Yesterday morning my wife and I wound our way down to Hamilton to drop off Santa Maria’s halyard, which needs replacing. We then made our way over to LaSalle Marina, her home on the hard in this year of pandemic. We finished replacing a thru-hull, started a couple of weeks ago, after which we decided for a stroll on the shore. There we found a beautiful swan.
She, or he – I guess – was busy cleaning herself. It was most amazing to watch her. She could bend her head in pretty much any direction, and reach places I didn’t know to exist on a swan. The swan paid no attention to my paying attention to her. I took a video, and then wondered why. I wanted to capture the moment, I guess. But why?
I recall a professor some years ago talking about walking along a via in Rome, at sunset, with a friend who commented on all the tourists snapping photos (in those days with cameras not phones). The friend noted that they were trying to freeze a moment rather than enjoying it. They wanted to “capture” it; to have it ready at hand. I have thought about that comment for some time.
I also remember reading an article more recently about a study concerning memory and photographs. People taking photos of an event, or a monument were later asked about it. Set against those who simply took in the event, the photographers had less-clear memories and far weaker impressions than those who simply observed. But there was an exemption. Photographers who were trying to get artful images had a stronger impression than both groups. So, what does this tell us?
It is hard to know. But it does seem to be the case that those who practice art are practiced in patience. And patience is the sine que non for seeing in the richest sense of the word. Some ancient Greeks believed that when a person saw something, they became one with it. This was the condition for the possibility of knowing something, also evidenced in the Hebrew word for “know.” Yada is used in the broader sense of knowledge, but also with reference to sexual intercourse. Truly knowing comes from truly seeing which means being one with what is known.
I didn’t become one with the swan. But I know that she certainly gave me pause, and as I watched her bend in so many ways, I thought of my recent foray into yoga. The swan needs no guru to guide it. Maybe that’s why I took the video, hoping that she might be my guru, inspiring or in-spiriting me with this vision of flexibility and balance. And maybe too it, I wanted to remind myself that there are no ugly ducklings.