SAUNTERING

A road, a mile of kingdom. I am king
Of banks and stones and every blooming thing.
Patrick Kavanagh

Time moves differently on the road. It stands still like the air when we are still, but when we move it seems to rush at us.  Of course it is we ourselves who are rushing. Time is oneself. What do I give when I give my time? I give myself. We hide this from ourselves when we measure time by an abstract arithmetic.  It then becomes a separate reality, a possession rather than the substance of our own existence.  We count it as we count money.

I read that the Nuer, an African people, have no word for time, and they are unable therefore to think of it as something that passes, that is caught up with, that is saved or wasted or fought against. They do not imagine that they ought to co-ordinate their activities with an abstract passage of time; their only points of reference are the activities themselves, which are generally of a leisurely nature.

This was true also, in large measure, of Beeing, the country village where I grew up.  People said harvest-time for autumn, after dinner for afternoon, cow-time or milking-time for evening.  I remember a porter in the nearby hospital who used to patrol the wards a few hours after visiting-time was over, ringing a bell and cajoling the last of the visitors to leave: "You may as well be moving on now; it's cow-­time!"  Before our fixation on mechanical measurement of time there was only "a time for sowing and a time for reaping...."

The Honda has forsaken also the counting of miles, the speed­ometer indicating a perpetual motionlessness. It has entered into the mood of this pilgrimage and prefers to saunter along, ignoring all arithmetic. Robert Pirsig claimed in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance that "the motorcycle is primarily a mental phenomenon," and that "the study of the art of motorcycle maintenance is really a miniature study of the art of rationality itself." Pshaw! I don't agree! I find it a dangerous idea. My Honda is beyond all that. This morning, as if to shrug off such nonsense about rationality, she refused to start. "Mental phenomenon!”  No, I would never insult her by calling her such a thing.  She was just a little exhausted and needed to rest.  I parked her on the road, beyond the bushes, where there was a fresh breeze, and I returned to take my leave of Dunrower and Lough Leane.

She started, of course, and now two hours later we continue to saunter westwards. She seems entirely at ease with the tradition of sauntering, a word that comes from ‘Sainte Terre’, the Holy Land. It is a word that holds some memory of the contemplative loitering and dawdling of millions of pilgrims through the Christian centuries. 

She refuses steadfastly to measure mileage.  Galileo loved those qualities that are called 'primary' - size, shape, number, swift and slow motion - because they were measurable.  That can hardly be the only way to see the world.  Imagine a guest whose only interest in your house lay in measur­ing everything! You would suspect him of planning some kind of raid.  And raid they did, these measurers. Some scientists (or rather their admirers) seem to like the word 'raiding' as a description of what they do: raiding the universe for its secrets, raiding the earth for its minerals….  Let’s not mention them any more in the presence of my Honda. 

Yes, the world is divided into measurers and saunterers. And these times I am on the side of the saunterers. "I have a ring with a hawk and a butterfly upon it," wrote W. B. Yeats, "to symbolise the straight road of logic ... and the crooked road of intuition: 'For wisdom is a butterfly and not a gloomy bird of prey.'"

From Take Nothing for the Journey: Meditations on Time and Place,
Donagh O'Shea, Dominican Publications, Dublin, 1990 (2nd edition, 2013)

 

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