It’s raining at the end of the world

It’s a new year. I found it hard to mobilize myself to write. It’s not that I lost motivation or inspiration. It’s the rain, the gloominess, the lack of sleep, the time-consuming agitation of life. It’s the wild, mixed emotions. Thinking about what was and what could have been.

Oh yes, it’s definitely the rain too.

It’s been raining for days and it’s raining still. The soil is like a giant sponge. Everything is wet, including the air I breathe.

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Traveling the world

I woke up before anybody else. Like a sleepwalker, I prepared my backpack before fully realizing what I was doing. I took a few sips of hot coffee and I went out in the cold air.

Past my neighborhood, with its smell of freshly-baked bread and its familiar streets that I can recreate in full detail

Past the railway station, which always smells of creosote and farewells and never-coming-backs

Past the forest, where I’ve lived my joys and drowned my sorrows and watched the sun go up and go down

Past the river, where so many have drowned trying to get somewhere or running away from somewhere

Past the mountains, with their dark valleys and shining peaks and secret caves and passages

Like the tiny forest spring flowing into the river that flows into the river that flows into the river

Eventually finding its way to the ocean

I keep on moving

Easy Like Sunday Morning

There is fog on the river. It travels downstream as if somehow connected to the water. Vapors are rising, exuding through the pores of the earth.

I’m walking along the riverbank as the sun is slowly rising behind me. From time to time I turn and watch the play of light through the trees and the fog. There’s nobody around.

The rays of sunlight are perfectly drawn in the darkness of this early October morning. Spiders are silently weaving their ethereal webs that will disappear by the end of the morning. Birds are singing from all corners of the forest.

I stand still and all this light, sound, and fog are passing by me and through me.

What if I stop running?

The endless struggling and competing. Trying to be a good pupil, a good friend, a good lover, a good parent.

Constantly pushing myself to the limit. Feeling that it’s never good enough.

Always running towards something, which means always running away from something.

What if I stop spinning the wheel?

The forest at sunrise (October 2021)

Sometimes I am just so tired, as if I were carrying the weight of the world. Sometimes I’m just not in the mood of always motivating myself, always rationalizing the need to keep on running.

To stop running does not mean to stop wanting things, to be passive or resigned.

It simply means to stop trying so hard that it’s actually taking away life instead of enhancing life.

Remember one of those moments when you couldn’t succeed in something because you were too aware, too focused, and too invested in it? Well, I can tell you I remember lots of them. Once I let go of the striving, I usually found it miraculously easy to do it right.

As if an invisible obstacle had been silently removed.

The point is not to disengage in order to trick your mind into performing better. Doing this means you’re still running.

The point is to take a break and allow yourself to be ok with succeeding and also ok with non-succeeding. To accept both of them. Acceptance, not resignation.

All the struggling and aggravation around our non-succeeding makes us miserable while adding very little to our life, to what actually counts.

With that being said, I put on my sneakers and go out for my morning run.

Closed doors

There are visible doors that remain closed forever. And there are invisible doors that become visible only when they close.

Once upon a time, a man from the countryside wanted to get access to law (or justice). The access was through a guarded door. Every time he was trying to get in, the doorkeeper was telling him he cannot let him in just yet. Months passed, then years, but the door remained closed.

The man started bribing the doorkeeper and he spent everything he had just to be able to return to the gate with an ever higher bribe. The man got old. Just before dying, he asked the doorkeeper why he never saw anybody else trying to enter through that door, since all people seem to be seeking the law. The doorkeeper replied:

“No one else could ever be admitted here, since this gate was made only for you. I am now going to shut it.”

There’s something haunting about this story, first published by Franz Kafka in 1915 and then included in his novel “The Trial”. And even if you can’t quite put your finger on it, you recognize and react instinctively to its strangeness.

It’s as if looking inside a deep, endless well. As if looking inside yourself.

It reminded me of a Romanian folk tale I’ve mentioned some time ago. The tale starts like many other tales, with a hero embarking on a personal quest. In this case, the hero sets out to find immortality. But as the story advances, things turn dark and unpredictable. Although the hero emerges victorious from all the fights and traps he finds along the way, he does not find what he’s looking for. When he returns home, he finds Death itself waiting for him. But it’s not the Grim Reaper of everybody and nobody in particular. It is his own Death, waiting just for him.

Like any good story, Kafka’s parable is open to interpretations. Is it about justice, state authority, the crushing power of impersonal rules? Yes, but not only. Is it about alienation? Yes, but not only. The story is richer than any particular interpretation or moral message you could draw from it.

Maybe that’s what stories do. They speak about doors – about change, transformation, passage to something different. But they are not necessarily meant to help you open that door, only to make you realize it’s your door.

This responds to this week’s Lens Artists challenge, “Seen Better Days”, graciously hosted by Tina.

Autumn mood

I’ve assembled a short series of photos about autumn light and colors.

What they have in common is the presence of that soft, warm sunlight that falls on things almost horizontally. There’s a special muted intensity to it. Bright but not harsh. Caressing rather than burning.

Obviously, they also have in common the forest. It’s the place where the change of seasons and the passing of time are visible in a very direct and tangible way.

There are obvious changes such as the color of the foliage, but there are also countless minute changes in the microscopic life on the ground and the smells of the forest.

All the photos below have been taken in Belgium in the last two years.

This is in response to this week’s Lens Artists Challenge, Colors of Autumn, hosted by Amy.

I worried

As the sun rises, the forest wakes up. There’s movement and bird chatter and the wind picks up. Although the sun is now shining through the trees, shadows still reign all around. It’s as if sunshine were confined to a narrow channel that does not allow it to spread around. The yellow summer flowers are slowly moving in the morning breeze.

In a corner of my mind, there’s the beginning of a poem I read months ago. At first, I cannot make much out of it. Just like everything else, it remains in the shadows. It stays there and takes its time to percolate to the surface. Then it dawns on me.

Facing the morning sun (Germany, 2020)
"I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?

Finally, I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang."

(Mary Oliver - I Worried)

A different angle

Usually, we don’t look up or down unless there’s something out of the ordinary happening. Something that disrupts our horizontal routines. We are creatures of habit.

This is also reflected in photography. I don’t know about you, but most of my photos are eye level shots. This makes sense in many contexts, such as taking portraits. But it also narrows our perspective.

Changing the perspective, whether it’s a landscape or a personal problem, does not come easily because it messes up with our convenient little tunnel vision (that we usually call experience).

But changing the perspective is not just something we might do for the sake of creativity. Sometimes it’s the only thing to do to get unstuck.

There’s always more than one way of looking at what’s happening. Chances are we don’t just happen to find ourselves in the perfect field of view. In fact, many times we find ourselves in a hole and we react by keeping on digging, while waiting for something different to happen.

Here are a few shots that break away from the horizontal perspective, in response to Lens-Artists Photo Challenge #164 (Looking Up/Down).

Dreaming in black and white

"They shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods
Before they planted the trees. 
It is underneath the coppice and heath,
And the thin anemones.
Only the keeper sees
That, where the ring-dove broods,
And the badgers roll at ease,
There was once a road through the woods."
(Rudyard Kipling - The Way through the Woods)

My contribution to this week’s Cee’s Black and White Photo Challenge (CBWC): Large Subjects.