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I Went out Into the Open Air

Greifen Lake

IT IS A crisp, clear morning and I set out to hike from the big city and its big famous lake to its small, almost unknown lake. Along the way, I encounter nothing but everything an ordinary person can encounter on his ordinary way. I say “Good Day” to a couple of hardworking reapers, that’s all; I attentively observe the dear flowers, that’s all too; I start a friendly chat with myself, that is once again all. I do not pay attention to any special features of the landscape, because I’m walking and I think there is nothing special for me here anymore. And so I walk, and in so walking I have already passed the first village, with the big wide houses, with the parks inviting the walker to rest and forget, with the splashing fountains, the beautiful trees, courtyards, shops, and other things I don’t at the forgetful moment happen to remember. I keep walking and only start paying attention again when the lake shimmers forth over the green foliage and quiet tips of the fir trees; I think: That is my lake, which I have to walk to, which draws me to it. The way in which and reason why it draws me to it are things the gentle reader will soon know himself should he have any interest in continuing to follow my description, which will now take the liberty of bypassing paths, meadows, forest, forest stream, and field and leap all the way to the little lake itself, where it will stop along with me and be unable to marvel enough at the unexpected, only secretly suspected beauty of said lake. Let us now let it speak for itself in all it’s traditional volubility: It is a broad, white silence, ridged with green, airy silence; it is lake and surrounding forest; it is sky, and so light blue, so half sad a sky; it is water, and so sky-like is the water that it could just as well be the sky and the sky the blue water; it is sweet blue warm silence and morning; it is a beautiful, beautiful morning. I cannot find the words for it, although I have put forth far too many words already, it seems to me. I do not know what to describe because all of it is so beautiful, so simply there for sheer beauty’s sake. The sun shines down from the sky onto the lake which becomes completely like a sun with the sleepy shadows of the life all around it quietly rocking back and forth within it. There is nothing to disturb the scene, everything is lovely in the sharpest closeness, in the haziest distance; all the colours in the world play together are a single charmed and charming world of morning. The high Appenzeller mountains rise up modestly in the distance, no cold wrong note, no, only a high, distant, blurry green, part of the green that is so splendid, so soft, in the whole vicinity. Oh, how soft, how still, how pristine this vicinity is, and consequently, how still, soft, and pristine is this little, practically unnamed lake. – This description of mine, an enthusiastic, enraptured description, really does talk like that. And what should I add? If I had to start over again I would talk the same way it does, for this description is utterly what my heart has to say. On the whole lake I see only a single duck, swimming back and forth. I quickly pull of my clothes and do as the duck does; I swim far out into the lake, with the greatest delight, until my breast has to work hard, my arms are tired, and my legs are sore. What a pleasure it is to tire oneself out with pure delight! The sky has already been described, described with far too little heartfeltness, is above me and a sweet, silent depth is beneath me; and with anxious, apprehensive breast, I work my way across the depth back to the land, where I shiver and laugh and cannot breathe, almost cannot breathe. The old Greifensee Castle says hello from across the lake, but I have absolutely no interest in historical recollections at the moment; rather, I look forward to spending an evening or night here at this very place, and I go over and over in my mind what it will be like on this little lake when the last light of day hovers over it’s surface, or how it will be when the countless stars hover overhead-and I swim out again.-

Robert Walser July 1899

Ascent By Night

Everything seemed so strange, as though I had never seen it before and was seeing it now for the first time in my life. I was taking a train through the mountains. It was twilight and the sun was so beautiful. The mountains seemed so big and so powerful to me, and they were too. Hills and valleys make a country rich and great, they win it space. The mountainous nature struck me as extravagant, with its towering rock formations and beautiful dark forests soaring upwards. I saw the narrow paths snaking around the mountains, so graceful, so rich in poetry. The sky was clear and high, and men and women were walking along the paths. The houses sat so still, so lovely on the hillsides. The whole thing seemed to me like a poem, a majestic old poem, past down to posterity eternally new. Then it grew darker. Soon the stars were gleaming down into the deep dark chasms and a white shining moon had stepped forth into the sky. The road that ran through the valley was as white as snow. A deep joy took hold of me. I was happy to be in the mountains and the pure, fresh, cold air. How splendid it was. I breathed it in with passion. And so the train rolled slowly on, and eventually I got off the train. I surrendered my things and continued by foot, up into the mountains. It was so bright and at the same time so black. The night was divine. Tall fir trees towered up before me and I heard springs gurgling and murmuring, it was such a precious melody, such a mysterious saying and singing. I myself sang a song into the night as I ascended ever higher on the bright road. The road came to a village, then went on through an absolutely dark forest. I bumped into roots and stones with my feet, and since I had lost the straight path I often banged my wanderers head into trees, hard. But I could only laugh about that. Oh, how magnificent it was, this first ascent by night! everything so quiet. There was something holy about everything. The sight of the black fir trees made me deeply happy. It was midnight when I reached the little dark house up in the high valley; there was light in the window. Someone was waiting for me. How beautiful that is: too reach a desolate natural spot at high altitude in a silent rustling night, on foot, like a travelling, wildly racing journeyman, and to know that you are awaited by someone dear to you. I knocked. A dog started barking, so loud that it echoed far and wide. I heard someone hurry down the stairs. The door was opened. Someone held up the lamp or lantern in front of my face. I was recognized, oh how beautiful it was, it was so beautiful--

