We must have a view—whether it’s a panorama like the one from my mountain home on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, or simply a clutch of swaying grasses, like the ones I watch from my writing room in Truro (they really call it a writing “shack” but I’ll spare you the pretense of that).
Pan view from my house in Vieques, Puerto Rico
As an inquisitive mammalian species, we humans like to cast our gaze on as much of our territory as we can. The problem is that we believe our territory encompasses the entire planet. We crave exploring beyond our personal space, at least for a time. We call this travel or vacation or holiday—a change in routine and in view.
At the same time, we try to preserve whatever we observe. Before the invention of cameras, people deployed pen and pencil to sketch their observations in notebooks. Now, with a smart phone in every purse and pocket, our instinct is to record each novel event that enters our range of experience—from a scary spider in the corner to an admirable restaurant entrée set before us to the Great Pyramid of Giza.
We do this because we fail to acknowledge that a full life cannot be lived on the run. Would we ever imagine that we ourselves might be enriched by spending an hour or two or three simply observing the spider and its deceivingly simple machinations?
I returned to Vieques two days ago, after being “up north” too long. I was blessed to awaken before five yesterday and have the honor of watching dawn break east of Saint Croix—which is the view from my bedroom window.
As the sun rose through the morning clouds and put our neighboring island in silhouette, I watched rain fall almost twenty miles away across the Caribbean.
One moment of a Vieques dawn
After a morning of chores and errands, I was able to do my day’s writing with that view in sight, and periodically look up to notice how sun and shadow were changing the scene.
That’s exactly what a view is—a scene. The word is from the Greek, skēnē, meaning “stage.”
To see a view, then, is to see something happening. It’s not a sketch or a photo. It’s life unfolding.
Even my concrete house in Vieques is unpainted. So, like a mountain range, its raw shadings change as the sun chases across the southern sky. The Japanese call its style wabi sabi, unfinished—like life, a continuously transforming scene.
My raw concrete house in Vieques
What I learned yesterday is that views are meant to be experienced. And experienced for long periods of time. Because they change from moment to moment, just as our bodies, our minds and our lives do.
As Heraclitus noted some five hundred years before the Common Era: “You cannot step twice into the same stream."
And in the nineteenth century, Katsushika Hokusai produced his famous poster series, “One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji.”
Separated by millennia, both men were on to the same thought. Any view is a good view. Because it is a moving thing, life happening one moment at a time. If we just take the time to witness it.
One view of Fuji: ". . . in Clear Weather”