Gathered Light

Reed liIt reached me as an afterglow. We were walking on a cliff-edge path when a faint light glimmered at the corner of my eye. I stopped and looked down on the sea for a while, reluctantly accepting that it must have been the sparkling roll of a wave that I’d seen, a crest of bright water. I’d taken a few more steps along the path when I saw it again, fleetingly, like a vague memory dredged from the depths. Watching the sea more closely this time, I looked for disruptions in its undulating rhythms. But nothing other than sunlight played on the vast surface of the Black Sea. From seventy meters up, at the top of red sandstone cliffs, the sea was spread out in a shimmering blue glaze, brimming with polished light after the early-morning storms. Whatever I’d seen had subsided, gone back to its secret depths.

I was turning to join the others again when I saw an unmistakable shudder close to shore, a rippled undertow of motion. And I was still holding my breath when the silver arch of a dolphin broke the surface and caught the sun on its flukes. I must have yelled out because suddenly people were around me, my friends pointing joyfully toward the waves, and a few French tourists asking what all the excitement was about. Another dolphin leapt clear of the water, then two of them in perfect synchronicity. They climbed into the air, passing with graceful ease from one medium to the next, dragging sprays of water like silver harnesses from their tandem tails. They seemed suspended in an enduring moment, balanced on a high wire slung above the sea. Water droplets sloped from their sides like shards of light.

Gathered light

About a dozen bottle-nosed dolphins made up the pod. They crested the surface of the sea with their beaks, playfully nudging the lid of their world, and occasionally scribing arcs in the air. I later realised how time had dissolved while we watched the dolphins. Past and future, and all the weight they carry, had folded into one clear, immeasurable moment. Everything else had fallen away, brushed off like a scattering of crumbs. I was aware of feeling an ineffable joy, and lightness of being. Some days outlive others – they are lit differently in memory when recollected, brushed with an intensity that seems to suspend the customary passage of time. This was such a day. As the dolphins moved further out to sea, we watched them breaching in the distance like a range of receding hills.

Water light

*     *     *

I’m delighted to be hitting the road in a few days time on behalf of The Small Heart of Things and thought I’d post this short excerpt from one of the book’s essays, ‘An Accumulation of Light.’ Along with events at the AWP conference in Seattle between February 26-March 1st, I’ll be reading at the following places:

February 27th, reading, Seattle, WA
March 4th, Russell Books, Victoria, BC
March 5th, Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, WA
March 7th, Grass, Roots, Books & Music, Corvallis, OR
March 10th, The Booksmith, San Francisco, CA
March 11th, Books Inc., Mountain View, CA
March 14th, Books Inc., Berkeley, CA
March 15th, Point Reyes Books, Pt. Reyes Station, CA

If there are any readers of Notes from Near and Far in the places I’ll be visiting, it would be a great pleasure to meet up. Or if you know of anyone who would be interested in attending one of the readings and book signings for The Small Heart of Things, I’d be deeply grateful if you could share the news. Full details of these and other events, including times and bookstore links, can be found on this events page. Many thanks, and looking forward to meeting a few readers along the way and exploring a new part of the world!

17 thoughts on “Gathered Light

  1. Great to read this piece again Julian! Good luck with the American tour – I loved the Elliott Bay Book Company when I went to Seattle. At that time there was nowhere like it in the UK.

    1. Sorry for replying so late to this Laurence. In the run-up to the tour I seemed to be behind with everything, but your good wishes came with me on the road. And thanks ever so much for the generous words about the book; I’m absolutely delighted that you enjoyed it. Hope all is well in the east country, Julian.

    1. I would love to, Daniel! I was last in the area to read at an event in November so I think I’m about due another visit. Let me know if you ever have any thoughts on an event or venue in London and I’ll make my way over. We could ever do a walk and a spot of bird watching together.

  2. Thanks for sharing that moment of pure pleasure. I’m with you on that cliff path, envying the light and your fluidity of words. I hope the book tour goes well. Hit the highway with some good sounds on the CD player.

    Hoping you’ll be coming to the UK soon


    1. Many thanks, Ian. It was a fantastic tour for so many reasons. Wonderful, warm-hearted people met in so many compelling landscapes and places, together with really engaged audiences at the readings. There were no CDs on the highway, though; other than a domestic flight it was a public transport tour for the most part. Amazing journeys by bus, train, ferry, tram, shuttle, streetcar and foot. If you think of a gig in the UK that might be interested in having me, do let me know; I’d be delighted to be coming to the UK again soon!

      Best wishes,


  3. Lovely blog post! I like the way the dolphins came as a complete surprise, I could almost feel your excitement! I can definitely identify with that feeling of being complete aware of and present in the moment – it’s one of the pleasures of spending time in nature and observing other animals.

    1. Many thanks, Naomi. You’re completely right; there are so many encounters that hold out that possibility of being present in the moment, often in everyday situations. I’m delighted you enjoyed the dolphins; they certainly appeared to me as a complete surprise that morning!

  4. Many things do unite people in pure joy. The sight of a dolphin is one of those things. When we see them at the beach, it seems like everyone is mesmerized by the wonderful, liberating sight.

    I’ve seen surfers ignore incoming waves to watch a group of approaching dolphins, letting them continue with their hunt unimpeded.

    Once Boyfriend and I were on a whale-watching tour and we came upon a pod of dolphins. I saw one swimming on its side as it swam in the slipstream of the boat, and asked a ranger accompanying the tour what it was doing, as it “looked liked it was watching us!”

    “He’s watching you”, he answered.

    1. This is a wonderful anecdote, Aubrey. Thanks ever so much for sharing it. And I love the idea that some things “unite people in pure joy.” I wish there were more ways of uniting, but at least we have this, the grace of the dolphin, which is no small thing.

    1. Thanks ever so much for the kind words, and your interest in the book, Theresa. I’m looking forward to stopping by your blog soon. Until then, best wishes from here!

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