Robert Walser 1914

31st July. Some rain early morning. Hot fine evening. Sedge in pond.

1st August. Rain in night: some early morning; fine hot day. Burdock in flower (thistle-like). Thistles in flower in barley so thick as to give it a purple tint over two or three acres.

2nd August. Fine morning. Afternoon cloudy, N.E. wind strong and cool. Night at eleven lightning, continuous came up from N.W. Moonlight brilliant – violet lightning – hailstones, a little larger than a shilling – see roses in the garden and the water glancing in the flashes – thunder louder after storm passed as if blown back by N.E. Wind. Lightening long flashes quivering several seconds.

3rd August. Morning dull, hot. Thrushes and Blackbirds do not sing; but did up to within day or two. Willow wren singing zit-zit – yellow hammer very much – greenfinch too.

4th August. Rain early morning: hot fine day.

5th August. Cloudy: evening heavy rain. A little while since plantain flowered in wet ditch.

6th August. Fine morning; showers later. Lightning, heavy thunder. At 4 exceedingly heavy rain. Fog came on in early afternoon – rooks stopped in copse instead of going home to wood – not done it for fifty years – could not find way.

7th. Cloudy morning: afternoon light showers. Branch of sod apple in bloom . . . Rooks fond of maize, Rooks nest in tall Scotch firs: also spruce very high. Bramble still in flower very much: plane tree leaves already brown leathery in spots – wood pigeons calling? Spring and Autumn not summer: sparrows in oats, scores, on stalk below grain still green, out for grain.

8th August. Small rain morning: afterwards dry. Barley – thistles rise from roots, not seed: a spindle root. Yesterday saw a small dragonfly: either first or else rare. Swifts still here and screaming.

11th August. Cloudy misty morning: farmer market morning waiting at stile till another came along with trap, for ride. A large green dragonfly: it is their season then. Last full moon was very high in the sky: near Zenith. There is nowhere where you can put 3100 and be certain of getting it back again – no deposit (consols pay 90 and receive 94) – nothing like the Earth after all.

12th August. Fine hot N.E. wind. Grasshoppers singing in the grass.

15th August. Hot cloudy morning – fine white clouds. Drovers came in, asking for hard biscuits, and toast at the fire: then take tallow candle from table and drop grease from it on to biscuit till it would not suck up any more – and eat it as very good: as special relish after 2 days’ drinking.

Extract taken from the notebooks of Richard Jefferies.

23rd. Bright sunshine, went out at 3 o’clock. The sea perfectly calm blue, streaked with deeper colour by the clouds, and tongues or points of sand; on our return of a gloomy red. The sun gone down. The crescent moon, Jupiter and Venus. The sound of the sea distinctly heard on the tops of the hills, which we could never hear in summer. We attribute this partly to the bareness of the trees, but chiefly to the absence of the singing of birds, the hum of insects, that noiseless noise which lives in the summer air. The villages marked out by beautiful beds of smoke. The turf fading into the mountain road. The scarlet flowers of the moss.

Dorothy Wordsworth Journals 1904

photo © Jonathan Lovekin

Imagine a ride across the heath at 3 o’clock in the morning in a small open cart (I went with the man with whom I’m lodging, who had to go to Assen market), along a road, or ‘diek’ as they call it here, which had been banked up with mud instead of sand. It was even better than the barge.

