Where I live now, we back onto a little urban forest. I wake to the song of birds here just as we did at Innermost House. In our back yard we meet a wide variety of guests I remember from our years in the East, a land of songbirds.
We hear mockingbirds and cardinals, catbirds and robins, fish crows and blue jays, rock doves and mourning doves and woodpeckers, chickadees and titmice, warblers and waxwings, nuthatches and wrens and bluebirds, flickers and thrashers, juncos and finches and sparrows. Overhead we see hawks and harriers and vultures, swifts and swallows and martins, ducks and geese.
For all their sounds and songs, the birds embody silence. They have no words. Perhaps that is why we here on this page feel such a connection with birds. The simple half of the Innermost Life is silence.
I made my way to this life by saying no to the world. I just would not have it, and I suppose I would have nothing now were it not for my husband. He has the art of giving substance to nothingness, and that is how we built Innermost House.
Dewey you mentioned caves. When we first came to the land I wanted to live in a cave. By that stage in our long journey we had eliminated everything else. We actually went so far as to make inquiries into the possibility. There were no naturally occurring caves on the property, so it would have had to be excavated. In the end we chose against it for practical reasons.
And Pam you asked about earth-bermed houses, which we also considered for the way in which they merge with the land. But as it happened there was no tradition of such structures in our region, and to me tradition is a kind of second nature for preserving peace with the landscape.
Thinking of caves calls to mind those haunting animal images painted on cave walls in prehistoric times. There is a great silence about those images in darkness, a stillness of mind I think we can hardly penetrate in a world so full of inventions.
Were it not for my husband's artistic gifts we would probably have had no art at all on our walls at home. I love the beauty of nature and craft, but nearly all art I had ever known made too much "noise" for me to wish to live with it. So in our past houses we mostly confined ourselves to very small and sober hangings, things like engravings or ink drawings on plain white paper.
But when we lived in Los Angeles my husband often took us to the Los Angeles County Museum to visit their really wonderful Japanese Pavilion. Inside it is a very quiet place, lowly lit through shoji glass in the walls. The screens and scroll paintings there were my first real introduction to my husband's love of classical far east Asian art. I loved them too for their beautiful feeling of transience and unsubstantiality.
Michael became acquainted with the director of the museum. On one of our visits he had just returned from Japan with some scrolls, and he offered us the chance to choose one if we wanted it. I never wanted to own anything so I was prepared to say no thank you.
But when I walked into the empty room where he had them displayed my eye fell on one and I immediately loved it. It was of a standing heron painted in ink wash by a Buddhist monk of the 18th century. A heron!—Pam and Leah, Julie, Al and Dewey, you do make me wonder about totems! It became the first of our scroll paintings with which we would later illuminate the bookcase alcove at Innermost House.
For all my love of emptiness, I find a special peace in these beautiful paintings. We go days and weeks without displaying one, but then when we do they introduce something into our home that does not compromise our silence. It is almost a kind of intensified emptiness.
We were saying the other day how the intensity of our talking life only seems to intensify the intervening silences. It is somehow the same with these pictures. The room is even quieter with one displayed, the emptiness even emptier. It is as if the silence becomes audible, the emptiness substantial. Does that make any sense to anyone?
It is like the art in those ancient caves. There in a darkness where no daylight penetrates, a lamp is kindled and of a sudden those painted images appear. They do not speak. They have no words. A thousand human generations stand between their artists and ourselves. Their silence is like the song of birds.