This winter, we visited the Eastern side of the Sierras. We longed to see the snow covered mountains after so many years of drought. And frankly, I look forward to any chance to gaze upon Mount Whitney, the highest summit in the Sierras and in the contiguous United States at 14,505 feet. Waking early, I drove to the Alabama Hills awaiting the glorious winter light the sunrise would bring to Whitney’s face. Mount Whitney towers above the Alabama Hills, but both ranges are made of granite. The Alabama Hills are composed of two types of rock, an orange metamorphosed volcanic rock, and a type of granite that weathers into potato shaped boulders.
The highest peaks were covered in clouds, it was snowing in the mountains, and Whitney was not visible. I stomped my feet and blew on my fingers to stay warm in the cold, hoping with daylight Whitney would be visible. The sun rose, the clouds , like curtains, drew back and Mount Whitney whispered hello. Countless times, I have come to this place, to stare at this mountain, but I can never get enough. I always return. Joyous, I pondered the magic of what light can do, as Robert Hass wrote in the introduction to his book of the same name “the source of that authority is mysterious to me…but it is that thing in their images [the photography of Ansel and Robert Adams] that, when you look at them, compels you to keep looking.”
Each painting is a journey: it begins, we embark on a veiled path, enfolded in process.
“The work of art is born of the artist in a mysterious and secret way. From him it gains life and being. Nor is its existence casual and inconsequent, but it has a definite and purposeful strength, alike in its material and spiritual life. It exists and has power to create spiritual atmosphere; and from this inner standpoint one judges whether it is a good work of art or a bad one. If its “form” is bad it means that the form is too feeble in meaning to call forth corresponding vibrations of the soul.”
The floating wreckage of a ship’s cargo, flotsam skims the surface of the sea, readily found and easily rescued. Perhaps jettisoned, with the hope of saving the ship, in time, the flotsam becomes derelict, sinking beneath the waves to the bottom of the sea, with little hope of reclaim.
In Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Father Mapple preaches his sermon at the Whaleman’s Chapel in New Bedford about Jonah and the Whale:
”A dreadful storm comes on, the ship is like to break. But now the boatswain calls all hands to lighten her; when boxes, bales and jars are clattering overboard…for when Jonah not yet supplicating God for mercy, since he but too well knew the darkness of his deserts – when wretched Jonah cries out to them to take him and cast him forth into the sea, for he knew that for his sake the great tempest was upon them; they mercifully turn from him, and seek by other means to save the ship. But all is in vain; the indignant gale howls louder…and now behold Jonah taken up as an anchor and dropped into the sea; when instantly an oily calmness floats out from the east and the sea is still, as Jonah carries the gale with him, leaving smooth water behind…he drops seething into the yawning jaws awaiting him.”
Delve to the depths of the sea, in the belly of the whale, Jonah does not cry and wail, he keeps his faith, continuing to strive, to stay committed to the path, even when all around seemed dark and in shadows. By his continual striving, he will be reclaimed.
The cold winter wind blew me up the stairs and past the Lions, Patience and Fortitude, guarding the entrance to the New York Public Library (NYPL). In my opinion, every trip to New York must include a visit to NYPL, or the trip is not properly consecrated. Designed in the classic beaux-art style by the architecture firm Carrere and Hastings, the building opened its doors to the public in 1911 with over one million items. Today, the collection numbers over fifty-one million items. Washington Irving, author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, was one of the first curators of the collection. A beacon and haven for scholars, the main reading room, the Rose Room, named for the generous donor family, and the Bill Blass Public Catalog Room are being restored and will reopen during the Fall 2016. The historian David McCullough places NYPL among the five most important Libraries in the United States including the Library of Congress, Boston Public Library and the university libraries of Harvard and Yale. The restoration includes, asbestos removal, reinforcing the ceiling and restoration of the Rose Room’s murals of blue skies and clouds.
Fred Lerner in his book The Story of Libraries from the Invention of Writing to the Computer Age described Vladimir Lenin’s admiration for NYPL. In 1913, the Russian Revolutionary wrote “…in the Western countries…they hold that great public libraries, with hundreds of thousands and millions of books, ought not to be the property only of scholars…they are anxious for readers to read books bought at public expense in their own homes; they see the pride and glory of the public library not in the number of rarities is possesses…but in the extent to which books circulate among the people”…..nourishing their souls and feeding their imagination.
Underneath the Rose Room’s spacious skies, many authors have nourished their souls, fed their imagination, and found context within the 40,000 volume reference collection housed in the reading room. Literary greats such as Issac Bashevis Singer, Elizabeth Bishop, E. L. Doctorow, Alfred Kazin, and Henry Miller found inspiration within the Rose Room’s walls. Many of these authors were immigrants, or their sons and daughters born in this new world, New York. The Library opened its doors and its books and gave these newcomers the world, restoring, nourishing and feeding their souls and imaginations. Excitedly, I await the next generation of immigrants, who will grapple with their ideas, applying patience and fortitude, as they create underneath these spacious skies.
Patience and fortitude are touchstones for life; wise words for guiding a lifetime of work, a long-term relationship, or perhaps just simply life. Leaving the library, I pause near Fortitude and whisper from the Mourner’s Kaddish “may there be abundant peace from heaven, and life for us all Israel, to which we say Amen.” Until we meet again Evelyn, daughter of immigrants, blessings on you on your next journey.