When it was just starting to get light, and the cocks were starting to crow everywhere round the huts scattered over the heath, everything, the few cottages we passed-surrounded by wispy poplars whose yellow leaves one could hear falling-a stumpy old tower in a little churchyard with an earth bank & a beach head, the flat scenery of heath or cornfields, everything was exactly like the most beautiful Corots. A stillness, a mystery, a peace as only he has painted it. When we arrived at Zweeloo at 6 o’clock in the morning it was still quite dark-I had seen the real Corots even earlier in the morning.

The ride into the village was so beautiful. Enormous mossy roofs of houses, stables, covered sheepfolds, barns. The very broad-fronted houses here are set among oak trees of a superb bronze. Tones in the moss of gold-green. In the ground of reddish or bluish or yellowish dark lilac-greys, tones of inexpressible purity in the green of the little cornfields, tones of black in the wet tree trunks, standing out against the golden rain of swirling, teeming autumn leaves, which hang in loose clumps-as if they had been blown there, loose and with the light filtering through them-from the poplars, the birches, the limes and the apple trees.

The sky smooth and bright, shining, not white but a barely detectable lilac, white vibrant with red, blue and yellow, reflecting everything and felt everywhere above one, hazy and merging with the thin mist below, fusing everything in a gamut of delicate greys…

…A black stretch of earth, flat, unending, a clear sky of delicate lilac-white. The earth sprouts that young corn as if growing a mould of it. That is what the good, fertile lands of Drenthe really are-and all in a misty atmosphere. Think of Brion’s Le dernier jour de la creation-well yesterday it really felt as if I understood the meaning of that painting. The poor soil of Drenthe is the same, except that the black earth is even blacker-like soot-not lilac-black like the furrows, and overgrown in a melancholy way with perpetually rotting heather and peat.

I notice it everywhere-chance effects on that infinite background: in the peat moors, the turf huts; in the fertile areas, those most primitive hulks of farmhouses and sheepfolds with low, very low little walls and enormous mossy roofs. Oaks all around, journeying through these parts for hour after hour, one feels that there really is nothing but that infinite earth, that mould of corn or heather that infinite sky. Horses and men seem as small as fleas. One is unaware of anything else, however large it may be in itself, one knows only that there is earth and sky.

Imagine then a short avenue of tall poplars with autumn leaves, imagine a wide muddy road all, black mud, with heath stretching to infinity on the right, heath stretching to infinity on the left, a couple of black triangular silhouettes of turf huts, the red glow from small fires shining through the small windows, with a few pools of dirty, yellowish water reflecting the sky, in which fallen trees lie rotting into peat. Imagine that sea of mud at dusk with a whitish sky overhead, thus everything black against white. And in that sea of mud a shaggy figure-the shepherd-and a mass of oval shapes, half wool. Half mud, jostling one another, pushing one another out of the way-the flock. You see them coming, you stand in their midst, you turn round and follow them. Laboriously and reluctantly they work their way up the muddy road. The farm beckons in the distance, a few mossy roofs and piles of straw & peat among the poplars. The sheepfold is again like a triangular silhouette, the entrance dark. The door stands wide open like a dark cave. The light of the sky glimmers once more through the chinks in the boards behind it. The whole caravan, masses of wool and mud, disappears into the cave-the shepherd and a little woman with a lantern shut the doors behind them.

Van Gogh, Drenthe, 16th November 1883

photo © Jonathan Lovekin

Adalbert Stifter. Der Königsee mit dem Watzmann. 1837

A Little Ramble

I walked through the mountains today. The weather was damp, and the entire region was grey. But the road was soft and in some places very clean. At first I had my coat on; soon, however, I pulled it off, folded it together, and laid it upon my arm. The walk on the wonderful road gave me more and ever more pleasure; first it went up and then descended again. The mountains were huge, they seemed to go around. The whole mountainous world appeared to me like an enormous theatre. The road snuggled up splendidly to the mountainsides. Then I came down into a deep ravine, a river roared at my feet, a train rushed past me with magnificent white smoke. The road went through the ravine like a smooth white stream, and as I walked on, to me it was as if the narrow valley were bending and winding around itself. Grey clouds lay on the mountains as though that were their resting place. I met a young traveller with a rucksack on his back, who asked if I had seen two other young fellows. No, I said. Had I come here from very far? Yes, I said, and went farther on my way. Not a long time, and I saw and heard the two young wanderers pass by with music. A village was especially beautiful with humble dwellings set thickly under the white cliffs. I encountered a few carts, otherwise nothing, and I had seen some children on the highway. We don't need to see anything out of the ordinary. We already see so much.

Robert Walser 1914

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