Guernsey, Easter 2010
Here I am again, descending the path to Marble Bay, or the steep steps to Petit Bot, or walking down the wooded lane that leads to Moulin Huet, my eye caught by the shimmering sea or the virgin smoothness of the sand, by the brilliance of glancing light, and the craggy face of the granite that hangs about the beach, and as I begin to parse the elements I realize that I am doing it again, almost ritually, commencing a process of response to the spectacle, essentially a cognitive repetition of all those previous trips to Guernsey beaches. I am getting ready to cover the same ground and observe the same details, and although I may notice something new and find different words, the sensations are immutably the same, and this is partly the point. The verbal commemoration of these patches of maritime landscape is a ceremony connecting the now of consciousness with all those numerous previous arrivals to the sand, from the time of my first visit with Fiona in 1991 before we were engaged, to this Easter visit in 2010, since when Fiona and I have added two daughters to the world. My appraisal of the sky and rocks renews the familiar and rescues the past (despite a drift of twenty years), and perhaps reinstates the vividness of a first impression, as if life could begin all over again. One can't help wondering if this repetitive reflex is almost a tic, itself routine; except that I know that the wowing of the senses is a preliminary and involuntary booting up of all kinds of artistic powers, of which memory and emotion are part. This ritual is a portal to introspection. It intensifies and acts on something which, after all, makes everybody happy: the seaside; and if a thousand hours of labour in cafes and back bedrooms over the years stand between the elation of standing on a beach and gazing at the patterns of granite and the accomplishing of a novel, for example, which may not feature one beach scene, the writing depends for its vitality on the impulse to enter into experience in this way. My ritual parsing of the scene is an act of invocation. It takes the wafer and wine as offered by nature and receives a Eucharistic power.
Repetition, however, does seem like an endless preparation at times; and perhaps part of the sadness of returning to these beaches is that they mark the passing of time, the elapsing of one's thirties and forties. The urge to record what strikes one as beautiful is not only a hedge against the transience of the subject in view and the emotion it causes, stealing it from time, but an admission that all such moments are a collaboration between an eternal world (by human standards) and a briefly visiting human consciousness. Repetition is both celebratory, in that it attests to the perennial goodness of living, and poignant. Elation is subtly qualified. Every time you come back and behold the quilted sea, more time has passed. This nags a little, but informs, and probably intensifies one's sensations. Going into the scenery, especially for the third Easter in a row in Guernsey, walking that same coastal path but now at the age of fifty, I note that two tendencies seem to counter the surreptitious tristesse of return. One is an idea that maturity brings on anyway, that the here and now is endlessly pleasing and fascinating and renewing, and that this is enough, and the great art of life is to let it get to you. The other counter to time-fever is that bit by bit the natural aesthetic order, this harmony between the senses and Creation, is generative. The first thing it might generate is the urge to take a photograph, or the collecting of seashells; it might generate energy, the digging of moats and castles. It might liberate words for the back of a postcard. In my case, I know it has got to me when, four days in, I am right there on the beach somewhat pinned down by the dog on a lead and following it from A to B, the wind in my hair, and out of nowhere, music enters my ears, as if summoned by the energy-release I am speaking of. Not sea-faring or maritime music, not Bax or Debussy, but music from the Caucasus, the Tartar rampage of Rachmaninov's D minor sonata, last movement, and it instantly makes the connection between the freed imagination, primed and ventilated by the sky and the sea, and the spirits of music, like spores in the air; and this is enough to reassure anyone that time is a kind of distraction or tangent, now that the activating principle in Rachmaninov's imagination has linked with mine (over a gap of a hundred years), spurred in his case by very different landscapes but probably invoked by comparable elemental apprehensions. Awe brings forth music and music links the eternal world to mine.
From 'Travels and Trees' 2010