It’s been a while since I wrote a re-navigating Eileen post. These posts are about trying to get under the skin of our old boat and understanding both her history and my fascination with her. There have been two previous ‘re-navigating’ posts, one HERE and a second one HERE, taking a moment to read these posts may help set the scene for any new readers.

“Have you ever heard the wonderful silence just before the dawn? Or the quiet and calm just as a storm ends? Or perhaps you know the silence when you haven’t the answer to a question you’ve been asked, or the hush of a country road at night, or the expectant pause of a room full of people when someone is just about to speak, or, most beautiful of all, the moment after the door closes and you’re alone in the whole house? Each one is different, you know, and all very beautiful if you listen carefully.”

~Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth

Edith Sitwell said: ‘My personal hobbies are reading, listening to music and silence.’ My hobbies could currently be summarised as ‘…collecting postcards, blogging, the boat and silence…’. I do pretty well with the first three and pretty poorly with the last. Yet it’s the silence I crave most. In silence there’s an eloquence, as Rumi said: ‘Stop weaving and see how the pattern improves.’

But it’s difficult to stop, no matter how much I want to stop, or be still, or centred, or silent.

I’ve always been a fidget, a doer, a maker, a potterer, a walker. I can’t sit still. Even as a teenager I wasn’t a stay-in-bed kind of lad. I’d always rather be out walking the dog, climbing the hill, crossing the moor or fishing the river (where I rarely caught anything but learned a lot about stillness, silence and water).

They became my trinity of well-being – stillness, silence, water. Through the turbulence of the hormonal years and into my twenties I craved all three as a means of re-balancing or stabilising daily life. For example, when I first became a teacher I’d swim a mile an night, back and forth up and down the local pool until I’d thrashed the stresses of the day from my bones – I luxuriated in the ‘contained-ness’ of the experience; I took to cross-country running because we ran along the canal towpath (if truth be told it was cross-country walking as soon as we were out of sight of the sports ground!); I scared myself silly in the Giants Cave System outside Castleton, or in nosing around any sinkhole, swallow hole or swallet we could find were water dived below ground into the limestone. Stillness, silence (or the white noise of rushing water blocking out all other sounds) and water.

These experiences form the roots of my water world. Contain-ness, canals, stillness, silence and water, water, water.

I recently came across this postcard with it’s enigmatic title ‘The Silent Path’.

From the start the canal provided a means of bringing my trinity together, even in the heart of a city to step down onto the towpath meant a chance to find stillness, silence even, and water of course.  But even better still has been the opportunities open to me through owning the boat. My water shed. My campfire after dark. My shelter from the storm. My place to gather myself in and savour the silence.

“How much better is silence; the coffee cup, the table. How much better to sit by myself like the solitary sea-bird that opens its wings on the stake. Let me sit here for ever with bare things, this coffee cup, this knife, this fork, things in themselves, myself being myself.”

~Virginia Woolf, The Waves

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