commentary on your words...