Thursday, October 18, 2007

P D James: On Being a Privileged Spectator of life

The writer, P D James, describes in her autobiographical fragment, Time to Be in Earnest, a day with her friends exploring the natural world:

“One of the delights of being with [friends] Tom and Mary [Norman] is their knowledge of natural history. There isn’t a bird, butterfly, flower or tree which they can’t name. They spend much time traveling, often in some discomfort, in remote areas of Asia searching for and photographing rare orchids. One, which Tom was the first to discover and describe, is named after him.”

“At Covehithe we saw a butterfly that Tom said was called the Holly Blue and which he recognized as female because of the darker hue round its wings. It lives for just three days, and I wondered whether ours were the only human eyes that had actually seen it during that brief span.”

“As Tom and Mary moved through the gate leading to the abbey ruin, the butterfly fluttered to a leaf close to me and rested motionless. It was one of those rare moments in which a fugitive beauty, briefly contemplated, untouchable, is experienced with a peculiar intensity, the sense of being a privileged spectator of life which, however brief, is part of a mysterious whole.”

P D James, Time to Be in Earnest: A Fragment of Autobiography (London: Faber & Faber, 1999), 22.

Image: The Holly Blue