Here is the next segment of the unpublished manuscript, Landscape with Figures, by my grandmother, Beatrice Allen Page:
“I had hoped a sound sleep would obliterate the mood of the past couple of days and I could start life afresh this morning. It didn’t work out that way. I lay staring into the dark a good part of the night. I must have got used to the sound of rain on the roof these past nights because the silence made me uneasy. I began to feel as if the house were haunted – knowing, however, that if it was, it was not by the spirits of those now dead who once lived here, but by some one of my selves I had murdered long ago.
As the night wore on, I found myself back on that old spiral staircase descending deeper and deeper. Daylight brought fitful rays of watery sunshine through the clouds, but my mood stayed overcast. I knew that if I weren’t going to end up in that dark maze toward which I was heading, I had to throw off my inertia and get out of the house, go anywhere, just to get away from the walls that were pressing in on me.
I forced myself to get dressed and eat breakfast. I went out with no plan in mind of where I was going. My feet led me down the road to the beach and I tramped along in the wet sand, my head down, not really seeing anything, sunk in my own gloom.
Then I happened to raise my head. A faint ray of sunlight drew my gaze across the ocean all the way to the horizon. And then with the most astonishing abruptness my spirits lifted, too. I felt buoyant, free, alive again. The scales fell from m eyes. I could see the ocean, not just identify it. It was gray streaked with the palest green, and calm. Only its surface was wrinkled by a little wind that blew in capricious gusts and sent dark shadows skimming over it.
I went on down the empty beach feeling as if the little wind were making me skim over the sand like the shadows on the water.
It was the panorama of infinite sky and boundless ocean and open landscape, I realized, that had set me free, had given me a feeling rather like that of letting go of a grudge or a fear that has weighted one down for years. It was exactly what I had needed to release me from the bondage of my own self-constriction, to open my mind so that an easy wind might sweep out some of the debris that has accumulated there and hopefully make room for something more discriminative.
I don’t know why open space and vast distance should have such a liberating effect. It’s not just a matter of ‘going back to nature.’ Nature in its various aspects may comfort, rest, delight, invigorate or frighten. But only immensities of land or sea or sky have this unloosing quality. I think it’s because you see yourself and others as mere specks moving against a vast, immutable background; and although you feel belittled physically to about the size of an organic cell, you do not feel belittled in the sense of depreciated. On the contrary, you share in the sublimity of the whole creation.
Even the violence and disruption of today’s world when viewed against such a background become, not less deplorable but less…what is the word?…less ultimate, as if one had caught a hint that all the horror might possibly be an illusion in the sense that a nightmare is an illusion – which doesn’t mean you don’t actually suffer in a nightmare, but that when you wake up, not only does the suffering cease but you realize that although you had a real dream, the situation you dreamed about was unreal.
The landscape painters of old China understood well the relationship of humankind to the environment, in contrast to our western Old Masters. The latter focus on the near at the hand and, with a few exceptions such as a view from a small window, exclude the far away. If people and objects aren’t life-sized, they are meant to give the impression of being so. And every inch of the canvas is filled; no portion is left empty.
In those early Chinese paintings tiny human figures live and move and have their being in a setting of rivers and waterfalls and towering mountains. And beyond and above the mountains there is the limitless sky. Men and women do not dominate their world but neither are they overpowered by it. They are brought into harmony with it.
On the beach this morning I couldn’t help thinking that if we felt a similar rapport with the universe we live in, we might be saved, at least in part, from the isolation of our modern ‘existential vacuum.’ And seeing ourselves in proportion we might also develop a degree of humility that could save us from our destructive arrogance.
A foolish supposition, of course. In any case, what with the population explosion, the spread of urbanization, the devastation for one reason or another of our natural surroundings, immensities of unspoiled landscape will be harder and harder to find. The only situation will be to learn how to see a ‘world in a gran of sand, and a heaven in a wild flower.’ Provided anyone wants to, that is. I have a feeling people are forgetting, even as I had forgotten, the need of this kind of perspective.
I still don’t know in what direction my life is moving but as the month draws to an end, I’ve come, at least, to one conclusion: for me, at least, the best way to undertake an inward journey is in an outward landscape.”