09 February, 2009

Timeliness

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up.


So says the Book of Ecclesiastes. The Yi Jing [Book of Changes] and Kongzi [Confucius] call it "the way of heaven". Carl Jung called it "synchronicity". Zen folk might call it "mindfulness", sportsmen might call it "being in the zone". I can't repeat what traditional jazz players call it. It's that time when everything clicks, on some level. Rightness in time. Timeliness.

A good tea session can be like this. That time when every brew works out perfectly, and every sip is a marvel. A good painting can be like it, when every stroke lands in just the right place, automatically. A good haiku can be like it, when every phrase comes out unbidden, sitting perfectly on the page, just right.


German Snowmen


We've had lots of snow recently. You know me - I like to take photos of pretty scenes. The snow fell particularly heavily, and the weather forecast said that it'd all be gone soon. I was running out of time - I had to get some shots before it all melted. However, my schedule was full, from start to finish.

Wolfing down breakfast, I headed out into the garden with my camera. I felt the pressure of imminent meetings, and all of the responsibility that they have associated with them. I felt heavy, rushed. Despite that, I was determined to photograph some of the winter - snow is quite a rarity in England, and it was the first winter in our new house, so I wanted to have at least a few photos by which to remember it.

Nothing worked.

Everything I photographed turned out poorly: bad composition, flat subjects, no interest. Of the many photographs that I took, all were deleted, excepting the mundane but amusing shot of our neighbours' charming German snowmen (above).

I headed off to my first commitment of the day feeling as if something had slipped past, something that I couldn't grab.

A busy day passed, then a good night's sleep.


Heidu


Waking the next day, fantastically enough, the snow had remained despite the predictions of the weathermen. With an empty schedule, I strolled out into the garden with my camera, and no expectations.

I walked out to the far end, past the vegetable patches constructed by the house's previous owner that we have not yet replanted, and took in some fresh air. I looked around, searching for nothing in particular, content just to be in the garden with nothing to do.


Winter at Home


Every little aspect of the quiet far end of the garden seemed magical and significant, in its own way. Various Zen sayings came to mind, which I let pass without noting. I took photograph after photograph of magic - little treasures, one after another, everywhere I looked.

Old bottles in the greenhouse, sheltering under a glass ceiling heavy with snow. Beads of water dripping off a shed roof. A leaf seen from behind, glimpsed through a gap in the fence.


Winter at Home


I eventually returned to the house, empty and light, a camera filled with inspiration.

Which tea should I brew? My hands ran over a sample kindly provided by Nada - a 2008 spring Baozhong, picked by the farmer in accordance with times and dates determined by the Daoist astrological almanac.

a time to plant, and a time to pluck that which is planted
Timeliness.


Daoist Baozhong


Sharing those buttery brews with Lei, sharing scents of a Chinese spring revived before us, I thought of the famous passage from Ecclesiastes, quoted at the opening to this article.

I've learned not to force it if it's wrong. Some days, you just get it right.

That's timeliness.


Daoist Baozhong


To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.

13 comments:

vl. said...

Interesting thought. I gave up trying to take pictures of snow with my digital camera after I took a couple of hundred of photos all which will probably go bin sometime (I always keep photos for at least a couple of months before deleting them, one cannot decide straight away). More precisely I just dump things onto a DVD and forget :p Snow is impossibly difficult to take pictures of, for some reason!

Got some okish pictures walking around with my Rolleiflex though, 12 shots and all were ok (except when I pointed the camera at the sun for the sake of it!).

Bao zhong is a curious choice for a winters day. I always go for hong cha and strong roast oolong! Just habit though.

-vl.

Hobbes said...

G'day, Big Man!

I know the feeling, shooting snow. The lighting, the depth, it's all extraordinarily tricky for me when everything is dazzling white.

I've been enjoying your images on your blog, so it looks like you're having a very decent success rate!

