What Time Is It?

Morning is when I’m awake and there is a dawn in me . . . To be awake is to be alive . . . We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn. — Henry David Thoreau, Walden

I, too, am an early bird. This is the time of day when I am most energetic, and then around noon the rot sets in!
In early June, Bill and I visited Vivian Forst who has just celebrated her one-hundred-sixth birthday. Her mind is still sharp, and she has remained engaged and connected. She has strong opinions and pithy comments about politics, events, and society. Let it be a lesson to me!
The young artist, Everett Ruess who specialized in woodblocks, wrote the words that I used as the title of this essay in one of his voluminous journals. He was a solitary, but friendly vagabond who walked up the California coast from Los Angeles to San Francisco and became acquainted with, for example, Ansel Adams, the wonderful photographer of Yosemite. Mormon ranchers in Utah and Arizona Indians befriended him. He was absolutely fearless and wandered through southern Utah and northern Arizona with only his packhorse for company.
He was only twenty — really little more than a boy — when he disappeared in 1934 in the wilderness of Southern Utah in what became a great, unsolved mystery. Bill and I have driven several times through that area north of the Grand Canyon which was still marked “unexplored” on the road map when we were young. Even today towns and ranches are sparse, and it bespeaks the freedom of vast, open spaces.
Ruess was virtually drunk on his love of natural beauty. Few of us are swept up in such a single-minded passion. Although his road was short, he traveled it with a great intensity of spirit, self-knowledge and excitement. I wouldn’t want to be so focused and isolated from the mainstream, but, as did Thoreau, he reminds me to live intensely and with awareness. He asked, “What time is it? It’s time to live!”
Even though his journey through life was so brief, it was filled with beauty and adventure. I understand that each of our lives is a journey and an exploration whose length is less important than the experiences that we cram into it.
Fine poets see with a sharp eye and compress complex ideas into a few words. Constantine Cavafy, Greece’s greatest modern poet, wrote about the wanderings of Ulysses who struggled to reach his home island of Ithaca after the Trojan War, encountering monsters and great danger along the way:
As you set out for Ithaca
hope that your road is a long one,
full of adventures, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon–don’t be afraid of them:
You’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body . . .
Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter many harbors you’re seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfumes of every kind–
as many sensual perfumes as you can:
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.
Keep Ithaca always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.
Ithaca gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn’t have set out.
I don’t know when I shall reach my “Ithaca.” My life-journey has been filled with lovely mornings, pleasure, and people. I anticipate of new dawns yet to come. wclarke@comcast.net