The Arc of Day

THE DAY MOVES SLOWLY in Calabria, as if each minute passing is the turning of a page, and each page — whether scribbled with notes or empty of ink — matters.

I care to turn each one, for each contributes to the story’s arc.

I don’t know when I’ve felt this sort of connection to the passing of the day. It’s essentially followed a repeating pattern from dawn until dusk.

The roosters start to crow at around 5am. That’s new for me; it’s as good an alarm as any. Sunlight, not its discernible rays, but a gradual steeping of clarity, filters through the bedroom windows. I head outside to catch the sun rising over the Ionian Sea.

The moon still shines prominently in the purple sky above the mountains; the morning air is cool. The hill I stand upon looks over the village of Isca, the marina, and the sea in the distance.

The rising sun, now golden and high in the sky, causes the sea to shimmer. The landscape fills me with profound gratitude.

The day’s work begins at around 7am; I take my journal when I set out, penning the thoughts that arise from cleaning, improving, or nourishing the land I’ve called home for the past three weeks.

I’m volunteering at a workaway here in Calabria, Italy, that I’ve found through Worldpackers, helping out as an exchange for accommodation.

But this has been so much more than just a place to sleep. I’ve become part of a community, perhaps just as an observer, but a part of it, no less.

The air becomes hot and dry early in the day; I focus on the task at hand, working up an initial sweat and a reflective state produced by the repeated movements of carrying, digging, raking or chopping.

We rarely give ourselves this sort of time to think. Many of these thoughts, ideas and concerns I’ve had before. Most of the thoughts I genuinely like. Some I’m learning to face, work through, and overcome.

“I don’t like work — no man does,” said the writer Joseph Conrad. “But I like what is in the work — the chance to find yourself.”

Our thoughts don’t stop — whether we’re working with the earth or at the office; whether we’re on a date or on a hike alone.

As we move through life, each of us engages in a continual dialogue that makes up the climate of our inner world.

I’ve had these ideas which amble through the garden of my mind — or at least I think I have. But aren’t I a different person today? The sea still shimmers; this body feels like me. But who am I, really?

Our thoughts are what we make of them. We are what we make of our thoughts.

“Travel is the traveller,” writes Fernando Pessoa in The Book of Disquiet.

“What we see isn’t what we see but what we are.”

What we are is a work in progress.

As such, the conversation doesn’t end; these thoughts in my journal aren’t penned once and then complete — they change, grow, and move with me through life.

Often, we expect exterior circumstances to change how we feel and think — on their own. Working outside has given me more space to observe these thoughts, but not all of them are new.

I’m simply understanding the themes of my thinking and the details of my inner world more clearly. I’m noticing how these emotions make me feel; I’m questioning them, following them, exploring them.

I like to think of this life as an adventure. In any powerful story, the hero faces trial through fire.

When they emerge from the flames, perhaps only those that smolder in their psyche, they’ve changed. They’ve experienced. They’ve grown and learned from facing something worthwhile.

Our lives spring from this ancient and meaningful story. We may find solace in this if we’re willing to embrace it.

That doesn’t mean I’m not afraid. That doesn’t mean the garden of my mind isn’t home to snakes; yet if we don’t face them, they grow, if only in our imagination.

If we confront those fears, the limiting thoughts which hold us back — possibly, probably, thoughts that aren’t truly ours but have been pitted in our garden — we might see that what we thought was a monster is nothing but our shadow.

What we thought was a monster — me, myself, I — is really just a human being, doing their best with what they know. That’s why we’re a work in progress. We learn as we go. But we must go, to learn.

It’s almost noon, and there’s a stone fountain in the middle of the village that I use to fill buckets of water. The sun is nearly at its peak and the village is quiet, save the sound of an alleycat growling, the odd pickup truck climbing up the road, or the balcony-to-balcony conversation between neighbors.

There’s a mango tree I’ve been tasked to water. I carry the buckets up the road to the plot of land that’s home to the mango tree and pour the water on the tree’s roots. The water dries quickly; I repeat the process.

The plot of land is rather small. There’s a mound of hay to be removed as well. I stick my pitchfork into the mound with a low swooping motion and carry the bundle of dried grass to toss over the side of the hill. I’ve never used a pitchfork; I must say, it’s satisfying.

It feels good to clean an outdoor space, just as it is to declutter a room. In doing so I feel my life is simplified. My mind is cleaned and energized. I like how this work makes me feel; the conversation continues with myself: I ask, why?

Because it allows me time to think without distractions. Because the repeated, physical work strengthens my character. It opens up my body and my heart, and makes me believe that no matter what, I’ll always find a way to persevere.

We humans are damn resilient.

Today the sounds are distinct, but they are still sounds; the air is fresh in the morning, dry and poignant around noon, and vibrant in the mountains in the evening.

I catch the scent of flowers as I move throughout the day, but the smell is nostalgic, not foreign. I’m the same person; the conversation wanders.

It takes place in particular rooms with varying people.

It becomes illuminated by contrasting shades of light — that of the bedside lamp, the midnight moon, the orange, dim, still burning fire of the streetlight on an early morning walk; day.

In the center of the quiet village, I can hear a man yelling from the red truck that comes to town around noon. His echoing voice is the only sound that reverberates through the dusty stone streets.

This makes me laugh; I return to the backyard to finish the work, and when I’m done, my host, Iris, is chatting with the man and woman from the truck in front of her house. Vibrant fruits and vegetables fill the truck’s canopy-covered bed.

They go back and forth and clearly know each other well. I buy some yellow and red tomatoes and the woman throws a few extra, smaller tomatoes in the bag, along with a handful of dark green basil.

I’m covered in sweat, dirt, hay. I carry my journal, my glass bottle of water, the bag of tomatoes up the hill to my abode. I’m satisfied. I’m happy.

The sound of thunder blows from the hills in the evening. It never ceases to excite me, the promise of an afternoon rain.

I sit beneath an olive tree, astounded by the great white plumes of clouds that form in the sky. They gently creep across the canvas of blue from the mountains to the sea. Leaves fall from the tree above, nudged by the gusts of wind.

The clouds transform from pearly white to grey, the color of the impending clouds produced as if mixing black and white on a painter’s palette, the two colorless colors full of every color.

Isn’t it so that grey rain clouds contain the potential of a rainbow?

It’s warm, still very warm, which gives the thunderous boom a tropical feel, that great unity of warmth, heaviness, and a sweet tinge of coolness that drifts through the air. There’s the subtle smell of something burning, land being touched by fire, or the emergence of heat beneath the surface.

I tire from the warm air and calming sounds, but I don’t tire of the rain, for each time I hear the thunder boom I better know myself. The thunder roars a distant roar, and my face slowly falls to the wooden table. I feel the first few drops of rain.

At dusk, the world is still. The rising moon, surrounded by a muted purple, brightens as the minutes pass.

I’m back to center where I am. The arc of day has been read.

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