Baozhong in winter: I drink a lot of warming tea, but very little baozhong as a matter of habit, no matter what the season. I don't think I could make it through the winter on hongcha and nongxiang wulong alone, mind you. :)

Is there a Russian vodka of choice for winter?

I hope term is treating you kindly! Are you in the third year now?


Best wishes as ever,

Hobbes

vl. said...

There is no particular Russian vodka which is drunk in the winter. Except, well, if you dare make your own! Recipes can be found easily, and the apparatus is, to say the least, quite rudimentary. If you ever do a favour for someone in Russia who is a samogon maker (which is some % of the population, don't make me guess) you might get a bottle in return. I think this illustrated in Michael Palin's documentary even (in the slightly acted out episode where he visits the USSR in 1990 or around) if you've ever seen.

Everything is very good here, except that snow has turned to rain... safer but not quite as fun.

Photography are amusing for me right now in some sense, I am having more fun playing around with an old 40's Rolleiflex than anything before. Amazing camera! It's surprising how little has changed in photography in all of this time, obviously coating creates a more pleasant life like image with less washing out of shadows, but otherwise...

I just don't like bao zhong I think, very green.

-vl.

Hobbes said...

Glad to hear everything's OK up there.

Oddly enough, when the snow was at its heaviest, the Emergency Dept. here was almost empty. Now, with the snow turning to slush, it's absolutely packed full with customers. It's as if it was previously too cold to get into an emergency medical situation, but now it's warmer, the local population are making up for lost time... there's not a single empty bed in the hospital. Crazy.

I'd love to try that old 40's affair. You're developing your own now, no? I promised Lei I'd make her a darkroom once we've got the house up to scratch. :)


Toodlepip,

Hobbes

vl. said...

I develop my own b&w film of course. Colour (well E6 film, C41 is difficult to scan) is another matter, I don't shoot enough to warrant doing it myself since the chemicals go off quickly (and its not really fun, very strict timing required).

A darkroom is certainly fun. A few years ago you could get the equipment second hand for almost free, now the prices have sort of stabilised, according to people in the know about these things. Either way, the biggest problem is that you need running water and hence drainage.

-vl.

Hobbes said...

Good knowledge, thank'ee.

Running water and drainage we have in abundance, this city being largely flood-plains. :)

It makes it an easy city to defend against Parliamentarians!


Toodlepip,

Hobbes

David said...

Now I know where the Byrds got the lyrics for Turn, Turn, Turn from! I agree with Hobbes, the tea photos always look great on here, very nicely lit. Snow is definitely tricky though.

Hobbes said...

Oh, I didn't realise the Byrds did a song on that - but it's a very famous one, isn't it! Thanks. :)


Toodlepip,

Hobbes

Israel said...

Lovely. Thank you for sharing.

Israel

speakfreely said...

I'm just curious what makes those snowmen "German". They look like the ones we find in the states...;-)

Drinking your gift of '07 XZH YiWu Cha Hwang, and liking it a lot!
-CB

Hobbes said...

Dear Carla,

I've been replying to your e-mail for the past 6 days! I've noticed that I'm slower to respond to friends' e-mails because I want to give them some proper time, but invariably this means I look like a slouch. Forgive me!

Those snowmen are really very German. They were made with German hands, and they are made to represent the father, mother, and kleine Deutschekind that live next door! (Great neighbours, I love stollen at Christmas.)


Toodlepip,

Hobbes

Hobbes said...

P.s. Glad to hear that Xizihao is going down well :)

speakfreely said...

The XZH is really very good, and I'm drinking it for a 2nd day in a row; after abstaining from caffeine for almost a year, I'm finding that tea keeps me from sleeping well if I have more than a few cups - and only before lunch. So tea will last me a lot longer than it used to!

Ah, so it's the nuclear-family structure that makes the snowmen German. I can see that. I thought perhaps it had to do with the headgear, but to my eye, the momma snowman (snowwoman?)is wearing a fez, which makes her look sort of Turkish.