Wabi-Sabi

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“Nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.”

This quote sums up the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, which has no direct translation in English. “Wabi” is said to be defined as “rustic simplicity” or “understated elegance.” “Sabi” is translated to “taking pleasure in the imperfect.”  This photograph of an abandoned toy truck captures the principle beautifully.  The imperfection of the truck (and even the photograph thereof) is evident.  Although the truck lost its wheels long before I took this photograph, its purpose has not yet been fulfilled – not completely.  It is now immortalized in this photograph, which has subsequently become the subject of this post.  Nothing is finished, really.  This post will be replaced tomorrow by a less melancholy subject, and slowly it will fade from memory.  Nothing lasts.  The Romantic poets were students of the ephemeral, finding beauty in the brief life of all things.  Even the Augustan poet Horace, famous for his introduction of the phrase “carpe diem,” was fascinated with fleeting time.  There is a beauty to this photograph, though; however, I could not put my finger on it before I connected it with wabi-sabi.  Now it has become clear why its perfectly imperfect composition and subject evoked such strong feelings of melancholy on the one hand, and pleasant nostalgia on the other.  The Japanese phrase captures in two words, what it has taken me a lifetime to understand.

Nothing lasts.  Nothing is finished.  Nothing is perfect.

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Stepped Ruins

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This photograph was taken in Brevard, North Carolina.  The property was once home to a summer camp and hippie commune, and was frequented by Woodie Guthrie, Pete Seeger and their ilk.  All that remains of this cabin are low walls and these steps.  Though I usually opt for monochrome photographs, the colors of the stones were so unique that I did not want to lose them in converting the photograph to black and white.

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Stepping Stones

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The first step, my son, which one makes in the world,
is the one on which depends the rest of our days.

-Voltaire

 

This photograph, like many I have posted lately, was taken in North Carolina on a friend’s property outside of Brevard.  The rustic stones are not remarkable in and of themselves, but the thoughts they evoked for me made me snap this photograph as I was wandering the gardens with my macro lens taking pictures of the needles of a short-leaf pine, or the bloom of a bergamot bee balm.  I have taken millions of steps in my life, some far more important than others.  The first step is always the most important, as one cannot fully embrace the others on the journey without a solid beginning.  In recovery, the first step is acceptance, and in grief, mourning; without recognizing the importance of the first step, the others will be shaky at best, and at worst wholly ineffectual.  This is by no means my most beautifully composed shot, nor the most interesting one I have taken, but it is evocative of a life’s journey.  This allusion is what made me pause and even consider the steps, which I had passed hundreds of times before on my way up to the cabin.  As Voltaire noted, the first step we take on any journey is the one which will determine the rest of our days.  I have taken many a first step, some multiple times after failing on the journey, but whether acceptance or mourning, the first step is the foundation upon which everything else can be built.

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