Thread 52 - A Net To Catch Time - Samantha Clark
By Samantha Clark
Like stars, mists and candle flames
Mirages, dewdrops and water bubbles
Like dreams, lightning and clouds
In that way will I view all phenomena
Prayer of the 12th Tai Situpa
I live between saltwater and fresh. My home lies beside a wide freshwater loch that rests in a shallow bowl of low green hills. The burn that flows out of it skirts the edge of the garden. A mile from here it meets the sea that encircles this island. Most days, I walk from loch to sea and home again. Wind on my left cheek, wind on my right.
I watch the water. I’m trying to draw it. But here’s the catch; when you draw water you make it into something that bears no resemblance to water. You strip it of its restless, liquid reality. A drawing takes time and holds it still.
But you can’t hold water still.
I’ll keep trying.
This morning I’m sat here at my desk writing. I’m feeling for the right words as if with my fingers, the hesitant stumble and rush of them over the keyboard, the words that come so ploddingly, hopelessly trying to hold onto time, to pin it to the page. I don’t even know why I’m doing it.
I do know why I’m doing it. To try to hold still those dewdrops and water-bubbles, those dreams, lightning and clouds. To see if art can hold a single instant still, slow it down enough to see it properly, watch it slowly thicken with meaning. To see if I can know fully one moment, even an instant.
A drawing is a net for catching time. A sentence is a path attention follows.
So, I go on setting down words on the page. I go on drawing my tiny lines and circles. Millions of them. I bring my attention back each time it wanders, frets, worries, goes racing after distraction. I watch the water as it goes on circling and cycling, always going, always coming, always here, always already elsewhere. I watch my thoughts go spinning on and wait for them to settle. I try to learn patience.
And from that, I hope, will come a certain steadiness. Calm.
My fingers twitch in the air above the keyboard as if reaching for something. Time is too quick for me. Catch catch catch, always in arrears.
Acknowledge the impossibility of the task.
And keep going.
Stay. Just listen. On the shed roof there’s a starling chirring and whistling and buzzing through his whole repertoire, and further off a curlew’s long, weeping call. Further still someone is hammering in a fencepost. Chipchipchipchirrup go the busy sparrows. The clouds are gleaming today as if lit from inside. The bright beauty of this big sky, this towering cumulonimbus, will never come again just in this shape. This light, this moment, will never repeat itself. And yet it does also repeat itself. The daily cycle, the seasonal round, the regular chores. Make the coffee. Feed the hens. Answer emails. Mark another batch of student essays. Make a to-do list. Tick tick tick. Stir the soup. Butter bread and eat it. Wash and stack the dishes. Draw more circles, more lines. Write more words. And under the slow tumble of sky there is always the quickening shimmer of the loch in wind and sun. The sound of the sea coming from beyond the fields, a big swell still washing in after yesterday’s gale. Water, always, a dancing thing, a lightness. A strangeness.
I go out to check the hens, and stand a few moments by the lochside, holding a just-laid egg still warm in my hands, turning it over and over against my palms. This moment, resting so tenderly in itself. How full it is. The light pouring its freshness over everything. Greylag geese drift and preen. Gulls fly up off the water with clapping wings and shake themselves dry like wet dogs, midair. Along the shingle at the water’s edge oystercatchers lift and settle, lift and settle, piping loudly all the while.
Hold the moment like the egg. Cup it gently, feel its fragile shell and the warmth lingering inside it. How can I observe the inside of this moment without dropping or breaking it? I catch at the scraps, glimpse the edge of something, a trick of the light, the brief flash of a trout turning in the shallows and gone, the glint of a gnat’s wing. Life’s flow washes over and through us and yet somehow leaves us beached, gasping and flapping on a bare shore: Ralph Waldo Emerson puzzled over this: I take this evanescence and lubricity of all objects which lets them slip through our fingers even when we clutch the hardest, to be the most unhandsome part of our condition.
Where is it, this moment? It melts under the heat of my attention. It’s gone in the very instant of its becoming. If life is made up of successive present moments, each one ungraspable, how will I know I have lived?
I’ll keep drawing. I’ll keep writing. I’ll accumulate my circles, my layers and lines. I’ll feel for the right words. Then one day I might understand.
Samantha Clark is a visual artist, writer and creative mentor based in Orkney. She was awarded a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award in 2018, a Cove Park Emerging Writers Award in 2020 and the RSA William Littlejohn Award in 2021. She has a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of St Andrews. Her first book “The Clearing” was published by Little, Brown in March 2020. She now lives beside, draws and writes about water.
All photo credits Samantha Clark 2022