Greetings, dear readers. Greetings here at the beginning of August. August on the peninsula is a flourishing season tinged with loss, but only tinged. These are the high days of infatuation, so to speak, of warmest rays projected onto smooth skin. But also of folly; the hem is already wet waiting at the shore for the boat that will depart soon enough.
We can hardly escape these seasonal associations, even when each offers its gifts so generously at the door. A tinge, the first scent, offers an opportunity to prepare for what is coming.
Over the summer I have been recording readings of this year’s letters and sharing them with my few benevolent patrons — and now it is time to open up that archive to all of you. You might begin with July’s letter and work your way back. Enjoy!
This month I come to you with a continuation of last month’s point notes. I offer another set of three, which makes six — an undoubtedly auspicious number in such matters. These notes come from my recent stays at Point Turnstone on nearby North Manitou Island, from which my last boat of the season departed last week. Here are three more views from there.
August arrives at the point. Harebell is still in bloom here, knapweed a dusty lavender haze over sand and the first tiny goldenrods have begun to open. Sand cherry swells and bearberry turns bold red. Fawns venture to browse together on windfall, toads unbury themselves at dusk and walk to the shore. Each night coyote follows the nose around the point. Monarch light and direct in the wind, precious beyond words. You cannot stay, but stay. Plovers have fledged and are napping in the cobble, one big north wind away from striking out into the unknown air. They are prepared, mysteriously, to find their way; fledglings reveal few secrets. Pitcher’s thistle moves from bloom to seed, from opal arc to burnished teak craft carried by finest silk sail. We send the next into the wind, each. May you find a place to be. In its out-of-step working, coreopsis shifts from green to gold to burnt brown. Tick-seed clings to the foreleg and drops. Wind ruffles fur as brown eyes gaze steady out over the water, turn to treeline.
In the water, up to the neck at sunrise or sunset, cool. Begin and end the day this way when possible. In the water beginning and end become indistinguishable. Plug the nose and sink to the bottom — see sky through the wavering pane, a view out of this into another. Perhaps see the rising sun hot through the water, perhaps the fuchsia glow of late-summer cloudbelly at sunset, perhaps that blinding midday presence overhead. Wave cools light to particle, makes it tangible. Swim to grasp the light.
Beneath the surface a mammal, one’s own ancestor, a mind in the dizzying spatiotemporal matrix. The mind an electric eel coiled into a conch, a cuttlefish fanning out some psychedelic signal in the dark. Psychedelic, coined at the dawn of the lysergic age from the Ancient Greek psukhḗ, soul, and dêlos, to manifest. Swimming is palpably soul-making; here beneath the surface a body in time meets a soul in space.
But recall that psukhḗ also bears some sense of breath. Carry a mouthful of air down and let it rise as a signal at the surface, a hollow held and carried and released. The opposite of hollow is full — therefore breathe out and be full. Become all-water, a vessel emptied so it can be filled, returned so it might, in a sense, embrace the cosmos. Swimming is a phase in a cycle without beginning or end; before the body enters the water the swim is already underway. Indeed, as James Hillman points out, psyche precedes its manifestations.1
Wake and rise quickly at the sound of thunder over the island’s shoulder. Stumble from bed before the eyes are fully open, out onto the dunes. There in the east a glimpse of brilliant diffuse dawn over the dark water as the first raindrops fall. An effervescence of orange and peach that brings the heart to the throat. It is improbably pretty, wrenching. But the scene ends in medias res; a dense curtain of storm descends.
These are the transitions usually hidden from view. How could the waking mind grasp such a thing? It is as if one were to glimpse one’s own shade walking up the path from camp to disappear over the first dune. One cannot mistake that form, that stride.
But shades must pack up too, walk here and there. They are not exempt, just quick and quiet, practiced, professional.
Any glimpse of a hidden thing is followed by forgetfulness — it must be. The storm at sunrise is Lethe, held here aloft, a draught from which is necessary to compel one back to the waking world. A drenching rain loosens the hold and the scene glimpsed upon waking is forgotten. The day and its silken gray sky, layered and shining, begins. The heart yearns after something, but one cannot remember what.
Thank you for reading along with this August installment of Polylith. Your bright attention is a generous gift, and I hope these puzzlings can reciprocate. As always, I desire nothing more than for the conversation to continue. I invite you to puzzle with me — write a postcard or an email, propose a walk, drop by the garden for a chat among the blooms.
Until next month, roll up the hems. Summer isn’t through with us yet!
From his excellent The Dream and the Underworld, 1979. ↩