Monday, January 23, 2012

The Peace of Wild Things

A few evenings ago when I was in state of inner turmoil, I read this poem.

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear for what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. 
I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time 
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

Wendell Berry

The peaceful world of East Prussia before WW2
(C) Photo Gottlieb Property

  The magic of a peaceful world so eloquently expressed, led me to remember where true stillness lies. Closing the door to my home, I went down to the water to "rest in the grace" of the ocean's waves lapping against the shore.

  As I sat on the beach lost in a world of problems, a school of blue runners swam past, their silvery sides flashing like coins in the last rays of the fast setting Bahamian sun. How alive they were! How free and ready to jump and flip and change directions. How "untaxed by forethought of grief."

Blue Runners
 Watching them, something of their natural essence was transmitted to me. I had the sudden feeling that their beauty was drawing me out of my mental quagmire. As the disquiet in my mind subsided, I thought about my grandparents and what they must have felt during the war "when the despair of world grew inside them" and they "feared for what their lives and the lives of their children might be."

  From reading my grandfather Walter von Sanden's diary, I know that near the end of the war, on January 22nd 1945, just before embarking on the great trek that would forever take him and my grandmother away from their beloved home in Guja, East Prussia,  he too awoke in the night and went down to the water.

My grandfather by the water
(C) Photo Gottlieb Property
  Standing at the edge of the lake with a heart full of grief, he listened for the sounds of nature—the rustle of dry leaves in the winter wind, the soft crunch of a rabbit's paws on the snowy path beneath the linden trees. Waiting for dawn, he watched the sun rise, its first rays touching the reeds that lined the shore. Beyond the far embankment, the snow blanketed fields of the estate stretched out before him. He swallowed hard, knowing he would never again stand in that familiar stillness on the land he so dearly loved.  

 Great Crested Grebe with her eggs—this photograph
was taken by my grandfather in Guja, East Prussia long before the war.
He was well-known for his photographs and books about nature.
The environment was his passion.
(C) Photo Gottlieb Property
  Nevertheless, he felt embraced by what he saw, empowered even—despite the dire worldly circumstances, enemy gunfire moving ever closer—by an intelligence greater than his own. Only nature could imbue him with this kind of strength. The stillness outside in the trees and the lake, in the rocks and the earth, made it possible for him to access the realm of stillness inside. From him I learned that when humans become still, truly still, they go beyond thought. This is nature's gift to mankind. In nature's solace, the great troublemaker of arising thoughts is quieted and we are returned to faith and God and the sacred mystery.

Guja, East Prussia
(C) Photo Gottlieb Property
  My grandfather was a naturalist.  He was fully present in the world of plants, birds, animals and other natural forms of beauty. I am grateful for this sacred understanding that was passed down through the generations, first to his daughter Owanta—my mother— and then on to me. It has helped me move through life's difficulties with a kind of deep-rooted trust drawn from another dimension, one that is not visible yet clearly exists in the peaceful dignity of a flower, the strength of a tree, the innocence of a bird. Furthermore, his wisdom helped me write The Last Daughter of  Prussia.

My mother Owanta Gisela von Sanden as a little girl in Guja
(C) Photo Gottlieb Property
  When he and my grandmother fled Guja that night, they looked up at the waxing moon and "the day-blind stars." For the last time, they closed the heavy oak door to their home, leaving behind all personal belongings, all objects of sentimental value. Taking just their bicycles, they set off on the dangerous journey. A flock of cranes was passing overhead. They pedaled on, carrying with them the thought of survival and knowing that like the birds, they were free "for a time" of all earthly attachments.

The house in Guja as they left it in winter

(C) Photo Gottlieb Property
Until next time...

–Marina Gottlieb Sarles

c) All content and photos are the private property of the Gottlieb family, unless otherwise stated or linked,  and may not be used without permission.
(c) Privatbesitz Gottlieb Familie

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